Tag archives: Religious Liberty

Sudan must redress Meriam’s new plight along with its legal system, which is already leading to other apostasy charges

by Travis Weber

June 24, 2014

Just when it looked like Sudanese mother Meriam Ibrahim and her two children would finally be free from the grip of injustice, they were snatched back into the clutches of the Sudanese authorities, who detained them when they arrived at an airport to leave Sudan today. Though it’s unclear on what basis they are being detained, we call on Sudan to immediately release Meriam and her children. In addition, the United States government, specifically Secretary of State Kerry and the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum – must pursue high level engagement on Meriam’s case. Sudan needs to know that the United States and its high level officials are watching whether Sudan pursues justice or regresses backwards into permitting the unjust detention of Meriam and her children to occur once again.

Yesterday, in a heartening turn of events, a Sudanese appeals court overturned a lower court ruling in which Meriam had been sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. According to Sudan’s official SUNA news agency (as reported by the Independent), “The appeal court ordered the release of Mariam Yahya and the cancellation of the (previous) court ruling.”

This was certainly a good bit of news, as numerous human rights organizations and governments had pressured Sudan and called on the ruling to be reversed. The U.S. government had been slow to respond, however, only recently issuing statements bearing on the matter. Numerous groups had spoken and petitioned on Meriam’s case, including the Family Research Council. And in Sudan, Meriam’s attorneys had filed appeals and vowed to fight to the end.

It is important to note that the Sudanese court ordering Meriam’s release got this issue right. Yet her re-arrest appears arbitrary – no basis for her detention has been offered – and it will be increasingly harmful to Sudan’s relations with the United States and the other countries outraged by the original charges against Meriam. Moreover, in the eyes of the many of the activists and NGOs which have spoken out on her case, Sudan’s reputation as a just and reasonable country will continue to degrade until it safely releases this family and allows them safe passage out of the country. 

Many have made their voices heard around the world on Meriam’s case. In addition, however, voices within Sudan have made it known that they wanted justice for Meriam too. Here, Muslim men (Meriam’s Sudanese attorneys) are defending a Christian woman (Meriam) in her quest for justice. These attorneys strongly believe in her case, and despite receiving death threats for defending a Christian, they vowed to fight to the end and exhaust all appeals. Furthermore, other Muslims in Sudan have been demonstrating on Meriam’s behalf.

While her attorneys and others in Sudan were on her side, not everyone was happy with Meriam’s freedom. When she was released, Meriam had to go into hiding due to threats against her life. Now, as she is trying to leave the country along with her family, she is being detained by Sudanese national security forces for an unknown reason. We call on Sudan to immediately release Meriam in accordance with the court order overturning her conviction and sentence. In addition, Secretary of State Kerry and the U.S. Embassy in Sudan must pursue high level engagement on Meriam’s case. Sudan needs to know that the United States and its high level officials are watching whether Sudan pursues justice or regresses backwards into permitting the unjust detention of Meriam and her children to occur once again. Sudan is close to bringing justice to Meriam, and must not fail her now.

We have witnessed Meriam’s attorneys and the protesting crowds expressing their support for Sudan to take ownership of this issue and be ready to handle religious freedom challenges when they inevitably arise in the future, for this issue is not going away. Indeed, it has already shown itself again: On April 2, 2014, Sudanese police arrested Faiza Abdalla near Sudan’s eastern border. Though details are scant, it appears that Abdalla, whose parents converted to evangelical Christianity before her birth and raised her in the same faith, was arrested because she has a Muslim name and yet professed Christianity. Her Catholic husband fled Sudan two years ago because of persecution, Morning Star News reported. As in the case of Meriam Ibrahim, Sudanese officials voided her marriage and accused her of apostasy when she refused to deny Christianity.[1]

There is no reason for these cases to recur—Sudan’s apostasy laws are inconsistent in light of the commitments it has made under its Constitution and international agreements, and must be repealed. Sudan’s 2005 Interim Constitution states that the government “shall respect the religious rights to … worship or assemble in connection with any religion or belief and to establish and maintain places for these purposes.”[2] Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a party, states: “[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”[3] The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states, to which Sudan is a party, states that the “[f]reedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.”[4]

 

Sudan’s apostasy laws are in conflict and inconsistent with these legal authorities, which provide a religious freedom that includes the freedom to choose one’s beliefs. Sudan has given its word and agreed to abide by these sources of authoritative law, and yet the apostasy laws under which Meriam was jailed and Faiza is detained are still being used to work injustice in Sudan. As a matter of integrity for the Sudanese nation and its legal system, and to avoid ongoing and future injustices like Meriam’s and Faiza’s, Sudan must repeal its apostasy laws.



[1] 2nd Sudanese Woman Jailed for Her Faith, Baptist Press, May 28, 2014, http://www.bpnews.net/printerfriendly.asp?id=42656.

[2] 2005 Interim National Constitution of the Republic of Sudan, art. 6.

[3] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), art. 18, 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976 [hereinafter ICCPR].

[4] Organization for African Unity, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, art. 8, June 27, 1981, CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982).

Annual Defense Authorization Bill Passes the House with Religious Liberty Provision

by Leanna Baumer

May 22, 2014

Despite two years of Congressional efforts to affirm a service member’s freedom to practice and express their faith in the military, confusion over the scope of that freedom persists, particularly in the Air Force. Noting that confusion’s detrimental effect on troop morale, Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) introduced an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act which calls upon the Department of Defense and the Air Force to issue clearer regulations regarding religious expression. Last night, the House unanimously approved that amendment and today the House passed the overall Defense authorization bill (H.R. 4435) by a bipartisan vote of 325 to 98.

Policy vagueness on something as fundamental as an Airman’s ability to exercise his First Amendment rights ultimately restricts rights and hurts service members. That’s a reality Congressman Lamborn has witnessed firsthand in his own Congressional District at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Earlier this spring, national headlines drew attention to the fact that the simple posting of a Bible verse on a personal white board was deemed offensive enough to start an Academy investigation and prompt command pressure to remove the quote. Such a harsh response to a minor and non-confrontational reference to one’s personal beliefs reveals the topsy-turvy approach towards religious expression in the Air Force at present. Whereas most reasonable people expect to encounter opinions in life with which they don’t agree, the country’s elite future war fighters are being schooled to think that a potential personal objection to another’s opinions are justifiable grounds for viewpoint censorship.

Of course, cultivating true leadership traits means cultivating the ability to listen to those with whom you may not agree — a skill undermined when future officers are instructed repeatedly to claim offense at another individual’s exercise of their freedom of religion. Indeed, several scholars with the U.S. Army War College recently drew attention to this point, noting that even the mere perception of hostility towards faith in the military has a detrimental impact on morale and the cultivation of virtue in the ranks.

Congressman Lamborn’s amendment recognizes that current policy needs to be revised in order to better reflect the law, provide clarity to commanders, and furnish certainty for men and women of faith in our military. Though the Air Force has indicated in recent weeks that it may review its policies, House passage of H.R. 4435 today ensures that they take that mandate seriously.

Justice Kennedy’s Reminder: Some Americans Just Need to Grow Up

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 5, 2014

In the majority opinion he issued today on public prayer, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a number of arguments with serious implications for religious liberty in the United States.

His opinion and the coincident opinions of Justices Alito and Thomas and the dissenting opinions by Justices Breyer and Kagan all deserve close scrutiny.  Religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberties, and any time the Supreme Court speaks about it, all Americans should listen carefully.

With that said, there is a particularly noteworthy thread of argument woven throughout Justice Kennedy’s opinion.  Several times, he alludes to a fact that needs to be expressed more often, both in our courts and everyday life: Mature adults should act that way.

Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” he argues. In other words, rather than wear your religious beliefs and cultural mores like touch-sensitive antennae, act enough like an adult that you don’t take offense unnecessarily or easily.

With respect to public prayer, Justice Kennedy writes:

… the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understand that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews … That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve of its content.

In other words, respect, decency, civility, and self-control are assumed in a nation that is not only diverse in its religious composition (although the overwhelming majority profess some form of Christian faith) but also composed of self-governing men and women who have the common sense not to take offense too readily.

Kennedy continues:

In their declarations in the trial court, respondents (those who filed suit against the Greece council’s permission of sectarian prayer) stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected.  Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.  Adults often encounter speech that they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront rom the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum, especially where, as here (Greece, New York), any member of the public is welcome in turn to offer an invocation reflecting his or her own convictions.

Hear a religious or political comment you don’t like? Justice Kennedy is saying that unless it is personal, disrespectful, or invasive, deal with it: That’s part of being an adult.

Over-dramatization and sensational hand-wringing derive from our media-driven fascination with the morally lurid, even when that luridness is quite isolated.  Consider the responses to the recent repulsive racial comments of Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers professional basketball team. They were disgusting, but they do not demand an exaggerated inflation of the presence of racism in America.  Commenting on the pervasiveness of racism in light of the Sterling affair, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “More whites believe in ghosts than they do in racism”.

Put another way, does racism exist?  Sure.  But is it representative or preponderant or something about which to be panicked?  No.  Abdul-Jabbar is calling on his fellow Americans not to get carried away, not to magnify a relative anomaly into a

looming crisis.

In the same way, hearing “Jesus” or “the cross of Christ” in a prayer shouldn’t set peoples’ teeth on edge any more than watching a liberal Democrat opine on network television should upset a conservative Republican: You might disagree with the content, but you shouldn’t try to stifle the right of someone to express a profoundly-held belief or conviction as long as it is expressed with adequate civility and courtesy.

Citing Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, Justice Kenney argues that “the Constitution does not guarantee citizens a right entirely to avoid ideas with which they disagree.”  And as to prayer at public or government-related events, he concludes:

Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy.  And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed.  Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably” are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure” (Marsh, 1983).

Justice Kennedy’s ruling is a welcome reminder that some of our fellow citizens just need to grow up.  Whether, in our era of political correctness and ready woundedness, they will or not is a different question.

Bowdoin College and Religious Bigotry

by Rob Schwarzwalder

February 20, 2014

Bowdoin College, one of America’s elite institutions of higher education, has now “banned a local lawyer and his wife from leading campus Bible studies with students after the couple refused to sign a non-discrimination agreement they say violates their Christian faith.”

For nearly the past ten years the couple, Rob and Sim Gregory, has been volunteers with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF). They have been told they will no longer be welcome on Bowdoin’s campus after May because of their commitment to the Bible’s teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for a heterosexual couple within the covenant of marriage.

The following excerpt from The Maine Wire explains the story well and succinctly:

For nearly a decade, the Gregorys have been a fixture of Bowdoin’s community and source of counsel and comfort for college-aged Christians. But last year administration officials informed the Gregorys they would be required to sign a non-discrimination agreement in order to continue serving as an advisor to BCF.

If someone’s participating in an organization and they are LGBTIQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Questioning, Asexual] and they are not allowed to participate in that organization because of their sexual orientation or they cannot lead that organization because of their sexual orientation, then that’s discrimination,” said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, according to the Bowdoin Orient.

According to the Orient, Foster said the initiative grew partially as a reaction to the Penn State scandal in 2011 in which assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. “One of the things we realized,” Foster told the Orient, “is that we have people on our campus working with students, spending a significant amount of time with students, and we don’t know a lot about a lot of these people.”

Gregory, who runs a Damariscotta-based law firm and is also a minister, had no qualms submitting to a background check. But for him, signing the agreement would constitute a violation of his Christian faith. So he offered a revision to the agreement that would protect his right to teach the historical Christian faith - without Bowdoin’s censorship. Similar religious exemptions have been adopted at other American colleges and universities.

The suggested amendment to the agreement read, in part, as follows: “Reservation of Rights to Religious Beliefs and Practices: The signature on this agreement shall not be construed to limit in any way the right of the undersigned Volunteer to hold, teach and practice his/her sincerely held Christian religious beliefs and to follow, hold, and teach the religious beliefs and practices of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the conduct of its campus ministry at Bowdoin College.”

In a Feb. 5 email obtained by The Maine Wire, Nathan Hintze, associate director of student activities, rejected Gregory’s compromise language.

I’m sorry that you have decided not to agree to the College’s volunteer policy,” said Hintze. “Both the Muslim and Catholic volunteers have in fact agreed without reservation.. It is simply unacceptable to have College-recognized student organizations effectively discriminate against individuals in violation of Maine law, which protects students’ right to fully participate as members of an organization and to lead that organization regardless of one’s sexual orientation.”

The stern, unbending voice of crypto-fascism is all too prevalent in the college’s condescending comments. For Rob Gregory, as quoted in Bowdoin’s student paper, The Orient, the fundamental issue is fidelity to Scripture and to historic Christian teaching: “The Bible teaches that human sexuality is expected to find its fulfillment inside of the twoness of persons and the twoness of genders.”

For this affirmation of biblical teaching on human sexuality, the Gregorys are being forced off the Bowdoin campus.

A friend of mine, who is associated with Bowdoin, sent me the following in a confidential email:

Rob and his wife, Sim, have hosted students countless times at their homes, taken on pro bono an internationally-covered cause to help a Bowdoin student, and spent thousands of dollars to love Bowdoin students out of their love for Christ. I know this firsthand, though Rob doesn’t say this publicly at all. In short, Bowdoin could not be targeting and smearing a better man (and his wife). Rob is gospel-centered, a man of oak, and does all this work (usually 35 hours a week) when he’s not being a high-powered Maine attorney. He and his wife aren’t paid a dime for this! They serve Bowdoin’s students selflessly, and Bowdoin has the temerity to try to crush them.

The historic Judeo-Christian understanding of morally valid human sexual expression is not bigoted, intolerant, or whatever other tired terms-of-political-art its opponents use whenever their social suzerainty in our decomposing age is questioned. And if the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is true, then there is no ground for compromise with those who insist it not be taught. There is no common ground here, which is scary for anyone who cares about liberty and justice in a self-governing society.

The Gregorys deserve our thanks for their willingness to stand unequivocally “for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:2). They are losing access to the Bowdoin campus in time, but for them, a well-deserved eternal reward awaits. Not a bad trade-off, that.

Video: Senior Master Sgt. Philip Monk Discusses Military Religious Freedom Incident

by FRC Media Office

December 20, 2013

Master Sgt. Phillip Monk shares his story about how he was relieved of his duties when he refused to agree with his openly lesbian commanding officer that a subordinate’s expression of opposition to same-sex marriage constituted “discrimination.”   His punishment was intended to have a chilling effect on service members throughout the military.  This case among many other similar incidents prompted Congress to overwhelmingly vote to strengthen conscience and religious freedom protections for our men and women in uniform. Passage of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Armed Forces to accommodate a service member’s ability to practice and express their religious beliefs and to issue regulations formalizing those safeguards.   For more information go to militaryfreedom.org.  Thank you for standing up for #militaryfreedom.  Please share this video with your friends and family!

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