Category archives: Religious Liberty

State Round-Up: Protecting Adoption Agencies and Foster/Adoptive Families

by Chantel Hoyt

July 20, 2021

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about key provisions that states have advanced in 2021 to defend the family and human dignity.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia was a win for Catholic Social Services (CSS). It allows them to continue serving the neediest children without compromising their religious beliefs. However, the decision was not the strong affirmation of religious liberty for which many were hoping. As noted in FRC’s blog on the opinion:

The Supreme Court did the bare minimum to protect CSS and other faith adherents. It was only because Philadelphia had other exceptions, but not religious ones, that the Court found the city in violation of the First Amendment.

In his concurrence, Justice Alito warned that “[t]his decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops.” Whether a city with no exceptions for secular agencies can force a religious agency to violate its religious beliefs is yet to be decided by the Court. Therefore, more needs to be done to protect and affirm the religious liberty of faith-based agencies. Fortunately, several states are taking steps to do just that.

Thus far, 10 states have Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Acts (CWPIAs), legislation that protects adoption and foster care providers from government discrimination based on protected beliefs about the nature of marriage and family. “Government discrimination” can come in many forms. Strong CWPIAs list as many of these forms as possible, with some of the most common being:

  • Denying a license, permit, or other authorization, or the renewal thereof, or revoking/suspending such license, permit, or other authorization.
  • Denying a grant, contract, or participation in a government program.
  • Denying the agency’s application for funding or refusing to renew the agency’s funding.

Ideally, the beliefs protected will also be clearly defined (i.e. the religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman), although this has been less common in the CWPIAs introduced thus far. Many of these bills also include a strengthening provision—a civil cause of action for agencies whose rights have been violated by the government. Some bills also specifically protect child welfare agencies from being subject to civil fines or damages for acting in accordance with their beliefs.

Since 2010, 49 CWPIAs have been introduced in 19 states. Ten states have enacted these bills in some form—Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The first was introduced and enacted in Virginia in 2012, and the most recent was enacted in Tennessee in 2020.

In 2021, four CWPIAs have been introduced in four states—Iowa (HF 170), Kentucky (HB 524), South Carolina (HB 3878), and Massachusetts (H. 1536).

Iowa HF 170 is unique in that it clearly defines the protected beliefs child welfare agencies may hold. Among these are the beliefs that “Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” and that “The terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ refer to distinct and immutable biological sexes that are determinable by anatomy and genetics by the time of birth.”

Oklahoma resolutions HJR 1059 (2016) and HJR 1023 (2017) read similarly to Iowa’s bill, as they specifically protect child welfare agency’s “beliefs or the lawful expression of those beliefs, including sincerely held religious beliefs regarding marriage, family, or sexuality.” 

Most CWPIAs specifically protect the right of adoption and foster agencies (many of which have a religious mission) to decline certain placements if doing so would violate a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction. However, spelling out which beliefs warrant protection adds an extra layer of clarity for these agencies.

One important thing to note: Half of the bills introduced after 2010 have only protected agencies’ “written” beliefs contained in a policy or organizing document. Some bills even include a requirement that these beliefs be written and available to be viewed. This can exclude some agencies from protection if their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions about marriage are not spelled out in a written policy or on the agency’s website. Therefore, CWPIAs are stronger when they don’t make this stipulation and instead protect all sincerely held religious beliefs to have protection. For example, South Carolina HB 3878 (2021) prohibits government discrimination against an agency for providing or declining to provide “any adoption or foster care service… based on or in a manner consistent with a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.”

Contrary to what is often said by the media, CWPIAs do not stop same-sex couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents, nor do they limit the pool of potential foster and adoptive parents. The majority of child welfare agencies in the United States are willing to place children with same-sex couples. Most faith-based agencies, such as Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia, will help these couples find other agencies willing to assist them.

Forcing welfare agencies to either violate their beliefs, close their doors, or serve in a more limited capacity is detrimental to the children these agencies serve. Allowing faith-based agencies to operate alongside non-faith-based ones ensures that more children in need will receive care, not fewer. Recognizing this fact, 10 states have already enacted CWPIAs into law. Given the number of lawsuits seeking to force foster and adoption agencies to act in ways contrary to their beliefs, other states would be wise to get ahead of the problem and follow suit.

The Unshakable Faith of a Baker From Colorado

by Kaitlyn Shepherd

July 9, 2021

I remember when Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was argued at the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2017. People hoping to witness the oral arguments had been camped outside the Court for days. That morning, crowds of people waited to hear how the justices would rule on Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who had declined to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding.

In May 2021, Phillips published his account of what happened in The Cost of My Faith: How a Decision in My Cake Shop Took Me to the Supreme Court. The book describes his split-second decision to not bake the cake, explains the ensuing years of legal challenges, and recounts the lessons he learned from the experience. His story is an encouraging testimony of God’s faithfulness to sustain His children throughout life’s difficulties.

As Legal Battles Mounted, Phillips’ Faith Only Grew

Phillips begins by recalling a life-changing conversation he had with two men, David and Charlie, who came into Masterpiece Cakeshop to ask him to create a custom wedding cake for their wedding. Phillips politely declined, stating that he could not create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding but that he would be happy to sell them anything else in his shop. The conversation was brief, and David and Charlie refused to give Phillips a chance to explain his rationale further.

Phillips recalls his desire to extend the conversation so he could explain that although he will gladly serve anyone, he cannot express every message “because of the content of the message that the imagery or words on the cake might convey” (3). Since opening Masterpiece Cakeshop in 1993, Phillips had adhered to this simple rule and had previously declined to make cakes featuring a variety of messages, such as obscene language, hateful rhetoric, and statements or images that “mocked or contradicted [his] faith” or celebrated events such as divorce or Halloween (61, 71).

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against Phillips and held that compelling him to express messages he disagreed with did not violate his First Amendment rights. After the case worked its way through the lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court took the case. In June 2018, the Court sided with Phillips and held that the Commission’s actions violated Phillips’ right to freely exercise his religion. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the record showed the Commission’s “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Phillips’ sincerely-held religious beliefs, and he explained how the Commission treated Phillips differently than other bakers, who declined to create custom cakes that expressed messages opposing same-sex marriage.

Less than a month after this victory, Phillips faced another legal challenge. On the same day that the Supreme Court granted cert in Phillips’ case, one would-be customer, Autumn Scardina, had requested a cake that was pink on the inside and blue on the outside to celebrate a gender transition. Phillips declined to create the cake because of its intended message. In response to charges brought against him by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Phillips and his attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against the Commission. In March 2019, the state’s attorneys offered to settle the case after evidence showing the Commission’s continuing hostility to Phillips’ religious beliefs surfaced. After this second victory, Phillips hoped to continue his business in peace.

That peace, however, was remarkably short-lived. In June 2019, Scardina, seeking over $100,000 in fines and damages, filed another lawsuit against Phillips in state court. On June 15, 2021, the court ruled against Phillips. The court found that Phillips’ refusal to bake the cake was based on Scardina’s transgender status, not on the cake’s intended message, and that forcing Phillips to bake the cake would not violate his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

Phillips concludes the book by describing the lessons he learned during the many years of legal challenges. He states that although some may have intended their attacks to destroy his faith, his faith is now stronger than ever. He expresses gratitude for having been given a platform to speak the truth. Phillips has also grown in humility and patience and has learned to be a better listener. He has gained a greater appreciation for the wise system of government instituted by the Founders. Most importantly, though, Phillips experienced God’s goodness:

[C]oming through oppressive days, enduring the death threats, the hate mail, the obscene phone calls and public demonstrations, seeing the tears of my wife and the worries of my children, hearing people call me a bigot and a Nazi, listening while elected officials openly mocked the deepest convictions of my soul—let me assure you, this is when God’s mercies abound. This is when He comforts us in the deep places of the soul that only He can reach. (188–89)

Peaceful, Unshakeable Faith in God’s Provision

Phillips’ compelling testimony is a must-read for any believer. First, Phillips’ account provides a thorough and accessible description of one of the most influential religious freedom cases of the past decade. He clearly describes the timeline of events and explains why the case was so momentous, not only for him but for all people of faith (98). Although the case concerned Colorado’s attempts to compel Phillips to speak messages that violated his conscience and to force him to choose between his religious beliefs and his business, the case has broader implications for the rights of all Americans “who share[] his biblical views on human sexuality and marriage” (194).

Second, Phillips’ story will encourage believers who may feel disheartened. Although losing 40 percent of his business, facing hateful emails and death threats, and having his reputation attacked by public officials could have caused Phillips to waver in his faith, his testimony overflows with a sense of peace and an unshakeable belief in God’s character and provision. As Phillips recalled while waiting for the Supreme Court’s verdict:

You might think the long wait was especially stressful—an exercise in impatient endurance, where we gritted our teeth to get through the endless days. But it wasn’t like that at all. I genuinely felt an immense peace after our arguments. I was content in knowing we’d done everything we could do. That we’d been as faithful as possible and the outcome really was always totally in God’s reliable hands. (143)

Phillips’ faith is a testament to the Holy Spirit’s power to encourage believers throughout life’s challenges.

Finally, Phillips’ account can inspire believers to stand firm in their faith. Although his experiences could have made him retreat from his faith, Phillips viewed them as an opportunity:

What’s the point of suddenly being on so many people’s radars if you can’t use those moments to share with them your deepest beliefs? That, for me, is the best news in the whole world: the love of Jesus Christ. (11)

Unfortunately, hostility toward Christianity and toward those who adhere to a biblical worldview is only increasing. Like Phillips, may we all have faith to stand firm and to be willing to serve as God’s instrument whatever the cost.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is Research Assistant for Legal and Policy Studies at Family Research Council.

In Pakistan, Economic Pressure Can Make a Difference for Persecuted Christians

by Arielle Del Turco

July 8, 2021

A Pakistani court has sent 13-year-old Nayab Gill back into the custody of a Muslim man who her parents claim kidnapped her. Ignoring documents that prove Nayab was underage, the court’s decision broke the hearts of the Roman Catholic parents. Her distraught father, Shahid Gill, say “My child then left the courtroom in front of our eyes, and we could do nothing.”

On May 20, Nayab went missing. An alleged Islamic marriage certificate was produced to the court baring the same date. Several problems are apparent in how the case was handled, and the decision to allow a minor to marry goes against Pakistani law. Unfortunately, instances of kidnapping of Christian girls, forced conversion to Islam, and forced marriage is not as uncommon as it should be in Pakistan.

The Continued Persecution of Pakistani Christians

Nayab is a Christian in a country where Christians make up a small minority—just 1.27 percent of the population. They are a marginalized group. Many are illiterate and undereducated. These social factors make the Christian community particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

The forced conversion and forced marriage of Christian girls by Muslim men is an unfortunately common problem. Many estimates suggest that around 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and young women are kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, and forced to marry their abductors each year.

While many Pakistanis are disgusted by this practice—just like many were grieved by the reports about Sunita Masih—Islamist mobs and a failure by Pakistan’s government to secure the rule of law enable this problem to continue. When extremist mobs form outside courthouses and threaten judges who might rule in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim, judges often relent and send the victims back to live with their abductors. This capitulation does an immense disservice to Pakistani minorities who seek justice.

When an investigation or court case involves a religious minority victim and a Muslim perpetrator, Pakistani radicals often view the cases as a challenge to Islam, rather than a question of criminality. Due to this dynamic, perpetrators may target Christians or Hindus as victims to hide their crimes behind religious tensions.

Attacks on Pakistani Christians are brutal. In April, seven houses belonging to Christian families were set on fire by Muslim extremists trying to take their land, according to International Christian Concern. In May, reports surfaced that a mob of over 200 Muslim men had attacked a Christian community in a small village, harming Christians and destroying property. The incident was reportedly sparked by a disagreement between teenage Christian workers and a Muslim man.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most recent report from the Pakistani government indicates that the Christian population has declined over the last two decades. Christian leaders say that intense discrimination has sent Pakistani Christians to seek better lives in other countries across Asia.

Economic Pressure Provides a Ray of Hope for the Persecuted

Promoting religious freedom in Pakistan is extraordinarily challenging. Yet, a major recent victory indicates that international pressure can make all the difference for religious minorities.

In June, the Lahore High Court acquitted Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who had been on death row since 2014 for supposedly sending a blasphemous text message. The couple is illiterate and claim the text came from a SIM card registered by someone using a copy of Shagufta’s national identity card. Imprisoned since 2013, the couple were separated from their four children and lived in fear of attacks from fellow prisoners.

After years of delays, the court’s decision to acquit the couple finally came just weeks after the European Parliament highlighted their case in a recent resolution against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. But the resolution did not just condemn blasphemy laws. It also called for a review of Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in light of current events. This is a tariff preference that benefits developing countries, and losing it would have a significant economic impact.

Maybe it is a coincidence that this couple was acquitted following the European Parliament’s resolution calling for their release, but after appealing the decision for years, the timing is hard to ignore. And the threat of economic pressure has proven to be effective at moving governments to change tack on their human rights violations in the past.

Most notably, American Pastor Andrew Brunson was freed from his imprisonment in Turkey after the U.S. Treasury Department issued Global Magnitsky sanctions on Turkish leaders. These successes should encourage Western countries to utilize the economic leverage they have to uphold internationally recognized human rights standards.

Pakistan is a young democracy, and to secure a peaceful and prosperous future, it is essential that the government work to eliminate religious persecution and discrimination. The international community must also do its part to hold Pakistan to a higher standard of human rights.

We live in a time where hatred directed at religious believers is flaring across the globe, often with violent consequences. International religious freedom is not a feel-good issue that can be relegated to the sidelines of foreign policy. The promotion of religious freedom across the globe is critical to peace, security, rule of law, and development. For the sake of innocent victims like Nayab, American leaders must take it seriously.

State Round-Up: Protecting Access to Counseling

by Chantel Hoyt

July 8, 2021

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about key provisions that states have advanced in 2021 to defend the family and human dignity.

Most Americans would support passing laws that seek to protect minors from harm. However, the question of exactly how we should go about protecting minors and what we should be protecting them from is a bit more contentious.

This year, 21 states have introduced bills seeking to ban sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) or what its detractors call “conversion therapy.” In actuality, what these bills ban is patient-directed counseling and talk therapy. Specifically, they prohibit licensed mental health care professionals from counseling individuals to help them cope with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity issues. Although eight states have introduced legislation to protect patients’ right to access the therapy of their choice, more needs to be done to stop the spread of counseling bans in the United States and protect the freedoms of counselors and their patients.

Counseling bans have almost always applied only to minors and typically define SOCE or “conversion therapy” as “any practice or treatment by a mental health professional that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity…” Most often, they incur professional penalties for mental health care professionals who fail to comply. Some may contain exceptions for pastors or other religious clergy, but these exceptions do not extend to licensed professionals who are also pastors or people of faith. Some of these bills also prohibit expending public funds for “conversion therapy.”

The media’s portrayal of “conversion therapy” often evokes images of electroshock or other pain-inducing methods. However, there is no evidence that a single practitioner of SOCE is using these methods today. Counseling bans rarely, if ever, mention such methods but instead use expansive language that sweeps up mere talk therapy. (Indeed, the SOCE ban in Washington state was held up for years because Democrats there refused to agree to language outlawing these specific practices.)

Virtually every counseling ban today applies to both sexual orientation and gender identity. A counseling ban that includes gender identity is especially harmful, as it mandates that mental health care professionals use a “gender-affirming” model of care with their clients. This makes it unlawful for a therapist or psychiatrist to do anything other than affirm a minor’s gender identity, even if said identity does not align with the minor’s biological sex, and even if that’s the kind of counseling the patient wants.

These bills are harmful for three reasons:

  1. They place content and viewpoint-based restrictions on constitutionally protected speech,
  2. They undermine the autonomy of individuals and their parents to choose the therapy that is right for them, and
  3. They harm minors who are struggling with these issues by making the counseling they need unavailable.

Since 2011, 265 counseling ban bills have been introduced in 43 states. Twenty-four of these bills have been enacted in 18 states.

Currently, 20 states plus the District of Columbia have counseling bans in place. Counseling bans have been prevented from taking effect in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida due to court injunctions. Based on U.S. census data on the populations of these 20 states, it is estimated that about 41 percent of minors living in the United States today live in a state with a counseling ban in place.

From 2011 to 2019, the number of counseling bans introduced each year rose steadily, peaking in 2019 at 57. This number dropped to 28 in 2020 but has since risen again in 2021 (43 in 21 states). Fortunately, none have been enacted yet. Thirteen of the bills introduced this year applied not only to minors, but also to adults. Two bills introduced in North Carolina extended counseling bans to adults with disabilities, while Minnesota and Alaska introduced bills that applied to minors and “vulnerable adults.” Bills introduced in Kentucky and Texas apply the ban to individuals of all ages. This is somewhat of a recent development, as in years past, few of these bills applied to adults.

Six bills this year also prohibit advertising for “conversion therapy” (again, this is really talk therapy) or related goods and services. Florida’s bills even impose a criminal penalty (a felony of the third degree) for violating such prohibitions. Such dangerous penalties have become more prevalent in the past two or three years. This raises questions about what constitutes an “advertisement” and how this could affect churches and other faith-based institutions. If anything, counseling bans have gotten even more expansive this year, with more bills applying to more individuals and imposing new penalties.

Apart from simply opposing counseling bans and stopping them in their tracks, some states have taken a more proactive approach by introducing legislation to protect counseling. These bills vary widely in terms of specifics, but many include two key provisions:

  1. Prohibit the state from restricting the rights of mental health professionals to counsel patients with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues, as well as the right of patients or their parents to choose such counseling.
  2. Provide that individuals may give or receive counsel in accordance with their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

In addition to these two provisions, some bills may create a civil cause of action for practitioners or patients who feel that their freedom of speech was unjustly violated.

About half of the 21 Counseling Protection Acts introduced since 2015 take the general form described above. However, the following states have taken a different approach:

  • Massachusetts introduced a bill in 2021 that would amend a section of law banning SOGI “change efforts,” adding a section specifying that SOGI change efforts do not include practices that “utilize discussion alone.”
  • Wisconsin introduced two bills in 2021 that would prohibit state regulatory boards from promulgating rules that establish that employing or promoting a treatment that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is unprofessional conduct.
  • North Dakota (2021), South Dakota (2020), and Kansas (2019) each introduced bills that would preempt the state government from endorsing or enforcing certain policies, including policies banning “conversion therapy,” on the novel theory that to do so would be to establish a state religion. (None of these bills has passed, so this reinterpretation of the Establishment Clause has not been tested.)
  • Virginia introduced two bills (one in 2019, one in 2020) that would have given state regulatory boards the right to ban electroshock therapy or “similar non-speech therapy” but specifically prohibited such entities from violating an individual’s “fundamental right” to engage in the talk therapy of their choice, including counsel to assist in “reducing or eliminating unwanted attractions or concerns about gender identity.”
  • Tennessee introduced two bills in 2016, both of which would have protected licensed counselors and therapists from being required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief, provided that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral to another professional willing to provide such counseling.
  • Oklahoma introduced a bill in 2015 that would have prohibited the government from restricting SOCE but specified that this protection would not extend to “aversion therapy” (electroshock, electroconvulsive therapy, vomit-induction therapy, etc.).

Since 2015, at least 20 Counseling Protection Acts have been introduced in at least 12 different states. 2021 has been the biggest year for these types of bills, with a total of eight being introduced. So far, only one Counseling Protection Act has been enacted in Tennessee in 2016. This bill protected counselors and therapists from being required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief, provided that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist willing to provide the counseling or therapy. This bill also provided that a refusal to provide the counseling/therapy described will not be the basis for a civil cause of action, criminal prosecution, or any other action by the state to penalize or withhold benefits.

This year, some states have recognized the importance of standing against counseling bans. But more still needs to be done. Twenty states currently have counseling bans in place for minors, meaning children and teens in those states cannot legally access therapy to address unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity issues, even if they want to. Some states are trying to take this right away from consenting adults as well. More states need to step up and protect access to such counseling.

Christian Adoption Agencies Face Uphill Battle Even After Fulton

by Gabby Wiggins

July 7, 2021

Public adoption/foster care agencies and private adoption agencies have been co-existing for decades. They each have specific focuses, advantages, and disadvantages, allowing both birth parents and prospective adoptive parents to choose which program they think will be the best fit for them. Christian adoption agencies in particular have proven to be very successful. For example, Nightlight Christian Adoptions served close to 14,000 adoptive families during the 2020 year. Because of their religious nature, Christian agencies have certain criteria for the families they approve, including marital status. The recent 9-0 Supreme Court ruling in the Fulton v. Philadelphia case affirmed that religious agencies like Catholic Social Services (CSS) must be treated equally to other secular organizations. However, even with this narrowly-worded win, the broader reality is that Christian adoption agencies have long been under attack in the U.S. and are continuing to fight this battle.

One of the agencies most targeted due to the redefinition of marriage has been Catholic Charities, which only places children in homes with a father and mother. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to shut down because of a state law that would force them to comply with laws barring “sexual orientation discrimination,” meaning that they would have been forced to violate deeply-held religious beliefs and place children in households with same-sex couples for both foster care and adoption. After their closure, adoptions in Massachusetts dropped by 28 percent in the following years. Soon after, Catholic Charities of San Francisco, the Archdiocese of Washington, and Illinois were forced to close as well. By forcing Catholic Charities to choose between violating their biblical beliefs and shutting down, the number of children waiting to be adopted increased by thousands.

The most absurd part of it all is that the prospective adoptive parents identifying as LGBTQ whom state non-discrimination laws protect are in fact not affected by religious agencies at all. During the oral arguments over Fulton v. Philadelphia, Justice Alito asked, “How many same-sex couples in Philadelphia have been denied the opportunity to be foster parents as a result of Catholic Social Services’ policy?” The response given by Lori Windham, who represented CSS, was simple: “Zero. In fact, Justice Alito, none have even approached Catholic Social Services asking for this approval and endorsement.” There is a plethora of other agencies without religious convictions that same-sex couples can go to for adoption services. Therefore, waging a battle against Christian organizations is clearly driven by an anti-religious agenda that results in more harm than help.

Unfortunately, it seems like the Fulton v. Philadelphia decision is unlikely to provide lasting protection to religious adoption agencies across the nation. The decision was mostly based off a provision of Philadelphia city law that stated that exceptions to Philadelphia’s non-discrimination policy could be overruled at the city commissioner’s discretion, which in this case is what the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court did not provide the ruling that CSS pushed for, which would allow a stricter scrutiny standard and an overturning of Employment Division v. Smith. The combination of this lack of protection and the caving of other religious adoption agencies does not bode well for the future of Christian adoption. As of March 2021, Bethany Christian Services, the largest Christian adoption agency in the U.S., announced that they would place children in non-traditional households for both foster care and adoption.

One of the fundamental tenets of America is the right to publicly live by religious values. To slowly strip that away does nothing but take away freedom and harm society’s most vulnerable children. As Christians, we must continue to pray for the religious liberty of adoption agencies like Catholic Charities and pray that they hold fast to their convictions.

Gabby Wiggins is a Brand Advancement intern at Family Research Council.

Britney Spears and Uyghur Women Share a Terrible Burden

by Arielle Del Turco

July 6, 2021

A recent special hearing regarding the Britney Spears conservatorship revealed shocking details about how the famous pop star is being treated by her father and management team. Most heartbreaking of all was the revelation that the conservatorship will not allow the 39-year-old to remove her intrauterine device (IUD) so she can have another child. This instance of forced contraception, which amounts to temporary sterilization, adds momentum to the already trending #FreeBritney hashtag spearheaded by fans who want to see her father’s abusive conservatorship end.

Under her father’s conservatorship, Britney has been rendered powerless to make her own decisions. She stated, “I wanted to take the [IUD] out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children—any more children.” The pop superstar and mother of two should be free to pursue having a family, as should all women.

No one should be subjected to the indignity and despair that results from forced sterilization, even a temporary kind via an IUD. Sadly, Britney is far from being the only person suffering this type of fate today. The Chinese government is currently enacting a large-scale campaign in Xinjiang to forcibly sterilize Uyghur Muslim women. These forced sterilizations, which include IUDs and tubal ligations, are a critical element of the Chinese government’s ongoing effort to limit Uyghur births, an effort that the United States has declared a genocide. Worse, President Biden doesn’t seem all that concerned that reinstating funds to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will contribute to the problem.

One Uyghur woman previously detained in Xinjiang’s internment camps told the Associated Press that officials in her camp installed IUDs in every woman of childbearing age. At almost 50 years old, she pleaded and promised that she would not have more children. Nonetheless, she and hundreds of other women were herded onto buses and sent to the hospital for their IUDs. Some wept silently, and all were too afraid to resist publicly.

For 15 days, this woman suffered from continual menstrual bleeding and headaches. She claimed, “I couldn’t sleep properly. It gave me huge psychological pressure.” She added, “Only Uyghurs had to wear it.”

Gülgine, a Uyghur gynecologist who fled to Turkey, confirms stories like this. She recounted in an interview, “A lot of women were put on the back of a truck and sent to the hospital” for their IUD implants. “The [sterilization] procedure took about five minutes each, but the women were crying because they did not know what was happening to them.”

Researcher Adrian Zenz found that officials planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in some rural areas of Xinjiang to IUDs or sterilizations by 2019. The devices used in Xinjiang can only be removed surgically by state-approved doctors.

According to Zumret Dawut, Xinjiang hospitals require permission from five government offices before removing an IUD. Concerning her own compulsory IUDs, the mother of three told Radio Free Asia, “They caused a lot of problems for me. I passed out, lost consciousness, several times after the insertions.”

Earlier this year, Chinese state media took to Twitter to argue that the sterilization program liberates Uyghur women, “making them no longer baby-making machines.” The post was later deleted, but the abuses have continued. It is not liberation for Uyghur women—or Britney, for that matter—to be sterilized and made to labor for the benefit of a state or a conservator.

It is tempting, but incorrect, to assume Uyghur sterilizations are far removed from American politics. When President Joe Biden announced his intention to reinstate funding to the UNFPA earlier this year, he paved the way for American funds to go to an organization that partners with China’s National Health Commission (NHC). This is at a time when the United States has determined that the Chinese government is committing genocide in Xinjiang hospitals through forced sterilizations and abortions.

Although the UNFPA may not directly fund sterilizations in Xinjiang, its cooperation with the National Health Commission enables the NHC to divert other funds elsewhere. The hard-earned money of American taxpayers should not be supporting atrocities abroad, even indirectly.

Britney’s conservatorship, and her father and management team’s decision to retain her IUD against her will, brings the issue of forced sterilization closer to home for Americans. Fans and non-fans alike are empathetic as the pop star’s basic rights are violated.

Vulnerable celebrities in America and persecuted minorities in China deserve the freedom to have families and as many children as they desire. The American court system should work on freeing Britney, and the world should work towards freeing the Uyghur people.

Southern Baptists Stand With Uyghur Muslims Against Atrocities

by Arielle Del Turco

June 24, 2021

This is part one of a three-part series highlighting significant resolutions passed by the Southern Baptist Convention this year that apply a biblical worldview to critical cultural and political issues.

At the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) largest gathering in over two decades, a resolution was passed condemning atrocities the Chinese Communist Party is currently committing against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. America’s second-largest Christian denomination might seem like an unlikely champion of a non-Christian minority group’s human rights, but that makes the resolution all the more meaningful.

Dozens of resolutions are submitted at every annual SBC meeting. Only a handful are accepted by the Resolution Committee and brought to a vote. By passing a resolution, the SBC is collectively agreeing to publicly affirming the statement. Many cultural, political, ethical, and theological questions and challenges are currently facing the SBC. The fact that a resolution on the Uyghur genocide was brought to the forefront is significant.

Around 17,000 “messengers” were sent to the Convention to represent their respective Southern Baptist churches and participate in the votes. Their choice to condemn human rights violations in China is meaningful.

For more on why the Uyghur genocide is an issue Christians should care about and to see the statements the SBC agreed on, read the full text of the resolution, reprinted here:  

RESOLUTION 8: ON THE UYGHUR GENOCIDE

WHEREAS, “God created man in his own image” (Gen 1:27), people are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and “The life…[and] breath of all humanity…is in [God’s] hand (Job 12:10); and

WHEREAS, One of God’s commandments is “Do not murder” (Exodus 20:13); and

WHEREAS, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of [God’s] throne; faithful love and truth go before [Him]” (Psalm 89:14); and

WHEREAS, We are called to “Provide justice for the needy … [to] uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute” (Psalm 82:3) and to “remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily” (Hebrews 13:3); and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists resolved in 2019 “On Biblical Justice” that “we commit to address injustices through gospel proclamation, by advocating for people who are oppressed and face wrongs against them”; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists resolved in 2018 “On Reaffirming The Full Dignity Of Every Human Being” that persecution of religious minorities constitutes a significant challenge which threatens the dignity and worthiness of human beings and likewise resolved that “we affirm the full dignity of every human being of whatever political or legal status or party and denounce rhetoric that diminishes the humanity of anyone”; and

WHEREAS, Credible reporting from human rights journalists and researchers concludes that more than a million Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic group living in Central and East Asia, have been detained in a network of concentration camps in the Xinjiang Province in the People’s Republic of China; and

WHEREAS, Atrocities reported by major media outlets against the Uyghur people by the Communist Party of China include forced abortions, rape, sexual abuse, sterilization, internment in concentration camps, organ harvesting, human trafficking, scientific experimentation, the sale of human hair forcibly taken from those in concentration camps, family separation, forced reeducation of children, forced labor, and torture; and

WHEREAS, The U.S. State Department, Canadian Parliament, UK Parliament, Dutch Parliament, and Lithuanian Parliament have declared the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people to be a genocide; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists stated in 1999 in “Resolution on Halting Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing” that “ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity in which one ethnic group expels members of other ethnic groups from towns and villages it conquers in order to create an enclave for members of their ethnic group”; and

WHEREAS, In the same resolution in 1999, Southern Baptists stated that “genocide is a crime against humanity in which one group dehumanizes and murders members of another people group—whether national, ethnic, or religious—with the intent to destroy that group completely”; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15–16, 2021, condemn the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people, and that we stand together with these people against the atrocities committed against them; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call upon the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China to cease its program of genocide against the Uyghur people immediately, restore to them their full God-given rights, and put an end to their captivity and systematic persecution and abuse; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we commend the United States Department of State for designating these actions against the Uyghur people as meeting the standard of “genocide”; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we commend the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for their ongoing advocacy for the Uyghur people and for being among the first major organizations to advocate for their cause; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we strongly urge the United States government to continue to take concrete actions with respect to the People’s Republic of China to bring an end to the genocide of the Uyghur People, and work to secure their humane treatment, immediate release from reeducation camps, and religious freedom; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we implore the United States government to prioritize the admission of Uyghurs to this country as refugees, and provide resources for their support and resettlement; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray for the Uyghur people as they suffer under such persecution; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray for the Christian workers and relief workers who bring the Uyghur people physical aid and the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so they can experience freedom found only in Christ.

This SBC resolution highlights the powerful truth that all people possess inherent dignity because they are created in the image of God. As such, Christians have a responsibility to treat everyone with respect, stand against injustice, and defend those facing oppression or mistreatment.

The resolution quotes Psalm 82:3, which says, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” To this end, the SBC rightly adopted the above resolution, thereby condemning injustice and calling for action and prayer on behalf of the downtrodden. May we all commit to do the same.

IRF 101: Slow Progress Towards Religious Freedom in Uzbekistan

by Tyler Watt , Ben Householder

June 23, 2021

This blog is part of an International Religious Freedom 101 series providing an overview of religious freedom challenges in countries around the world. Read our previous installments on Turkey, PakistanSri Lanka, and Vietnam.

Aimurat Khayburahmanov, a Christian Uzbekistani, was arrested in 2008 for holding prayer meetings in his home, in violation of Uzbekistan’s oppressive laws forbidding religious gatherings held outside of registered churches and worship sites. He was charged with participation in an “extremist” religious group, and faced up to 15 years imprisonment.

Khayburahmanov was jailed for three months, and later questioned by the authorities. They pressured him to sign a statement saying that he would neither meet with other Christians nor possess Christian literature. This gross violation of Khayburahmanov’s rights is just one example of the persecution that has long been carried out in Uzbekistan.

The former Soviet state of Uzbekistan exists in a region of the globe that elicits much political attention, and yet, Uzbekistan itself is far from the minds of most Americans. The nation’s powerful executive branch ensures that public policy reflects the personal interests of the president, with disastrous consequences to religious liberty. Though Uzbekistan has moved towards reform in recent years, the religious liberty of its citizens is still dangerously restricted.

Religious Groups Under Pressure

An estimated 2 percent of Uzbekistanis are Christians, including Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants. As such a small minority, they are extremely vulnerable to pressure from the government. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities face intense social pressure to refrain from evangelism, thus preventing them from expanding their faith communities.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are particularly targeted, as their religious beliefs prohibit them from fulfilling Uzbekistan’s compulsory military service requirement. Several have been arrested and sentenced to prison because of their beliefs in recent decades, although authorities seem to be relaxing their policy for conscientious objectors. Nonetheless, Jehovah’s Witnesses are only allowed to gather in one congregation, in one city. All other assemblies are considered unlawful.

Road to Religious Recognition

Nascent religious groups face an upward fight in pushing for recognition by the government. Though the government and the state are officially secular, and all faiths are equal under the law, individuals are prohibited from gathering for religious reasons if their faith community is not registered. This affects thousands of Uzbekistanis. Shia Muslims, which make up 1 percent of Uzbekistan’s population, are not officially recognized and have no sanctioned mosque to meet in. The same is true for several protestant denominations and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who struggle to find an accessible place to practice their faith.

Christ reminds us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.” This verse holds equally true today, reminding us that Christians thrive in a faith community where they can worship and pray together. The importance of corporate worship is not lost on Muslims and Jews, who strongly desire to express their faiths in in mosques and synagogues, and who also fall victim to Uzbekistan’s restrictive policies.

Restrictions on Muslims

Although Uzbekistanis are predominantly Muslim, with more than three-quarters of the country’s population following Islam, the secular government has nonetheless adopted and enforced policies that are negatively impactful to devout Muslims. Women are forbidden from wearing the hijab publicly, and Muslim men are not allowed to grow their beards long as is their religious custom. Though these laws are not frequently enforced, their presence “on the books” is a source of concern.

One imam who petitioned the new regime to overturn this longstanding rule was fired from his job in 2018, as a direct result of his opposition to the status quo. Eight Muslim bloggers who criticized Uzbekistan’s oppressive policies and called for a less secularized society were imprisoned for their views that same year.

Improving Imperfection?

Uzbekistan has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” or as a country on the “Special Watch List” by the U.S. State Department since 2006, but recent developments have moved the country in a positive direction. Following the death of longtime autocrat President Slam Karimov in 2016, the new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken steps toward liberalizing the nation’s oppressive policies. A government blacklist that included 17,000 names of “religious extremists” was reduced to about 1,000 names. Though the government raided more than 350 unregistered places of worship in 2017-18, no raids were reported in 2019, indicating a shift away from strict enforcement of the more extreme policies.

In December 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Uzbekistan would be removed from the Special Watch List of countries that threaten religious liberties. However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that Uzbekistan be added back onto the list.

Though the U.S. State Department lauded the “real progress” made by Uzbekistan in addressing their religious freedom violations, there is much work to be done before the situation there is resolved, and freedom is guaranteed to all believers.

Tyler Watt is an intern with the Center for Religious Liberty in FRC’s Policy & Government Affairs Department. Ben Householder is an intern in State and Local Affairs with FRC’s Policy & Government Affairs Department.

The Supreme Court Protects Religious Liberty—Barely

by Katherine Beck Johnson

June 17, 2021

Catholic Social Services’ (CSS) 9-0 victory before the Supreme Court today in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, while unanimous, can’t be allowed to overshadow serious differences among the justices on how to approach religious liberty.

This case involved CSS’s ability to operate in accordance with their Catholic faith. The City of Philadelphia had pressured CSS to either give up the Church’s teaching on marriage and family or give up their ministry of finding children loving homes. CSS refused to go against its strongly-held religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. After years of litigation, the Supreme Court today held that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment by allowing secular but not religious exceptions to their fostering contracts, like the one held by CSS.

To be clear, this decision was a win. For now, CSS will be able to operate in accordance with its religious beliefs and continue placing children in most need. The organization will not be forced to shut its doors because it refuses to compromise its faith.

Unfortunately, the win was narrow, coming up short of a huge victory. The Supreme Court did the bare minimum to protect CSS and other faith adherents. It was only because Philadelphia had other exceptions, but not religious ones, that the Court found the city in violation of the First Amendment. As Justice Alito noted in his concurrence, the secular exceptions were essentially boilerplate language in the city’s contract that they did not enforce and will be very easy for them to delete—effectively leaving CSS with no protection. As Justice Alito said, “[t]his decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops.”

The Court should have overturned Employment Division v. Smith, which held that a law is constitutional as long as it is generally applicable and does not target religion. Smith was wrong when it was decided, and it is wrong today. Justice Gorsuch was correct when he said, “[o]ne way or another, the majority seems determined to declare there is no “need” or “reason” to revisit Smith today. But tell that to CSS. Its litigation has already lasted years—and today’s (ir)resolution promises more of the same.”

The ever-growing demands from the Left and their radical gender ideology being imposed on more and more of America make it increasingly impossible for a person to live out their Christian faith while operating in the foster care and adoption space (or many other aspects of society). Evidently, the City of Philadelphia would rather children languish in the system without loving homes than allow CSS to operate in accordance with its faith. Catholics in Philadelphia and throughout our country deserve better than that—and are afforded more than that in our Constitution.

Although today’s opinion allows CSS to continue operating without compromising its faith, that likely won’t be the case for long. Soon, the Court will have to answer if a city can force a religious agency to violate its beliefs if no secular exceptions were provided. The answer is no, and that should have been the answer today. Justices Roberts, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan refused to answer this.

Today, Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch were the only members of the nation’s highest court who demonstrated awareness of the pressing need to revisit Smith and rightly protect religious adherents. Let us hope more justices join them in the future.

Gao Zhisheng: Fighting for Human Rights, Against All Odds

by Tyler Watt

June 10, 2021

China’s flagrant disregard for human rights is exemplified by the story of Gao Zhisheng, a Christian lawyer who is recognized as one of the finest human rights defenders in the country.

Background

Gao, a coal miner-turned-lawyer, was known as one of the 10 best lawyers in China in a 2001 report by the Chinese Ministry of Justice. Though he had much to gain from aligning himself closely with the regime for his material and familial benefit, Gao chose instead to support the downtrodden in society. After defending a Christian pastor who was arrested for possessing Bibles, Gao read the Bible. Though uncertain at first, he became a Christian himself and leaned on the Bible for strength as the government began to punish him for his human rights work.

Gao first faced persecution in the form of threatening phone calls from the Communist government in 2005, in part because of his work in litigating on behalf of members of oppressed Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong is spiritual discipline that is officially banned in China, and its adherents are severely repressed. The Chinese Embassy provides the spurious claim that the group was targeted in order “[t]o maintain social stability and protect people’s life and property.” The Embassy further adds that practitioners of Falun Gong would be subject to labor camps for “transformation,” on the charge of participating in illegal demonstrations by meditating in accordance with their faith.

To repress individual religious expression, China denounces groups whose teachings fail to align with state communism as “cults,” as they did with the Falun Gong. In the case of more mainstream faiths like Christianity, the heavy hand of the regime is used to monitor the community of believers and suppress elements of the faith that might weaken the position of the state. In extreme cases, believers are imprisoned or tortured if they hold underground services or refuse to bend their faith to suit the state’s purposes. Most disturbingly, there is strong evidence that China has committed crimes against humanity by forcibly harvesting the organs of Falun Gong adherents, as well Uyghurs and other religious minorities.

Oppression as a Dissenter

As a result of several statements that Gao made against the Chinese regime’s treatment of the Falun Gong practitioners, and due to his work litigating on their behalf, he was kidnapped in 2006. While in custody, Gao underwent torture, and was beaten in the face with an electric baton. He suffered through three years in solitary confinement, and shortly after his first release in 2009, he was promptly reimprisoned.

In 2014, after being imprisoned for the better part of a decade, Gao was reported as being emaciated and having lost several teeth. He was released from prison, and placed under house arrest. After this period of house arrest, he was reported as having gone missing. There have been no updates concerning his whereabouts or even if he is alive since 2018.

A Family’s Struggles

Gao’s family hopes that their husband and father is alive and well, but they know the reality of China’s silence on his wellbeing. They repeatedly petitioned the Chinese government for his whereabouts and protest outside the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, to no avail.

His wife, Geng He, and his daughter, Grace Gao (Geng), supported him in his mission, though they are gravely concerned about his treatment and his fate as a result of his faith and care for human rights. Geng He has stated that she intends to use the Chinese Consulate as her husband’s cenotaph, should the Chinese Government fail to prove he is alive or hand over his remains to the family.

Grace Gao has followed in her father’s footsteps and has spoken extensively of the pride she has in her father and the hopes she maintains that her family will one day be reunited.

What We Can Do

Fortunately, Gao’s case is on the radar of many human rights organizations. The American Bar Association awarded him the Human Rights Lawyer Award in 2010 and co-published a memoir recounting the trauma he faced while incarcerated in 2017. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize on two separate occasions in 2008 and 2010. This kind of international attention is particularly helpful, as it reminds the public of his plight and pressures the Chinese government to release him or exercise transparency with regards to his present status.

As believers, we should fervently pray for Gao Zhisheng’s health and safe release, and for his faith in Christ amidst intense trials. Those who care about human rights should educate themselves and others about the injustices that are perpetrated all around the globe against people of all faiths, including in China.

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