Tag archives: Religious Freedom

Year in Review: 10 Stories From 2021

by David Closson

December 17, 2021

2021 has been a year full of important cultural, political, and legal developments. In a year that witnessed the inauguration of a new president, the conclusion of America’s longest war, and the ongoing fight against COVID-19, there was much to track, analyze, and discuss. Although Democratic majorities in Congress required conservative policymakers to play defense at the federal level, there were still notable (and significant) legislative victories throughout the states.

2021 was an active year for Family Research Council, and there are several new initiatives, events, and legislative victories that merit gratitude and reflection as we prepare to ring in the new year. What follows are 10 stories from 2021 that provide a summary of God’s faithfulness and kindness to us and lay the groundwork for an exciting 2022.

1. Oral Arguments Heard in Case that Could Overturn Roe

On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand in America through all nine months of pregnancy. 

In Dobbs, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, bipartisan legislation that prohibits elective abortion after 15 weeks gestation. The Gestational Age Act offers a direct challenge to the jurisprudence of Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that made legal abortion through nine months the default law of every state. Under Casey, states may prohibit abortion post-viability and restrict abortion prior to viability so long as the restriction does not place an “undue burden” on the woman. In Dobbs, the court will consider whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional. The court’s decision, which is expected in summer 2022, could return the ability to legislate abortion back to the states and will have major implications for the future of the unborn in America.

In the weeks leading up to the oral arguments, FRC provided leadership to the pro-life community in a variety of ways. First, FRC filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging the justices to overturn Roe and its companion case, Casey. Second, FRC teamed up with other national pro-life groups, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Alliance Defending Freedom, to host a “Pray for Dobbs” national webinar for pastors. Over 4,000 pastors joined the October broadcast and learned about the case. Then in November, the “Pray for Dobbs” coalition hosted a national prayer event. Over 18,000 people joined national leaders on the broadcast to pray for the upcoming case. Third, on November 28, FRC hosted a prayer rally titled “Pray Together for Life” in Mississippi. Among the national leaders who participated was Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. Finally, FRC also published resources and articles about the case, and on the day of oral arguments, FRC’s Katherine Johnson spoke at a rally outside the Supreme Court.

To learn more about the case and for a list of recommended ways to pray, see my article in The Gospel Coalition.  

2. Vaccine Mandates Struck Down

On September 9, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that all employers with more than 100 employees must require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Noncompliant businesses could be fined. Biden’s private employer mandate came on the heels of a federal mandate requiring all federal employees to receive the vaccine, get tested weekly, or face dismissal from their job.

After the announcement, several organizations and schools (including The Daily Wire, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Asbury Theological Seminary) sued, alleging the Biden administration lacked constitutional and statutory authority to issue such a mandate to private employers. Both schools also argued that the administration lacked jurisdiction to dictate employment practices to religious institutions. On Friday, November 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an order staying enforcement and implementation of the executive order. On November 16, 2021, the Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all petitions for review of the Emergency Temporary Standard (including the Fifth Circuit ruling) before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Moreover, on November 29, a U.S. district court in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction for health care workers in 10 states. On November 30, the U.S. District Court of Western Louisiana issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the enforcement of Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers. Additionally, on December 7, a U.S. district judge in South Georgia temporarily blocked President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and subcontractors.

President Biden’s vaccine mandate has proven to be divisive. Thus far, courts around the country have halted the implementation of the mandate. As we move into 2022, Christians will need to think carefully and biblically about vaccine mandates, as it seems they will continue to be part of the national conversation.

Concerning whether Christians should use religious exemptions, see my article “How Should Christians Use Religious Exemptions for Vaccine Mandates?

3. Off-Year Election Results

While 2021 is not a major election year for most states, a few states and cities still held important elections. The most significant of these was the Virginia gubernatorial election, in which Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin faced off against the Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Even though Joe Biden had won Virginia by 10 points the previous year, Youngkin surprised political pundits by defeating McAuliffe and becoming the first Republican to win a statewide race in over a decade. Furthermore, Republican nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general both won, and Republicans retook the majority in the House of Delegates. Many election observers cited parents’ outrage over public school officials’ cover-up of a biological male student’s rape of female students in Loudon County school bathrooms. Abortion and the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools were also motivating factors for many voters.

Elsewhere around the country, conservatives demonstrated that the political climate has soured against Democrats and their progressive agenda. For example, the Republican nominee for governor in New Jersey nearly pulled off a shocking upset against incumbent Democrat Governor Phil Murphy. In perhaps the most stunning race, New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney (D) was upset by a Republican truck driver who only spent a few thousand dollars on his campaign.  

Additionally, ballot measures to defund the police department were defeated in Minneapolis, and the mayor of Buffalo waged a successful write-in campaign against a progressive candidate endorsed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). FRC Action (FRC’s legislative affiliative) endorsed their first candidate for school board, David Anderson, in Washington state. Anderson won the election. Only a year after the 2020 election, voters are clearly concerned about the country’s direction, and these results are encouraging for conservatives headed into next year’s midterm elections. 

4. FRC Launches Center for Biblical Worldview

In May, FRC launched the Center for Biblical Worldview (CBW) with the goal of equipping Christians to advance and defend their faith in their families, communities, and the public square. We also added researcher George Barna and Professor Owen Strachan to the CBW team.

The need for the CBW was underscored by an FRC-commissioned survey that revealed that only six percent of Americans have a biblical worldview, despite 51 percent thinking they do. Furthermore, only 21 percent of those who attend evangelical churches have a biblical worldview. Biblical illiteracy is a significant problem in America, one the CBW hopes to help counteract.

The CBW hit the ground running, publishing numerous resources in its first year, including newly re-branded Biblical Worldview Series booklets covering important topics such as religious liberty, the sanctity of life, human sexuality, and political engagement. These booklets are now available in English and Spanish. The CBW also produced dozens of articles, interviews, and other resources to help pastors, churches, and Christian laypeople think through the year’s most contentious and confusing political and moral questions.

In 2022, the CBW is planning to publish a Sunday school curriculum, a video series, and a web-based resource for parents and students to evaluate the faithfulness of every Christian college and university in America. To stay informed about all of the exciting projects we expect to release next year, you can sign up for the CBW’s monthly email here.

5. Texas Heartbeat Act Saves Thousands of Babies

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which took effect on September 1, has saved an estimated 150 babies from abortion per day. This will result in upwards of 18,000 babies saved by the end of the year. The Texas law bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, typically at about six weeks gestation. Texas’ 230 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) have been meeting the needs of mothers that otherwise might have undergone abortions prior to the Heartbeat Act.  

Unsurprisingly, Texas abortion businesses sued the state over the Heartbeat Act. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and in December issued an opinion permitting lawsuits to proceed against licensing officials but no one else that the abortion lobby had named as defendants. SCOTUS also made the rare move of dismissing the Biden administration’s suit saying they never should have accepted it in the first place. Overall, the opinion was a win for pro-lifers. Although the law is currently facing challenges from the outraged abortion lobby, it is still in effect today. 

While holding her three-month-old son, FRC’s Mary Szoch spoke outside the Supreme Court as arguments about the Texas law were heard. FRC’s Katherine Johnson also published an explainer about the law, combatting lies spread by the abortion lobby (and unfortunately parroted by many in the media). Christians must continue to pray for a favorable outcome for Texas as the Heartbeat Act continues to face litigation in 2022.  

6. Win in Congress: NDAA Passes Without Conscripting Women

Every year, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that is required to fund the military. Legislators have managed to pass the NDAA for 60 years. However, it is not always an easy or smooth process. This year, Democrats dug in on adding a proposal to mandate that women register for the draft.

Over the past few months, as the bill moved through Congress, FRC argued that women should continue serving honorably in the military on a voluntary basis only. Including women in any future drafts would subject them to being mandated into combat roles, which is unnecessary and dangerous. It has been proven that women in combat situations have a higher likelihood of injury than their male peers and thus affect the lethality, readiness, and cohesion of certain combat units.

FRC facilitated more than 200,000 messages to Congress opposing this dangerous mandate. Pro-family leaders in the House and Senate such as Sens. Hawley (R-Neb.), Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Lee (R-Utah) and Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) led the charge. In an about-face that Politico described as a “stunning turnaround,” this mandate on women and other anti-life and anti-religious liberty provisions were dropped from the bill.  

7. Hyde Amendment Preserved

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. However, since 1976, Congress has worked to ensure that federal funding does not go toward abortion. In 1976, Congressman Henry Hyde introduced an amendment to the Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill, prohibiting federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions. This amendment to the annual spending bill, known as the Hyde Amendment, has been approved every year since 1976 and has saved an estimated 2,409,311 lives.

However, because of the nature of federal spending, this measure must be passed annually in order to remain in effect. In recent years, Democrat lawmakers have openly lobbied to remove the Hyde Amendment. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an HHS spending bill without Hyde for the first time since 1976. Moreover, the Senate introduced a spending bill without Hyde protections. Thankfully, despite fierce attacks from pro-abortion lawmakers, Hyde was preserved in the spending bills passed in 2021.

There are several ways in which FRC was involved in preserving Hyde. For example, FRC worked to secure 199 signatures from House members calling for the preservation of Hyde. Additionally, FRC worked to educate members of Congress about Hyde and worked with them whenever the issue was brought up in committee or came up for a vote. When the spending bill came through committee in July, FRC staff helped committee members with speeches and media interviews. Every Republican on the appropriations committee gave a speech defending Hyde and opposing taxpayer funding of abortion. While it is normally difficult for outside groups to muster five to seven members to speak out in committee on a given issue, FRC helped get 25 members to speak in favor of Hyde. Even though it remains under attack, the Hyde Amendment received more vocal support from Republican lawmakers in 2021 than in any year in recent memory.

8. Pray Vote Stand Summit

The inaugural Pray Vote Stand Summit was held October 6-8 at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia. The thousands of social conservatives who attended in-person and the tens of thousands who attended online heard from nationally-recognized religious and political leaders on the most pressing issues facing the nation, including religious freedom, abortion, national security, and education.

Speakers included Mike Pompeo, Glenn Youngkin, Michele Bachmann, Sam Brownback, Carter Conlon, Os Guinness, Sen. Josh Hawley, Sen. James Lankford, Jack Hibbs, Nancy Pearcey, Allie Beth Stuckey, Chad Wolf, and many others.

In addition to plenary addresses from speakers, attendees benefited from hearing panel sessions on topics such as abortion, worldview, Christian persecution, vaccine mandates, and keeping children safe from radical gender ideology. Coinciding with the Summit, FRC also hosted a training for those interested in running for their local school board. 

FRC’s communications team credentialed 47 members of the media from 26 outlets to cover the Pray Vote Stand Summit, including Fox News, CBN News, and One America News. Additionally, 34 media outlets published 45 articles about or referencing the conference including Fox News, Breitbart, The Blaze, CBN News, The Daily Wire, The Christian Post, and The Epoch Times.

9. International Religious Freedom Summit

On July 13-15, FRC participated in the 2021 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit. Unlike the Trump-era Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, this year’s IRF gathering was organized by private organizations, not the U.S. government. Hosted by 81 convening partners (including FRC), the summit highlighted the issue of international religious freedom, an area of increasing concern. In fact, almost 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of religious persecution, much of it perpetrated by government actors.

At the summit, participants heard reports by FRC’s Andrew Brunson and Bob Fu. FRC president Tony Perkins hosted a panel discussion and a sponsored lunch where he interviewed Grace Gao, who shared about her father, a human rights lawyer, who has been targeted by the Chinese government and whose exact whereabouts have been unknown for four years. FRC’s Lela Gilbert moderated a side event on religious freedom in Nigeria, which included two survivors of persecution.

For more information about FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty, specifically its work on international religious liberty, see FRC.org/irf.

10. SAFE Act Passes in Arkansas

On April 6, the Arkansas legislature enacted House Bill 1570, the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act. This made Arkansas the first state in the nation to ban the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and gender reassignment surgeries on individuals under 18 for the purpose of “gender transition.” Of the many similar bills introduced across the nation, Arkansas’ law is the most comprehensive ban addressing this issue. It initially passed the Arkansas House 70-22 and the Senate 28-7. When Governor Asa Hutchison vetoed the bill, the House voted 72-25 and the Senate voted 25-8, providing the first veto override in Hutchinson’s tenure as governor. FRC awarded Rep. Robin Lundstrum the Samuel Adams Award for State Legislator of the Year in recognition of her leading role in getting the bill passed.

For more information about FRC’s work with state legislatures around the country and some of the pieces of legislation we support, see FRC.org/legislation.

4 Reasons Why the Founders Valued Religious Freedom

by Arielle Del Turco

May 10, 2021

Contemporary debates over proposed legislation like the Equality Act and over COVID-19 church restrictions draw attention to the so-called “first freedom” listed in the Bill of Rights—religious freedom. This core right in the U.S. Constitution has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and passed down to contemporary Americans intact.

But as debates over how Christians and those of other faiths should live out their faith in the public square increase, questions about religious freedom will remain relevant. Understanding how religious freedom became a core value of the American Founders is critical to understanding its place in the United States today.

Here are four reasons that Americans in the Revolutionary era valued religious freedom and protected it for future generations:

1. The truth concerning religion is deeply important.

In advocating for religious freedom, its proponents did not embrace moral relativism. Isaac Backus, a Baptist preacher, argued that it is precisely because there is objective truth concerning religion that every individual deserves the freedom to discover that religious truth for themselves. Backus wrote:

The true liberty of man is, to know, obey and enjoy his Creator, and to do all the good unto, and enjoy all the happiness with and in his fellow-creatures that he is capable of; in order to which the law of love was written in his heart, which carries in its nature union and benevolence to being in general, and to each being in particular, according to its nature and excellency, and to its relation and connection to and with the supreme Being, and ourselves.

For Backus and others of his day, part of the definition of liberty itself is the freedom for an individual to “know, obey and enjoy his Creator.” Thus, policies protecting the ability to seek religious truth were a natural extension of this understanding of truth and the freedom to pursue it.

2. Respect for individuals’ consciences.

Former diplomat Tom Farr argues that human nature “impels us to seek answers to profound questions about ultimate things. If we are not free to pursue those answers… we cannot live a fully human life.” Many of the American Founders understood religious freedom in much the same way.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1776, was drafted by George Mason and was influential when Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Virginia Declaration of Rights stresses the importance of religious freedom to each individual’s conscience:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

The declaration affirms the importance for all individuals to choose their religious beliefs for themselves, according to the “dictates of conscience.” This highlights how the lack of religious freedom is a very personal assault on the rights of every individual. It is wrong for the government to try to control what goes on in someone’s head, heart, or soul.

John Leland, a Baptist minister, argued for robust conscience protections and asserted that the state had no right to be involved in religion in part because every individual must make himself right with God and no government can answer for the souls of men. In 1791, Leland said:

It would be sinful for a man to surrender that to man which is to be kept sacred for God. A man’s mind should be always open to conviction, and an honest man will receive that doctrine which appears the best demonstrated; and what is more common than for the best of men to change their minds?

Creating a political order with a state-established religion is not fair to the children and grandchildren who will come later because it may violate their conscience, which was not free to choose their faith since it was mandated by the government.

3. Establishment of religion is harmful for religion.

Many early American pastors were at the forefront of societal protests against the establishment of religion. They did so not for secular but religious reasons. Backus famously argued that a legally established religion or church corrupts “the purity and life of religion.”

Many religious leaders promoted religious freedom not just because the freedom to believe affects the conscience of individual Christians, but because the state establishment of religion can have negative affects on the established religion itself. When a state forces religious practice, it waters down churches with individuals who do not truly believe but rather are practicing the faith externally because they are compelled to do so.

Utilizing the force of government to require individuals to practice a religion is ineffective at making true religious believers. In 1675, William Penn said, “force makes hypocrites, ‘tis persuasion only that makes converts.”

Religious persecution doesn’t only harm those outside the religious majority, it harms the authentic practice of the majority religion. This makes the establishment of a state religion not only pointless, but also oppressive and detrimental to the religion the government associates with.

4. All people are equal under the law.

George Washington affirmed the inherent natural right to freedom of religion in a letter to a Jewish congregation. While president, he told the congregation, “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” Washington strongly repudiates religious persecution and emphasizes the equality of all religious groups and believers under the law.

***

The embrace of religious freedom has contributed to what makes the United States unique in the world. Wherever religious freedom is not protected around the world, oppression and misery clouds society.

The world is better off because of the successful example of religious freedom that the United States has set. America’s promotion of international religious freedom has released religious prisoners, rebuilt religious communities devastated by genocide, and offered hope to the oppressed.  

This serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining religious freedom here at home. Our Founders enshrined robust religious freedom protections into law because they believed everyone’s right to seek the truth and live according to their beliefs was deeply important. This is worth protecting—for ourselves, for future generations, and for those around the world relying on our advocacy on their behalf. 

Why Is Religious Freedom So Uniquely Important?

by Arielle Del Turco

April 12, 2021

At the heart of many recent contentious debates from the Equality Act to COVID-19 church restrictions is the issue of religious freedom. But what exactly is religious freedom, and what makes it so uniquely important?

At its core, religion is the search for truth about questions of ultimate meaning. Common to most religions is an organized collection of beliefs, behaviors, and practices that connect or relate humanity with the divine. Religious freedom, then, is the freedom to believe what you want in terms of doctrine and theology and the freedom to order your life according to your deepest convictions about ultimate things.

In other words, religious freedom protects the ability of individuals to choose and change their religious beliefs and align their lives in agreement with those beliefs.

Religious freedom is not relativistic, nor does it profess there is no truth about God. Rather, it affirms the deep importance of truth and upholds the right of individuals to come to their own conclusions about what is true of God, humanity, and the world.

Attacks on religious freedom target one’s conscience—the very core of their being. This makes religious freedom a unique and essential right. Tom Farr says, “Our nature impels us to seek answers to profound questions about ultimate things. If we are not free to pursue those answers, and to live according to the truths we discover, we cannot live a fully human life.”

Thus, religious freedom is not merely the right to attend church and practice your religion within the walls of a church, synagogue, or mosque. Rather, it is the ability to live out your faith, including in the public square.

This broad conception of religious freedom is enshrined in the United States Constitution. The First Amendment protects this basic right, often called our “first freedom.” The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Beyond this key constitutional protection, religious freedom is also a fundamental human right, one recognized by international resolutions and treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

Religious freedom is a widely recognized right around the globe. Yet, laws in many countries put qualifiers on the legal right to religious freedom, empowering governments to crack down when the beliefs of a community or an individual are perceived to oppose the government.

For Americans, these aggressive international violations remind us of the importance of protecting religious freedom at home. Yet, they also demonstrate the importance of promoting religious freedom in our foreign policy.

Societies that embrace religious freedom and pluralism tend to be more prosperous and secure. This makes sense. Societies that embrace individuals’ freedom to express their own viewpoints and live according to their beliefs are going to attract, rather than repel, talented people abroad as well as global economic engagement. Pluralistic societies that value human dignity and do not view religious groups or beliefs as a problem to be eliminated will not suffer from the violence that is fostered by religious discrimination.  

Religious freedom corresponds with and affirms other basic freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The right to openly express your most deeply held beliefs is essential to religious freedom, as is the right to peacefully assemble in houses of worship and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the concept of religious freedom is often misunderstood. This is seen with increasing frequency with activists who pit religious freedom against the demands of the moral revolution. For example, those whose beliefs about gender and sexuality are influenced by their faith are caricatured as intolerant and their beliefs are perceived as subversive. The resulting tension threatens to erode support for religious freedom as a freedom that benefits everyone—religious and non-religious.

Amid increasingly heated cultural debates, it is critical for those who value our first freedom to affirm its importance. Religious freedom will not endure by laws alone, although the law should include robust protections for religious freedom. Religious freedom also relies on cultural support.

By consistently living out our faith in the public square, we can foster a culture that respects religious freedom. So, pray in public, share your faith, and do not compromise your beliefs. Your constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion protects your ability to live according to your convictions. So, use it. Live according to your faith and defend the rights of others to do the same.

FRC’s Top 7 Trending Items (Week of September 27)

by Family Research Council

October 2, 2020

Here are “The 7” top trending items at FRC over the past seven days:

1. Update: Nancy Pelosi Is “Not Going to Get Into” Defending Religious Liberty?

In recent days, as the list of leading Supreme Court candidates has narrowed, top Democrats have launched unfair and unconstitutional attacks against Amy Coney Barrett for her Catholic faith, suggesting that her beliefs may render her unfit for public office.

2. Update: The Attacks on Judge Barrett’s Faith Are Despicable and Must be Condemned

Amy Coney Barrett is a favorite among many religious conservatives but has been attacked by the Left not only for her position on judicial interpretation but for something far more personal — and protected — under that same Constitution: her Christian, specifically Catholic, faith.

3. Blog: Armenia: An Unwelcome Conflict and a Call to Prayer

In recent days, violence has erupted in Armenia’s corner of the world. This involves Christian Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh versus Muslim Azerbaijan. And now, Islamist Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has entered the fray, fueled by his dream of a neo-Ottoman caliphate.

4. Blog: Presidential Order Recognizes All Newborn Life is Precious

President Trump recently signed an Executive Order (EO) that reinforces existing protections for children born premature, with disabilities, or in medical distress, including infants who survive abortion. The Executive Order on Protecting Vulnerable Newborn and Infant Children responds to credible concerns that some hospitals have refused to provide medical screening and stabilizing treatment to such infants.

5. Washington Watch: Secretary Ben Carson sets out to empower the faith community with HUD’s new Mustard Seed Series

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, joined Tony Perkins to discuss the launch of the Mustard Seed Series, a HUD initiative that will highlight how the faith-based community is working to help some of society’s most vulnerable.

6. Washington WatchJames O’Keefe exposes a massive voter fraud ring in Minneapolis driven by Rep. Omar supporters

James O’Keefe, Founder of Project Veritas, joined Tony Perkins to discuss the organization’s undercover investigation exposing a cash-for-ballots voter fraud scheme in Minnesota.

7. Pray Vote Stand broadcast: The Courts

On this edition of Pray Vote Stand Tony welcomed Pastor Garrett Booth, Senator Marsha Blackburn, Travis Weber, and Dr. Mark Harris to discuss the state of the Supreme Court in light of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For more from FRC, visit our website at frc.org, our blog at frcblog.com, our Facebook pageTwitter account, and Instagram account. Get the latest on what FRC is saying about the current issues of the day that impact the state of faith, family, and freedom, both domestically and abroad.

Family Research Council’s vision is a prevailing culture in which all human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives. Join us to learn about FRC’s work and see how you can help advance faith, family, and freedom.

In North Korea, the Choice to Be a Christian Can Be Fatal

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

September 8, 2020

When Ji Hyeona was growing up in North Korea, the word “faith” meant being loyal to the Kim family dictators.

Religious freedom doesn’t exist in North Korea and adhering to any religion is extremely dangerous, as Ji found out for herself. One day, she was taken to the local Ministry of State Security without warning. There, she was beaten and tortured, not knowing why she was being singled out for such treatment.

Then, the authorities placed Ji’s Bible on the desk in front of her. It was a Bible her mother had brought back to North Korea after a trip to China, and Ji had begun to read it. Sadly, her own friend had reported her to the government for possessing a Bible.

At the time, Ji was able to talk her way out of further punishment, but she was informed she would not be forgiven if this happened again.

This would not be Ji’s last encounter with North Korean authorities. She managed the difficult escape from North Korea four times—and was forcibly repatriated back to North Korea by Chinese authorities three times. Forced labor in prison camps awaits those who dare leave the hermit kingdom.

Twice in China, Ji was forced into prostitution, and during one repatriation to North Korea, she returned pregnant. Because so-called “mixed-race” babies are not recognized in North Korea, repatriated defectors who return pregnant endure brutal and heartbreaking forced abortions. Ji was no exception.

Ji continues to tell her story despite how painful it is. Why? She says, “While people are dying and the rest of the world watches that… if they maintain their silence despite knowing what is going on, I don’t think that’s right.”

For nearly two decades, Open Doors’ World Watch List has continuously designated North Korea as the #1 worst persecutor of Christians in the world. The horrifying stories told by escapees like Ji describe unimaginable cruelties under the brutal Kim family’s authority.

The 2020 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report explains, “The (North Korean) government treats religion as a threat…Christians are especially vulnerable because the government views them as susceptible to foreign influence. … Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment, including arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution.”

On top of the hardships created by the failed communist state, speculation about the status of COVID-19 in North Korea continues. Timothy Cho from Open Doors UK, himself a North Korean defector, says that the hurting economy and widespread malnutrition make North Koreans especially vulnerable to the coronavirus: “North Korea was already presenting with existing issues of ongoing starvation and malnutrition and economic crisis. What’s been happening since this virus lockdown [is] they had closed the borders with China. So, it has radically decreased the amount of imported food and medicine, this is the reason why a lot of items’ prices have gone up to more than four times and some of these imported food and foodstuff are difficult to find in the market.”

North Korea has also experienced historic levels of rainfall this summer. Floods have destroyed hundreds of homes in addition to ruining large rice fields. Due to the fragility of the country’s agricultural system, experts suggest the year’s harvest may be significantly affected, ultimately leading to food shortages.

The secretive and controlling North Korean regime makes it difficult for new information about the country’s deplorable human rights conditions, shoddy health care system, and economic and agricultural failures to reach the rest of the world. But while the situation rarely makes international news, we would be remiss to forget or ignore the plight of North Koreas, including those who suffer for their faith every day.

Please remember faithful Christians in prayer. It takes great courage to practice one’s faith in the type of isolation forced upon North Korean believers. Simple acts like praying or owning a Bible put their very lives at risk. 

Much remains uncertain about the future of the hermit kingdom. Renewed talks between the United States and North Korea remain a possibility in the coming months and years. Meanwhile, rumors still swirl about shifting power dynamics within the regime. However, one thing is certain. No matter what developments occur among regime officials or what deals they try to strike with other nations, the United States and other free countries must do everything in their power to press for religious freedom and human rights in North Korea. Far too many people are suffering, silenced by their oppressive government and unable to speak up for themselves.

Remembering ISIS’ Yazidi Genocide, Six Years Later

by Arielle Del Turco

August 3, 2020

Six years ago today, ISIS invaded the Sinjar region in northern Iraq, the quiet homeland of the Yazidi people. It only took a few hours for ISIS to seize Sinjar City and kidnap or kill all who were unable to flee in time. Those who did manage to escape ran to Mount Sinjar without food, water, or medical care, with ISIS hot on their heels.

An ancient religious group familiar with being persecuted by their neighbors, Yazidis had lived simple lives in the rural region. But the attacks by ISIS would have long-lasting consequences.

It took U.S. airstrikes to push the ISIS militants back as Kurdish forces made a safe passageway for Yazidis to descend Mount Sinjar later that month. But in the heat well over 100 degrees, hundreds of Yazidis—many of them children and infants—had already died on the mountain despite airdrops with aid from the U.S. and other military forces.

Meanwhile, ISIS attacked Yazidi villages in the surrounding area. Upon capture, the men and women were separated. The men who refused to convert to Islam were rounded up to be shot and killed. Captured women and children often heard the gunfire that killed the men of the village and saw the evidence of mass murder as ISIS fighters returned with their clothes stained by the blood of their husbands, sons, and brothers.

Militants took many of the younger women to be bought and sold as sex slaves. Women too old to enter the slave trade were shot. The region was soon littered with mass graves.

Yazidi children were forcibly converted to Islam. Thousands of boys were forced to become ISIS fighters, tortured and starved in the process. Today, many of these former child soldiers are missing arms or legs lost while fighting for their abductors.

ISIS made no secret of its desire to destroy the religious minority group it called “pagan” through the use of forced conversion, enslavement, and mass killings. The overwhelming evidence of ISIS’ intent to eradicate religious minorities prompted the United States to officially declare the Islamic State attacks on Iraq’s Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities a genocide in 2016.

Thankfully, the terrorists’ genocidal efforts were unsuccessful, and many Yazidis remain to tell the story of their people. Yet, the painful legacy of genocide lingers, and ISIS’ brutal campaign still haunts the survivors.

Today, an estimated 2,800 women and children who were kidnapped by ISIS remain missing. Hundreds of thousands of Yazidis are still displaced, living in camps with minimal resources. As U.S. officials look to develop policy and foreign aid priorities in the Middle East, every feasible effort should be made to help the survivors of genocide.

August 3, 2014 is now remembered as the day ISIS began its genocide against the Yazidi people. Most days dedicated to commemorating genocides remember atrocities that happened decades or centuries ago. This remembrance day is different because the Yazidi genocide happened a mere six years ago. The horror is still within our recent memory, and the survivors are still in need of help.

ISIS is no longer the focus of the American news cycle, but we would be remiss to forget the victims of genocide so quickly, especially those who are still in need of our help. The effects of ISIS linger. As the international community looks to maintain stability in the Middle East, consideration should be given as to how best to aid and restore the religious communities ISIS worked to destroy.

State Department’s New Commission Set to Expose Human Rights Abusers

by Arielle Del Turco

July 10, 2019

July 9th marked the four-year anniversary of the launch of a campaign by Chinese officials to crack down on human rights lawyers. Many of these lawyers were arrested, given prison sentences, and tortured behind bars. This tragedy is now referred to as the “709 Incident” because it began on July 9, 2015. Since this date, China has continued to persecute human rights lawyers and activists.

The Chinese government’s crackdown on anyone brave enough to advocate for human rights in China is especially disgusting given that China currently sits on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

The fact that shameless human rights abusers can participate in the UN Human Rights Council brings to light an issue that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is trying to address.

On July 7th, Pompeo announced the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. This new panel of scholars, legal experts, and advocates are tasked with reorienting the definition of “human rights” to one that our country’s Founders and the signers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights would recognize.

Political activists over the past several decades have slowly eroded the proper understanding of human rights from being centered around life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to a catch-all phrase that encompasses everything from abortion to free college tuition.

The confusion over human rights is especially evident in international affairs. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council has shamelessly ignored obvious human rights violations around the world—all while some of the worst violators of human rights claim membership on the council. It’s clear that international institutions tasked with addressing human rights concerns have lost focus on their mission. The Commission on Unalienable Rights is looking to change that.

The commission, which will provide advice, not policy, will take a step back and consider the source and substance of what the Declaration of Independence labeled our “unalienable rights.” Informed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and U.S. founding documents, the commission is intended to provide insight on how we can better define and protect essential human rights.

Pompeo argues that oppressive regimes have abused the term “human rights” and acted as if they were champions of this cause. We can no longer let brutal regimes get away with hiding their heinous actions as they hijack the legitimate and necessary terminology of “human rights.” There must be a universal standard of basic human rights so that countries can be held accountable for violating the fundamental rights of their people. We can hope that this new commission will provide the clarity that is so desperately needed to effectively advocate for those most basic rights which all people are entitled to, but far too many people around the world are denied.

Dilshat Perhat Ataman: A Prisoner of Conscience in China

by Arielle Del Turco

July 3, 2019

As the United States and China continue to discuss trade, we have a unique opportunity to raise religious freedom concerns such as that country’s ongoing detention of Christian pastors and mass repression of Uyghur Muslims. It is therefore encouraging to see Family Research Council President and chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Tony Perkins announce yesterday that he was formally adopting Dilshat Perhat Ataman as a prisoner of conscience to highlight his case of unjust imprisonment due to his faith.

Dilshat is a Uyghur Muslim currently detained in a “re-education” internment camp in China’s Xinjiang province.

Dilshat founded and managed a popular website called “Diyarim,” which promoted Uyghur history and culture and provided a social media platform to the Uyghur community. In 2009, he was arrested by Chinese authorities and charged with “endangering state security” after a comment was posted in a chatroom on his website about the Chinese government’s suppression of Uyghur protests.

After serving five years in prison, Dilshat was released in 2014. Yet, his freedom was short-lived. In June 2018, he was rearrested without reason from the Chinese authorities—this time he was taken to a “re-education” internment camp.

Those who have been released from these camps describe how Uyghurs are tortured during interrogation, live in crowded cells, and are subjected to extensive daily regimens of Chinese Communist Party indoctrination (as seen in this BBC report). Detainees routinely face harsh treatment and are forced to live in unhygienic conditions, sometimes leading to their death. 

The Chinese government has invested a lot of resources to surveil and suppress Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group who are mostly Muslim. Yet, it is not a contradiction to say that Christians must care about the suffering they face due to their religious beliefs and advocate on their behalf.  

Christians believe that God is in control of human affairs yet gives people the freedom to choose their beliefs. Just as God gives people that freedom, we should defend the freedom of others to choose and live out their religious convictions without any government harassing, oppressing, imprisoning, or killing people for expressing their basic right to religious freedom.

What the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghurs is evil—and that should be something everyone is concerned about.

Dilshat is one of at least 880,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs who are detained in Chinese “re-education” internment camps.

The injustice of China’s detention of Dilshat Perhat Ataman in a “re-education” camp is obvious. Hopefully, by bringing Dilshat’s case to light, there will be a greater awareness of the plight of Uyghur Muslims who are targeted for persecution because the Chinese government views their religious beliefs as a threat to the political ideology and authority of the Communist Party.

While the World Closes Its Eyes, a Genocide Against Christians is Happening in Nigeria

by Luke Isbell

June 17, 2019

I attended an event at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday, June 11, where Nigerian witnesses spoke about their first-hand experiences with Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. You can watch the full hearing here

I was sitting about ten feet away from witness Rebecca Sharibu as she walked to the podium. Boko Haram, a radical jihadist organization in northern Nigeria, kidnapped Rebecca Sharibu’s daughter over a year and a half ago, and she was never returned. Rebecca could barely start before becoming overwhelmed with tears. The room fell silent as the mother struggled to make a simple plea, “Help me bring my daughter back. I need my daughter.”

Rebecca’s daughter, Leah Sharibu, was 14 years old when she and 110 of her classmates were kidnapped from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in February of last year. Two months after they were kidnapped, 110 of the girls returned to their families. Yet, because Leah is a Christian and refused to convert to Islam, Boko Haram singled her out to be kept as a slave.

Boko Haram’s stated goal is to eradicate Christianity, and the militant group has killed tens of thousands of Christians and civilians since 2009. Frank Wolf, author of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act, stated that more people have died at the hands of Boko Haram than ISIS. “Boko Haram is guilty of genocide,” Wolf forcefully insisted.

But Boko Haram is no longer the only terrorist threat to Christians in Nigeria. Semi-nomadic Islamic herdsman known as the Fulani armed with AK-47s frequently attack communities, burn homes, and inhumanly maim their victims. Mercy Maisamari, a witness at the event, described how Fulani would mock their Christian victims and taunt, “Call your Jesus to come and save you.”

Another thing [the Fulani] do is to cut limbs and they cut open pregnant women and remove the babies and cut them. And they try their best for the woman not to die,” she said.

The words of Alheri Magaji rattled in my ears as I listened to the horrors she relayed to the audience. She recounted the story of a mother of four children who was nine months pregnant. In the middle of the night, 400 Fulani militants rushed her village, and some of the men entered her home. In front of her eyes, they executed three of her children. They repeatedly kicked her stomach. When she awoke in a hospital, she was told that her unborn child had not survived. 

Nobody will take our story,” Magaji said. “We paid people, no one will take our story…so we’re here to beg you—to beg the U.S. government to take our story.”

The five Nigerian witnesses described how the world is incorrectly framing the ongoing genocide in their country. To Western governments, the Fulani attacks are simple ethnic struggles “between farmers and herdsman.” And Boko Haram only terrorizes Nigeria and other small African countries—why should the world leaders and Christians around the globe care?

Here are three reasons:

1. Praying and advocating for persecuted believers is not optional for Christians.

The body of Christ is wounded, and that affects all Christians. Our fight is against spiritual forces, and we must band together to protect the church wherever it is attacked—otherwise we compromise the present ground we stand on. It’s a simple remedy: speak boldly at church about those who are persecuted, tell your friends, and pray with your family. God’s heart breaks for His children—let ours break also.

2. The United States plays a key role in promoting religious liberty across the globe, so our stance on foreign policy is critical.

The United States advocates for religious freedom around the globe, but there is a desperate need for more advocates speaking on behalf of the voiceless. Whether with the Uyghurs in China, the violence in India, or the persecuted in Nigeria, people of all faiths across the world live under dire circumstances. While praying for the present and long term, let us respond vocally and through voting—sending the message that Christians require their political leaders to support religious liberty.

3. Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria are genocide, and world’s governments are turning a blind eye.

Boko Haram actively kills, tortures, destroys villages, and kidnaps Christians in Nigeria with the intention of wiping out the Christians in Nigeria. This meets the definition of genocide established in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

We have a museum not very far from here saying never again,” said Frank Wolf, referring to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Yet, genocide is taking place in Nigeria. Tens of thousands have already perished because of Boko Haram’s systematic strategy to eliminate Christians.

Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi closed the event with one final plea:

I can’t find any other country that will stand up for justice. That will stand up for the way you have always stood up for the oppressed. Please, please don’t disappoint the people of Nigeria. Please don’t disappoint the people of West Africa. Please don’t disappoint the people of Africa. And, please—don’t disappoint yourselves.”

Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

China is Trafficking the Organs of Religious Minorities

by Arielle Del Turco

May 29, 2019

The boldness and scope of the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim population has been continually increasing in recent years. It is estimated that at least one million Uyghur Muslims are currently detained in what China calls free “vocational training centers” but in reality are massive internment camps in which detainees are indoctrinated with Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

While these developments have been well-documented, lesser known is an even more horrifying accusation leveled against China—the trafficking of human organs.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a team of researchers have proven that patients in China (including those that travel from abroad) are promised matching organs for transplant within a few days—an unbelievably short amount of time compared to the wait in Western countries which ranges from a few months to a few years. This is especially interesting given that organ donation is still culturally taboo in China.

So, where are these organs coming from? Some have accused China of forcibly removing organs from prisoners of conscience and selling them—a program of which Uyghur Muslims are among the victimized minorities.

Dr. Enver Tohti, a former surgeon from the Xinjiang province, has testified that China harvests organs from executed prisoners and sells them illegally. In the UK, the panel of the Independent Tribunal Into Forced Organ Harvesting From Prisoners of Conscience issued an interim judgement stating they were “certain—unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt—that in China, forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practised for a substantial period of time, involving a very substantial number of victims.”

Uyghurs across Xinjiang are forced by the government to undergo medical exams which include DNA sampling. Uyghur residents claim their information was stored in computers during the exam, but they were never given the results of the testing. According to reports by China’s state media, examinations were carried out on more than 90 percent of the population of Xinjiang. Chinese authorities claim that the Uyghurs’ DNA database is intended to help solve crimes and identify bodies. However, the great expense of the program and forced nature of the exams are causes for suspicion.

Who is buying these organs? Evidence suggests patients from over 20 countries have traveled to China for transplants, including Korea, Japan, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. The European Parliament has found that illegally harvested kidneys in China and elsewhere costs approximately $167,000 (150,000 Euros). 

Tohti has stated he believes most customers of Uyghur Muslim organs are wealthy Saudi transplant recipients and that China specifically markets these organs as “Halal” to appeal to Middle Eastern Muslims. Tohti argues that the reason for China’s compulsory blood sample collection from the Uyghur population is to develop a “live organ-matching database.”

The Chinese government is investing serious money into their DNA sampling program. China is clearly planning to profit from their human rights abuses—the rest of the world needs to make sure that they don’t. Israel, Taiwan, and Spain have already banned “organ tourism” to China—more countries need to join in to help stop this abuse. It’s imperative that governments take steps to ensure that their citizens aren’t traveling to fund and participate in human rights abuses abroad.

As trade talks between the U.S. and China continue, China’s human rights violations need to be at the forefront of the discussions. China’s organ trade isn’t a minor violation—it’s indicative of systematic harassment, abuse, and even murder of its religious minorities.

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