Category archives: Religious Liberty

Atlanta’s Kelvin Cochran Settles the Score

by Alexandra McPhee

October 17, 2018

Though former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran lost the position he worked his whole life to achieve, a $1.2 million settlement on October 15 in his favor is closure to his multi-year saga defending his faith.

In January 2015, the decorated former chief and Obama-appointee was fired for authoring a religious book for men, which focused on biblical principles of marriage and sexuality. Mayor Kasim Reed had placed him on suspension and required sensitivity training before his ultimate termination.

The city gave several superficially objective reasons for giving this public servant the pink slip. But a later investigation concluded that there was no evidence that Cochran’s beliefs compromised his leadership. Cochran pursued litigation to defend his right to express his faith in his private capacity.

What it comes down to is that Cochran was fired for his articulation of long-held beliefs on marriage and sexuality. As one city council member tellingly said in response to the book, “when you’re a city and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.” As it turns out, the city council member would have to check his own opinions at the door in the face of the $1.2 million city-council-approved payout issued with a vote of 11-3.

Last year, a federal district court ruled that the city “can’t force its employees to get its permission” to engage in free speech.

The court acknowledged Cochran’s reputation as “an excellent Fire Chief” and his mission to “assemble a group of firefighters . .  who represented diverse backgrounds, characteristics, and beliefs,” including at least two employees who identified as LGBT under his leadership.

Not all of Cochran’s constitutional arguments were accepted by the court. But Cochran’s large settlement is a signal that the city knows that it has the losing side of the argument.

The government is here for the people, not the other way around. No American should be punished simply for holding beliefs that are different from the government. As Cochran’s case demonstrates, making such a mistake can come at a price.

Hacksaw Ridge and the Value of Conscientious Objectors

by Alexandra McPhee

October 12, 2018

Seventy-three years ago today, on October 12, 1945, President Harry S. Truman awarded Private First Class (then-Corporal) Desmond T. Doss the Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts during his service in the Pacific theater of World War II. He was the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor.

Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist. When he entered the military as a conscientious objector, he did so with the convictions that his faith required that he take a sabbath and that, under the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” he must never touch a weapon to kill another man, even in war.

The deeply-rooted, American value of religious liberty protected Doss’s beliefs. Rights of conscience have been considered a component of religious freedom since the origins of this nation. Indeed, from the time of the Colonies, the government has exempted conscientious objectors from service or from the bearing of arms.

When Doss entered the service during World War II, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 protected those “subject to combatant training and service . . . who, by reason of religious training and belief, [were] conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.”

The Act thus enabled Doss to participate in the war to the extent he believed his faith permitted. As his biography states, “He believed his duty was to obey God and serve his country. But it had to be in that order.”

While serving as a medic, Doss continually carried the wounded to safety during battle in the Philippines, Guam, and Japan, all without using any weapons. In Okinawa, Japan, Doss saved the lives of 75 men over the course of a single day. American soldiers had faced an unexpected counterattack by the Japanese and were ordered to retreat. Only one-third of the soldiers were able to escape from the counterattack. Despite the order to retreat, Doss remained, and he took each of the 75 men, one by one, off of the battlefield to safety.

Doss’s feats in Okinawa were detailed in his Medal of Honor Citation and were the subject of the award-winning 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge, which Doss’s son said represents his father faithfully.

Thomas W. Bennett and Joseph G. LaPointe Jr. were also conscientious objectors, and they posthumously received the Medal of Honor for their acts of valor in the Vietnam War.

These men are proof that we do not accomplish freedom by boxing conscientious objectors or religious expression out of military service or the public square.

As Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone once said, “liberty of conscience” is “vital . .  to the integrity of man’s moral and spiritual nature,” and “nothing short of the self-preservation of the state should warrant its violation.” Even then, “it may well be questioned whether the state which preserves its life by a settled policy of violation of the conscience of the individual will not in fact ultimately lose it by the process.”

By defending the rights of conscience, we enable individuals like Doss, Bennett, and LaPointe to contribute, in accordance with their beliefs, towards the common good and the preservation of our country.

Christians Should Be Fearless in Living Out Their Faith. Even Supreme Courts Agree.

by James Selvey

October 11, 2018

For Christian bakery owners Amy and Daniel McArthur, one chapter of their fight for religious freedom has come to a close. The owners of the Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland received a unanimous ruling from the UK’s highest court that they were entitled to decline baking a cake that spoke a message of support for same-sex marriage.

In 2014, Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist, approached the Belfast branch of the bakery with a request for a cake that would include a slogan that read “Support gay marriage” along with the Sesame Street characters Ernie and Bert. While the bakery had initially taken the request, it later canceled the order and refunded Lee’s money. Immediately, the Northern Irish Equality Commission stepped in, inciting that Lee had been discriminated against based on his sexuality. The bakery stated it didn’t want to make a cake that displayed a message that was against their Christian beliefs. Originally, a Belfast court had ruled favorably for Lee, but the case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, where all five justices ruled in favor of the McArthurs. One of the judges, Brenda Hale, wrote in her decision: “In a nutshell, the objection was to the message and not to any particular person or persons.” The general manager of Ashers, Daniel McArthur, said “I want to start by thanking God … he has been with us during the challenges of the last four years.”

This case comes only a few months after Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood Colorado, won his U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. As with Jack Phillips, the McArthurs have no issue with serving Mr. Lee, as they have said, “We didn’t say no because of the customer; we’d served him before, we’d serve him again. It was because of the message. But some people want the law to make us support something with which we disagree.” It isn’t an objection to Mr. Lee’s character or sexual orientation, but rather the context of the message of his order. The McArthurs are implementing their business by living out the values they conscientiously believe in. They are free to run their business as a Christian business, and there should be no one who can tell them to work differently.

The Bible says in James 1:23-25 that “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” The McArthurs are laboring to use their liberty and religious rights to serve Christ in all capacities of their lives, not just in private. Let us pray that they will continue to be strong in obedience to God in what He is calling them to do, as it is highly probable that the McArthurs have not heard the last of this case.

We’re all called as Christians to live in the world, but not to live like it. We all have a commitment to God to live as He is calling us to live. In a time where many schools and businesses are curtailing the freedom to live out one’s beliefs, this calling will become more of a challenge. But when we stay committed to following Jesus Christ and trust that He is the Savior, we see the fulfillment it brings to our lives and further confirms the truth of God’s laws. President Ronald Reagan said it best: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” May we fight for these freedoms in each of our unique callings for our children and future generations.

James Selvey is an intern at FRC Action.

Pakistani Christian Woman’s Fate Hangs in the Balance

by Travis Weber

October 8, 2018

Earlier today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard the final appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of the crime of “blasphemy” after being accused of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad—a claim which arose out of an argument with several Muslim women who grew angry at her for drinking water from the same bowl as them, which they believed made the water ceremonially unclean.

Subsequently, in the first and most high-profile case under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, Mrs. Bibi was charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Now, today, there appears to be a glimmer of hope that she could be acquitted by the high court and set free, with sources currently reporting the justices are set to reverse her conviction.

Yet the opposition to this within Pakistani society is great. Over the course of this ten-year long prosecution, multiple Pakistani politicians who have stood up for Mrs. Bibi have been assassinated, including Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the cabinet’s only Christian, and Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was killed by his own bodyguard. The bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri—who was later convicted and executed by the Pakistani government—has been lionized as a hero by Islamists, including the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which rallies around punishing blasphemy and which is currently warning against any “concession or softness” for Mrs. Bibi, claiming that “[i]f there is any attempt to hand her over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences.”

This sad saga reminds us of the clear threat posed to religious freedom by the abuse of blasphemy laws. These laws—which infringe on a proper conception of religious freedom—would be bad enough on their face. Yet quite often, they aren’t even used for their ostensible purpose, but become vehicles to settle personal disagreements and even political scores.

Mrs. Bibi’s case also reminds us that we need religious freedom at the cultural level in addition to the governmental level. Pakistan may have government leaders willing to defend her, but when the worldview prevailing in Pakistani culture is closer to that of the TLP party than Mr. Taseer’s, the road toward religious freedom will remain beset with almost insurmountable obstacles. 

Let us pray for Mrs. Bibi’s release and safety in the coming weeks. Let us also pray for freedom and flourishing in Pakistan—desiring blessing for all in that land, Mrs. Bibi’s friend and foe alike.

Another Attack on Kenyan Christians Brings Us Back to Watu Wote

by Travis Weber

September 20, 2018

Tragedy has repeated itself with the most recent attack on Christian bus passengers by al-Shabaab militants in Northeast Kenya. As has happened before, militants reportedly forced the passengers to show their identification cards, and then separated them according to whether they had a Muslim and Christian name. Those with non-Muslim names were forced to recite the Shahada, or the Islamic statement of faith, and two (likely Christians) who failed to recite it were immediately executed.

Reflecting with sadness on these events, we recall the short film Watu Wote (“All of Us” in Swahili, pictured above). An Oscar short film finalist, it tells the true story of another al-Shabaab attack—also on a bus in this area of Kenya (in Mandera to be precise). In this instance, Muslims on the bus refused to separate from the Christians despite orders from the militants to do so, which helped save the lives of the Christians. The film is difficult to watch, but well-done, and an encouraging story of human beings choosing to do what is right, despite the risk of doing so.

In light of recent events, the film is well worth a watch.

Lawsuit Targeting Faith-Based Adoption Agencies Allowed to Proceed in Michigan

by David Closson

September 17, 2018

On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Dumont v. Lyon, the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, may proceed, finding that the plaintiffs—two same-sex couples who allege they were turned away by certain faith-based placing agencies when they sought to adopt—have standing to sue.

In denying the Defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Clinton-appointed District Judge, Paul D. Borman, ruled that the couples have demonstrated plausible Establishment Clause and Equal Protection claims that are “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s practice of entering into contracts with faith-based agencies that operate according to their religious beliefs about marriage. Michigan state law since 2015 has protected the conscience rights of faith-based adoption providers.

In his ruling, Judge Borman explained that because faith-based agencies process 20 percent of the active foster care and adoption cases in Michigan, it is “reasonable to infer that the ability of faith-based agencies to employ religious criteria as a basis to turn away same-sex couples erects at least a 20% barrier to that Prospective Parent Plaintiffs’ ability to adopt or foster a child in the State of Michigan.” Noticeably absent from Judge Borman’s comments on this point is that the ACLU’s clients in the case live closer to four other foster and adoption agencies than St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a co-defendant in the case. All four agencies facilitate adoptions for same-sex couples.

Significant for this case—and others moving forward—Borman cites the Plaintiff’s claim of “stigmatic injury” alongside “practical injuries” as grounds for allowing their Establishment Clause claims to proceed. In addition to claiming that Michigan’s law makes it more difficult for them to adopt, the same-sex couples allege that the state’s practice of contracting with faith-based agencies with religious convictions constitutes a form of harmful discrimination. This is an appeal to “dignitary harm,” a concept that refers to the alleged emotional pain and humiliation suffered when someone disagrees with another’s moral decisions or lifestyle; the notion is increasingly invoked by activists who want to silence dissent from anyone who disagrees with the LGBT agenda.

The longest section in the 93-page ruling was Borman’s rationale for why, in his view, the Plaintiffs have credibly alleged an Establishment Clause violation. The Plaintiffs believe the implementation of Michigan law constitutes an endorsement and promotion of religion which is prohibited by the Establishment Clause. Concurring with the Plaintiffs, Borman employs the second and third prongs of the Lemon test to establish whether Michigan’s law conveys the message that the state endorses the view that opposes same-sex marriage. According to Borman, “The answer is yes.” In an important paragraph he argues that “Plaintiffs plausibly allege and suggest that the State’s practice of contracting with and permitting faith-based child placing agencies to turn away same-sex couples has both a subjective purpose of discriminating against those who oppose the view of the faith-based agencies and objectively endorses the religious view of those agencies that same-sex marriage is wrong.”

Borman also says that while the Establishment Clause does not prohibit Michigan from entering into contracts with religious organizations, the use of religious criteria by faith-based adoption providers suggests “excessive entanglement” between the state and religion. Thus, according to Borman’s opinion, the Defendants will need to prove in the trial phase why current state law protecting faith-based adoption agencies does not constitute an inappropriate promotion of or excessive entanglement of religion.

Turning to the Plaintiff’s Equal Protection claim, Borman is more cautious but permits the claim to proceed to the discovery phase. Notably, he admits the Plaintiff’s burden to prove that Michigan’s law is motivated by anti-gay animus is “admittedly high.”

On one count Borman does rule in favor of the Defendants, finding that the Plaintiffs fail to establish taxpayer standing to assert their Establishment Clause claims. Alongside the same-sex couples, Jennifer Ludolph, a former foster child who also sued the state, objected to the use of taxpayer money to fund child-placing agencies that do not place children in same-sex households due to the provider’s religious convictions on marriage. Borman ruled that all of the Plaintiffs failed to establish taxpayer standing and dismissed with prejudice Ludolph’s claims.

In response to the decision, Mark Rienzi, an attorney with Becket representing St. Vincent said, “Today’s court ruling allows the ACLU’s lawsuit to proceed—a lawsuit aimed at forbidding the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies to help children in need. Such a result would make it much harder for thousands of children to find the loving home they each deserve. Beckett is fighting to make sure that doesn’t happen, and this is just one step along the journey in this case.”

SOGI Law Forces Catholic Adoption Provider to Close After 95 Years

by David Closson

August 31, 2018

Last week, after nearly 95 years of providing adoption services, Catholic Charities of Buffalo announced the termination of their adoption and foster care programs because of state requirements that would have forced the charity to violate its religious convictions by placing children in homes without both a father and a mother.  

The agency said their decision was guided by the Catholic Church’s historic teaching on the nature of marriage and family and acknowledged the change was prompted by a same-sex couple’s recent application to become adoptive foster parents.  

In their official statement the agency explained, “As an organization sponsored by the Diocese of Buffalo, Catholic Charities cannot uphold the requirement that contracting agencies allow same-sex couples to foster and adopt children. The teaching and position of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world recognizes marriage only as a union between a woman and a man.” Noting the obvious, they add: “We’re a Catholic organization, so we have to practice what we do consistent with the teaching of the Church.” 

Tragically, Catholic Charities of Buffalo joins a growing list of faith-based adoption providers that have been forced out of business for refusing to compromise their religious convictions in order to comply with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) “nondiscrimination” ordinances. Earlier this summer, Philadelphia discontinued their relationship with two adoption providers that could not conform to the city’s SOGI law because to do so would violate their religious convictions. In July, a federal judge sided with the city after the adoption agencies filed a motion for a temporary injunction.  

Behind these developments in Buffalo and Philadelphia is a clear message to faith-based adoption-providers: unless you embrace and subscribe to the new orthodoxy on contested matters related to marriage, sexual orientation, and gender identity, you will be blacklisted, targeted, and ultimately run out of business.  

In Buffalo, intolerance toward Christian beliefs was couched in the language of discrimination. A spokesperson for the New York Office of Children and Family Services said, “Discrimination of any kind is illegal and in this case (Children and Family Services) will vigorously enforce the laws designed to protect the rights of children and same sex couples.” 

Thus, under the guise of combatting discrimination, the state government is trampling the religious freedom of faith-based agencies by refusing to grant an exemption or accommodation. Moreover, they are tragically putting the partisan political agenda of adult activists over the interests of children. No one is served by forcing the closure of an organization with a proven track-record of helping children. On average, Buffalo Catholic Charities arranges the adoption of five children per year and currently has 34 children in foster care. When they close, their work of placing these children with adoptive parents will stop. The situation is a lose-lose for everyone, but especially vulnerable children.  

Consider these statistics: there are currently 437,465 children in foster care and 117,794 waiting to be adopted. These numbers highlight the dire need and underscore the reality that the maximum number of partnering organizations are needed to serve the needs of society’s at-risk children. However, if progressive activists have their way and continue enacting SOGI ordinances that preclude faith-based agencies from operating according to the moral teachings of their faith, hundreds of organizations will soon be forced out of the foster-care marketplace altogether. Again, the results would be devastating for at risk-kids.

In short, the development in Buffalo once again underscores the need for federal legislation such as The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (CWPIA) that would ensure all available agencies can continue to serve children without compromising the agency’s sincere beliefs or moral convictions.

Until legislators act, stories like these from Philadelphia and Buffalo will reoccur and children will continue to be the unfortunate casualties in an adult culture-war.

David Closson is Research Fellow for Religious Freedom and Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.

India’s Opportunity for Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber

August 23, 2018

As the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense prepare to travel to India next month for high-level talks with their counterparts in that country (the first time such talks have occurred), religious freedom should remain squarely on the agenda.

Pressure will no doubt arise from foreign policy realists to toss religious freedom from the discussion. Desiring to bolster the U.S./India relationship to counter China, they will want to avoid any sticking points—and religious freedom is one of them.

This does not need to be the case. If India could see that advancing religious freedom advances its own national security interests, and economic growth, it might be interested in more seriously addressing the issue. In light of India’s desire to advance economically, it should in particular pay attention to the relationship between increased religious freedom and increased economic growth.

But the issue certainly needs to be addressed. Those urged toward Hindu nationalist sentiment by governing BJP party allies have for years targeted Christians and others. More recently, U.S.-based charities like Compassion International have been restricted, shut down, or forced out of the country. The idea that someone might choose a religion other than Hinduism has these groups in an uproar, and hence their backing of “anti-conversion laws” in several areas of India which do in fact make it illegal to convert to other religions—including Christianity.

While Prime Minister Modi has finally started to acknowledge some of these problems, a verbal acknowledgement alone won’t suffice. If Modi wants to point to this as “progress” if Secretary Pompeo raises the issue, he shouldn’t get a pass. Religious freedom advocates have cause to be skeptical in light of the years of abuse in India.

This very week, events commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the slaughter of Christians by mobs upset about the murder of the Hindu leader Swami ‎Lakshmanananda Saraswati are taking place. What followed this murder on August 23, 2008, constituted India’s worst Christian persecution in 300 years. Despite the fact that Maoists took responsibility for the Swami’s death, over the course of the ensuing months, around 56,000 Christians fled into forests and the homes of friends and relatives. Approximately 5,600 houses and 415 villages were raided and set on fire. The government reported that 38 people were killed and two women raped, though others have reported higher numbers.

In the aftermath, seven Christians (including six who were illiterate) were tried and convicted of the murder in what appears to be as close to a sham trial as one can get. Their case has been stagnating, with an appeals court failing to take it up. One journalist has taken to setting up a petition calling for their release. It currently has almost 70,000 signatures. Those who wish to join with him can sign here.

All of this is additionally lamentable in light of India’s proud history as a Commonwealth country. Formerly part of the British Empire, India and other commonwealth countries pride themselves on matters such as the rule of law. Yet the rule of law has sadly suffered in recent years as it pertains to religious freedom in India. This compounds the negative effect on economic growth, as investors grow skittish of places where the rule of law is threatened.

One way these religious freedom concerns can immediately be addressed is by giving the seven Christians convicted for the Swami’s death a hearing date for their pending appeal, and a fair and speedy trial. Such steps will start the process of remedying the religious freedom and rule of law issues which have developed in recent years, and begin the journey toward remedying the problems for religious freedom in India.

Update on California’s AB 2943: Therapy Ban Assaulting Freedom of Speech and Religion Passes Senate

by Peter Sprigg

August 17, 2018

Here are some quick facts on the most recent action regarding California’s alarming bill, AB 2943, with links to sources:

  • The California Senate just passed AB 2943 on August 16.
  • AB 2943 is Round Two of California’s attack upon sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).
  • AB 2943 is so sweeping it could potentially ban the sale of some books—even the Bible.
  • Therapy bans restrict what therapists can say to clients. The Supreme Court has signaled that this violates constitutional rights to free speech.
  • Ironically, AB 2943 was passed even as a new study has debunked claims that SOCE is ineffective and harmful
  • Most clients who seek SOCE just want to live their lives according to the teachings of their faith, so bills like AB 2943 are an attack upon their freedom of religion.
  • The Assembly or Gov. Brown have a last chance to block enactment of AB 2943. Urge them to do so now.

CNN Publishes a Hatchet Job on Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber

August 10, 2018

Following the announcement of the Department of Justice Religious Liberty Task Force, CNN decided to post a recent piece that horribly mischaracterized what Christians believe about religious freedom. Whatever accuracy the piece contained was drowned out by glaring falsehoods—assertions and conclusions which are not only untrue, but which have now been released into the public discourse to further sow divisiveness and animosity.

Take this statement, for example: “[Sessions] also portrayed religious liberty as the right of religious groups not to be labeled as hate groups even if their beliefs prescribed hate.”

The author didn’t cite a Bible verse or theological position for “hate” because she can’t—it’s not there. So she just claims (falsely) that Christians’ beliefs “prescribe”—or instruct us to engage in—“hate” (whatever that means). In the process, she defended the Southern Poverty Law Center’s arbitrary “hate” list which Sessions was referring to—a hate list on which SPLC unilaterally labels and places FRC and other groups because we hold to unpopular truths about human sexuality, and a list which led to a gunman entering my organization’s headquarters several years ago with a plan to commit mass murder, wounding a security guard in the process. (FRC maintains no such lists of any of our opponents.)

One need only crack the pages of the Bible for a moment to see how false the CNN piece is about Christianity: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

Our faith leads us to love all people, which means conveying the truth. They may not like that truth, but their response does not mean we are not acting out of love.

For CNN to relay such falsehoods about Christians only serves to toxify the public square. Those commenting on the religious beliefs of others—like this author—need to get their facts right. If there is one thing Jesus “prescribes,” it is love. The cost of failing to accurately describe the religious beliefs of others is further mistrust and social deterioration. Unfortunately, this piece squarely contributes to that.

As a Christian organization, we not only aim to convey the truth out of love, but we believe no one should be compelled to act against their conscience in matters of faith. All people must be free to choose—or not choose—God. Therefore, we desire to protect religious freedom for all people (regardless of their faith), and applaud Attorney General Sessions’ efforts to protect Hindus and Muslims, for example. As mentioned during the Task Force announcement, the Sessions DOJ recently prosecuted an individual “who set fire to a mosque”—a fact which the CNN op-ed author conveniently left out of her discussion of how the Sessions DOJ approaches religious freedom. 

It is long overdue for CNN and other “mainstream” media to start discussing religious freedom in good faith, examining the facts and applying a dose of honesty with regard to what Christians actually believe about this issue. This would go a long way toward achieving the constructive dialogue necessary to heal our divided nation.

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