Tag archives: Religious Liberty

Key Trump Administration Officials Show How Religious Freedom Is Being Defended at Home and Abroad

by Ruth Moreno

October 28, 2020

On October 27, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) held an insightful virtual panel event on the importance of protecting religious liberty both domestically and internationally. The event, titled “Religious Freedom in the Age of COVID-19 and Beyond,” addressed how the current pandemic has affected the national and international dialogue on religious liberty.

The Freedom of Religion Is “Essential”

Much has been said about the threats to religious liberty posed by overbearing officials here in the United States. Roger Severino, Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the HHS, emphasized during Tuesday’s panel that as the COVID-19 pandemic claims more and more lives, we must be prepared to ask the question: what do people live for?

For many people, Severino said, “it is their belief in God and religious community.” This means we may need to rethink what we mean when we talk about what counts as an “essential” service.

We really tread on dangerous waters when we’re picking and choosing what counts as essential versus not, when part of human nature is to seek the transcendent and express it according to your best lights,” Severino said.

He also spoke more broadly about how the federal government has been working hard to uphold religious liberty and freedom of conscience, saying it “should not be up for debate. It should be beyond dispute just like every other civil right.”

Claire Murray, who serves as an Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ), reminded panelists that “There’s no pandemic exception to the Constitution” regarding religious freedom. Within the DOJ, Murray has worked to make sure religious organizations are not singled out by state and local leaders. Since the beginning of the government-enforced lockdowns, the DOJ has filed six amicus briefs on behalf of religious organizations.

Murray also addressed the continuing controversy over the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order which was exempted from certain parts of the Affordable Care Act and associated mandates which would have forced them to violate their religious beliefs about contraception and abortion. Murray said that President Trump’s 2017 Executive Order on the protection of religious liberty has helped guide the federal government as it continues dealing with challenges and settlements in lower federal courts.

Progress in Protecting the Rights of Believers Around the World

Yet domestic religious freedom policy work is only part of the story; many more good efforts are being undertaken overseas. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback and Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, the United States’ Permanent Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, both spoke at length about the United States’ mission to protect religious liberty internationally, which Brownback called “a centerpiece of policy.”

Ambassador Brownback also remarked on some unexpected religious freedom developments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several countries have released prisoners of conscience for fear that they will contract the virus, which Brownback applauded as “good news.” However, Brownback also warned against the scapegoating of religious minorities who have spread the virus within their communities and said that he has been “pushing back against that aggressively.”

Brownback concluded that the overall trendline has been positive, while Bremberg noted he is still “deeply concerned about governments around the world” using COVID to suppress religious freedom, and reminded panelists that the current focus on the pandemic has allowed the world’s worst human rights abusers to get away with their atrocities. Ambassador Bremberg spoke specifically about religious persecution in Russia, Nigeria, and especially in China.

Although the United Nations (UN) has an office dedicated to religious liberty, Bremberg regrets the silence which has come over many in the international community regarding the persecution of Uyghur Muslim minorities in China. Still, though, the United States has pressed ahead in promoting religious liberty, and Bremberg hopes other countries will look to us, and not to China, as a model.

Brownback agreed, saying “You’ve got a fundamental choice between the Chinese model and the U.S. model on religious freedom … The U.S. says, ‘you are free to do what you want with your soul. It’s a God-given right. No government has the right to interfere with it.’”

The United States’ tradition of religious liberty is inspired by our Declaration of Independence, but Ambassador Bremberg emphasized that the United States should not have to fight alone. The UN lists religious liberty as a fundamental right in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and though there is much work to be done, the international community has made some progress in protecting this right for all people.

Today, many countries still have apostasy and blasphemy laws so strict that changing one’s faith or otherwise violating these laws is enough to give one the death penalty. Under the Trump administration, the United States has formed an International Religious Freedom Alliance with 30 other countries and several more which may join. The Alliance has worked to protect religious rights in conflict zones and do away with these atrocious apostasy and blasphemy laws.

Ambassador Bremberg closed the panel with a further call to action: “Will we choose to protect, defend, [and] fight for, fundamental human rights established over 70 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the right for religious freedom? Or will we not fight for them?”

All Americans Should Stand for Religious Liberty

Fighting for religious liberty, both at home and abroad, takes a lot of time and effort. The rise of secularism and the devaluing of the religious voice, as Severino said, have threatened people’s rights to exercise their faith as they see fit. It is the duty of all Americans, of all faiths, to stand up and fight for religious liberty alongside Severino, Murray, Brownback, Bremberg, and other members of the Trump administration who have worked so hard to protect this most fundamental right.

For several years now, key Trump administration officials like those at this HHS event have been attempting to diligently implement the administration’s religious freedom policies, often in the face of much opposition. They and many others within the executive branch have been fighting for our rights day-in and day-out, often with little credit. As we approach a presidential election, it’s appropriate to take note of the many positive religious liberty developments that have actually occurred under the Trump administration.

To find out more about what the administration has been doing to protect religious freedom, both at home and abroad, please see the full list of the Trump administration’s accomplishments at PrayVoteStand.org

In Fulton, the Religious Liberty of Foster Care Providers Hangs in the Balance

by Kaitlyn Shepherd

October 21, 2020

During its last term, the Supreme Court garnered considerable attention by wading into the culture wars over polarizing social issues such as abortion and sexuality. Decisions to strike down a common-sense law requiring abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges and to redefine “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity were mourned by conservatives and applauded by liberals.

While secular activists lamented, conservatives celebrated decisions upholding the rights of religious families and schools to participate in neutral tuition assistance programs and requiring foreign organizations to adopt policies opposing prostitution and sex trafficking to receive federal funds to combat HIV/AIDS. The Court will likely remain in the public eye during its current term, when it will hear arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case that will have significant implications for the future of religious liberty and foster care in America. The justices will hear oral arguments in the case on November 4.

The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….” Thus, the Constitution protects religious liberty in two separate but related provisions. The Establishment Clause prevents Congress from favoring any religious denomination at the national level, while the Free Exercise Clause guarantees Americans the right to believe and act according to their religious convictions. Both Clauses also constrain the actions of the states. Prior to 1963, the right to freely exercise one’s religion was somewhat limited. While an individual’s religious beliefs were absolutely protected, his or her freedom to act on those beliefs could be fairly easily regulated.  

In 1963 and 1972, the Supreme Court decided two landmark religious liberty cases, Sherbert v. Verner and Wisconsin v. Yoder. These cases established the strict scrutiny standard, which means that when the government implements a law or policy that burdens someone’s right to free exercise, it must show (1) that it has a compelling state interest that justifies its burden on religious exercise and (2) that its law or policy is the least restrictive means of accomplishing this compelling interest. Because of their robust protection of religious liberty, Sherbert and Yoder ushered in a Golden Age of religious freedom in America.

In 1990, the Court issued an unexpected decision that dramatically changed religious liberty protections. In Employment Division v. Smith, the Court abandoned the strict scrutiny standard and held that the government only needs to show that its law or policy is neutral and generally applicable in order to overcome a free exercise challenge. This “neutral law of general applicability” standard waters down protections for religious liberty by giving the government a lower bar to overcome. The government only needs to demonstrate that the law treats religious and secular groups equally and was not enacted to target religion. Under this standard, religious individuals are rarely successful in court and must prove that they were actively targeted for their religious beliefs to prevail.

In its upcoming term, the Court will consider Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The decision will impact the rights of religious foster care agencies to speak and act consistently with their sincerely held religious beliefs. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Catholic Social Services (CSS), is a faith-based foster care agency that operates in Philadelphia. When a child enters Philadelphia’s foster care system, the City refers them to one of several foster care agencies. These agencies then evaluate prospective foster parents to certify that they meet state standards. Because of its sincerely held religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, CSS considers same-sex couples to be unmarried and is unable to certify them as foster parents. However, if an LGBT-identified couple were ever to approach them (which has never happened), CSS would refer them to another agency that would be a better fit. Nevertheless, Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services has stopped referring children to CSS.

In the lower courts, CSS argued that the City’s actions were neither neutral nor generally applicable and targeted CSS because of its religious beliefs. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that there was no First Amendment violation and that Philadelphia did not treat CSS differently because of its religious beliefs. Rather, the court found that Philadelphia was merely engaged in a good-faith effort to enforce its nondiscrimination policy, which “prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations.”  

In Fulton, one of the major issues that the Supreme Court will consider is whether it should revisit its decision in Employment Division v. Smith. If the Court revisits and overrules Smith, it will be a major victory for religious liberty that could restore the favorable strict scrutiny standard. However, if the Court declines to revisit Smith, or revisits and upholds Smith, its damaging precedent will become further entrenched in American law, dealing a major blow to religious liberty. The Court’s decision could be influenced by its recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which, as Justice Alito predicted in his dissent, could affect the speech of those who desire to “express[] disapproval of same-sex relationships …”

Allowing religious discrimination against faith-based foster care agencies would not just be a blow to the constitutionally-protected right of religious liberty. It would also be detrimental to the already overburdened foster care system. In states and localities that have forced religious agencies to close, children suffer. For example, after Illinois passed a statute that forced all foster care and adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples, nearly 3,000 children were displaced from religious agencies that were forced to close, and over 5,000 foster homes were lost. In Philadelphia, the home of a “Foster Parent of the Year” award winner who had been serving needy youth for decades was forcibly closed to foster youth, as were others. After the City ended its contract with CSS, siblings of children who had already been placed by the agency faced the daunting prospective of being forced into separate homes.  

Pennsylvania is not the only state to witness the targeting of religious foster care agencies. In Michigan, an activist couple targeted St. Vincent Catholic Charities, passing four other agencies they could have worked with as they traveled from their home to St. Vincent. Here, referrals had been made. Children in St. Vincent’s care had been transferred to other agencies working with LGBT-identified couples who were interested in adopting children in St. Vincent’s care. And in New York, New Hope Family Services, which has been serving needy children for over 50 years, was informed by the state that it must either change its policy of referring LGBT-identified couples to other agencies or cease its adoption services. A New York District Court judge recently issued an injunction on behalf of the church, preventing the state “from revoking New Hope Family Services’ authorization to place children for adoption.”

In Fulton, the Court stands poised to issue a decision that will have a lasting impact on the religious liberty of foster care agencies and perhaps that of all Americans. While we watch and wait for the Court’s decision, we should pray that God would give the justices wisdom to make the right decision.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with the Policy & Government Affairs Department at Family Research Council.

Senate Democrats: Tone-Deaf on Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

October 14, 2020

Throughout the last several days of Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats using Amy Coney Barrett as a political prop for their re-election campaigns (and antagonism toward President Trump), Senator Mazie Hirono from Hawaii turned in one of the worst performances on day three of the confirmation hearing—exhibiting a tone-deafness to religious freedom that was almost bizarre.

Among her list of cases on a giant poster-board supposedly showing that the sky would fall if Barrett is confirmed, Hirono included South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, which she claimed is putting “COVID safety measures” at risk.

Yet, South Bay is a case in which the Supreme Court refused to step in and protect a church from being discriminated against under coronavirus restrictions, after California continued to treat religious worship gatherings less equally than “factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries” under its approach to the coronavirus.

Why is Hirono using a case in which a church is being shut down to claim that coronavirus restrictions are at risk? Either she devalues religious freedom that much, or is blind to the needs of such churches.

But that church’s pastor, Amada Huizar, is not. He has had to face the very real and serious consequences of what has happened because churches have been unconstitutionally shuttered around the country: harm to communities and the people who live in them. Pastor Huizar recently joined FRC President Tony Perkins on Washington Watch to share the incredible life-and-death story of his decision to reopen his church, and spoke at Freedom Sunday, an event held to call on churches to reopen in the face of unconstitutional restrictions on them around the country.

Senator Hirono may simply be tone-deaf to the religious freedom rights of Pastor Huizar and others like him. The alternative is that she thinks so little of the First Amendment that she’s willing to use a case suppressing a church’s rights in her bid to block Judge Barrett’s confirmation. Either possibility is dismal in terms of respect for our First Amendment and the Constitution.

California Is Fining Churches for Using Common Sense

by Kaitlyn Shepherd

September 4, 2020

Even though the First Amendment clearly protects religious liberty, California continues to stymie churches’ efforts to reopen amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

On August 28, Governor Newsom announced a new statewide reopening plan, which replaced the previous county monitoring list. Under the new system, each county will be classified under one of four tiers. Each tier has a corresponding color that designates the county’s coronavirus risk level, which is based on the number of new coronavirus cases per day and the percentage of positive tests. Purple counties (widespread risk level) have more than seven new cases per day (per every 100,000) and more than eight percent positive tests. Red counties (substantial risk level) have four to seven new cases per day (per every 100,000) and five to eight percent positive tests. Orange counties (moderate risk level) have one to 3.9 new cases per day (per every 100,000) and two to 4.9 percent positive tests. Yellow counties (minimal risk level) have less than one new case per day (per every 100,000) and less than two percent positive tests.

Unfortunately, California’s new system fails to adequately prioritize the First Amendment rights of its churches and congregations. As of the Governor’s announcement on Friday, 38 of the state’s 58 counties (approximately 87 percent of the population) were in the highly restrictive purple tier. In these counties, churches are not allowed to hold indoor services. In red counties (currently nine counties), churches may hold indoor services, but they may only admit up to 25 percent of their building’s capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Churches in orange counties (currently nine counties) may also hold indoor services but must limit attendance to 50 percent of building capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. Churches in yellow counties may admit up to 50 percent of their building’s capacity, but only two counties, Modoc and Alpine Counties, are currently classified under this tier. According to industry guidance (current as of July 29), all churches have been ordered to “discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities.”

In addition to statewide restrictions preventing churches from resuming in-person services, California churches are also facing opposition at the local level. Los Angeles County’s Grace Community Church resumed in-person services on July 26. After the County threatened the church with civil and criminal penalties for continued violations of the County’s prohibition on indoor worship services, the church filed a lawsuit against Governor Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and other public officials. The County tried—and failed—four times to obtain court orders that would force the church to cease holding in-person services. On August 28, in another attempt to prevent the church from reopening, the County “terminat[ed] the church’s lease on a large portion of [its] parking lot.”

Grace Community Church is not alone in its struggle to reopen. In Ventura County, a judge held Godspeak Calvary Chapel and its pastor, Rob McCoy, in contempt of court. He fined the church $3,000 for holding indoor services in violation of a temporary restraining order that mandated compliance with the County’s prohibition on such services. And in Santa Clara County, North Valley Baptist Church has been fined over $52,000 for continuing to hold in-person services.

As churches in California and across the country consider reopening, they should make every effort to reopen safely by taking reasonable precautions and following common-sense guidelines. It is high time that California allows them to do so.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council.

Lessons in Perseverance from the Life of William Wilberforce

by Worth Loving

July 29, 2020

The abolition of slavery. Women’s suffrage. Civil rights for black Americans. None of these reforms happened quickly. They only came about through years of dedicated efforts from people who refused to give up, despite overwhelming odds.

As we fight to protect life, family, and religious freedom, we can find inspiration in the lives of men and women who never gave up fighting for causes they believed in. One such individual was the great statesman William Wilberforce. Wilberforce played a central role in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, but he did not see his reforms implemented within a few weeks or months. In fact, it took decades for Wilberforce’s ultimate goals to be accomplished. He experienced many crushing defeats yet remained steadfast in his pursuit. As we work toward reforms in the present, we can learn much from the life and example of William Wilberforce.

Born into an affluent British family, Wilberforce attended St. Johns College in Cambridge, where he became close friends with future prime minister William Pitt. Raised in a Christian home, Wilberforce drifted away from his religious upbringing as a young man. In 1780, at the age of 21 and while still a student, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament. Pitt followed his friend to Parliament, becoming the youngest prime minister in British history at the age of 24.

The first few years of Wilberforce’s parliamentary career were mostly uneventful, although he was known as an eloquent speaker who frequented bars with drinking and gambling. It wasn’t until 1785 that things began to change. Influenced by his friend Isaac Milner, Wilberforce rediscovered the Christianity of his youth. Over the next few years, Wilberforce’s newfound faith sparked a strong desire for humanitarian reform. Yet Wilberforce wrestled with whether he should leave Parliament and devote himself to full-time Christian ministry. He reconnected with his childhood pastor John Newton, a former slave trader who became an influential adviser to Wilberforce. Around this time, Wilberforce was also approached by Thomas Clarkson, co-founder of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, about taking up the cause in Parliament. Through the counsel of Newton, Pitt, Clarkson, and notable antislavery groups like the Clapham Sect, Wilberforce was persuaded that he could still do God’s work while remaining in politics. Around this time, he wrote the following in his journal: “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners” [i.e., society].

At the time, calling for the abolition of the slave trade was deeply unpopular, given the strong economic interests many influential businessmen and members of Parliament had in the British West Indies. Over the new few years, Wilberforce and Clarkson embarked on an unprecedented public awareness campaign across Great Britain. Clarkson visited the ports where slave ships docked, taking detailed notes from crew members about the deplorable conditions slaves endured aboard ship. He also took measurements of the small quarters in which slaves were housed and gathered shackles and branding irons to demonstrate to the public how slaves were being treated. In 1787, Clarkson published a booklet titled A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition, detailing the horrific conditions slaves endured while aboard the ships. Clarkson began traveling the country, distributing leaflets describing these conditions. In 1789, Wilberforce used Clarkson’s evidence in a powerful speech before the House of Commons to present his first bill for the abolition of the slave trade. While Parliament did not act on his bill, public opinion was starting to change. In 1791, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade distributed leaflets calling upon the public to boycott sugar produced by slaves in the West Indies. Consequently, around 300,000 British citizens stopped buying the sugar, resulting in a significant loss of profit to companies that used slave labor in the West Indies.

Across the English Channel, trouble was brewing in France. Parliament was soon consumed with protecting Britain from the violent revolution engulfing France. That revolution resulted in an overthrow of the French government and eventually culminated in Napoleon’s rise to power. The British political establishment often viewed abolitionists like Wilberforce in the same light as the radicals leading the French Revolution. During this time, Wilberforce was slandered, libeled, and even received death threats. To compound his difficulties, Wilberforce battled an intestinal disease (believed today to be colitis) that prevented him from fulfilling his parliamentary duties from time to time. Despite these setbacks, Wilberforce remained resolute in his quest to end the slave trade.

Year after year, Wilberforce would present a motion in the House of Commons calling for the abolition of the slave trade. Although some of the margins were narrow, his motion was defeated every single time. Wilberforce’s motions were often defeated by fellow members of Parliament who had strong economic interests in the slave trade. In a 1791 speech, Wilberforce boldly reminded his fellow members: “Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.” But Wilberforce remained unfazed by the defeats and continued his fight with public awareness campaigns, bringing to light the horrors of the slave trade. Wilberforce and Clarkson gathered thousands of petition signatures from enraged British citizens who demanded an end to the slave trade throughout the Empire.

By 1807, public opinion was squarely in his favor, and Wilberforce had persuaded many members of Parliament. After nearly 20 years of fighting, the Slave Trade Act was passed, and Wilberforce realized one of his two “great objects”—the end of the slave trade.

Because this bill did not free currently owned slaves, Wilberforce began calling for the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the British Empire. In 1825, Wilberforce resigned his seat in Parliament due to health reasons but continued his quest to abolish slavery. On July 26, 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the House of Commons, effectively freeing all slaves in the British Empire. William Wilberforce died three days later with the satisfaction of knowing that the cause to which he had dedicated his life had finally been accomplished.  

Wilberforce had also worked hard on his second “great object”—the “reformation of manners.” When Wilberforce began his Parliamentary career, British society was incredibly corrupt and immoral. Workers suffered poor conditions, animals were abused, and prostitution was rampant. Wilberforce had a special place in his heart for the poor and those rejected by society. By the time he died, Great Britain was a completely different place.

For more than 50 years, Wilberforce dedicated his life to building a better Great Britain. While advocating for Christians to be involved in politics, Wilberforce once said that “a private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.” As Christians, we are called to engage our culture and influence others for Christ. Wilberforce never attacked his opponents but instead appealed to their conscience.

Now, 187 years since Wilberforce’s death, we can draw many parallels between Wilberforce’s battles and our current ones over abortion, religious freedom, pornography, human trafficking, and many more. Since 1973, we’ve been fighting to correct the flawed decision in Roe v. Wade. While the pro-life movement has experienced many victories, hundreds of innocent unborn children are still killed every day. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges undermines the sacred institution of marriage. And the religious liberty of Christian business owners and government employees is under increasing attack, most recently in Bostock v. Clayton County

Despite recent setbacks, we must never give up. We can find inspiration in William Wilberforce, who faced crushing defeats and vicious attacks from his opponents but never relented his fight for what was right.  We can learn much from Wilberforce’s tenacity and his unwavering commitment to the cause to which God had called him. The fight may be long and grueling, but the ultimate reward we are seeking is well worth any struggle we face now.

During the Pandemic, the Trump Administration Is Continuing to Protect Religious Freedom

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Jeremy Pilz

July 22, 2020

Yesterday, the Trump Administration announced further steps to protect religious freedom during the coronavirus pandemic. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the resolution of two recent complaints filed against hospitals for infringing on religious freedom.

in June 2020, OCR received a complaint from a woman named Susanna Marcus, alleging she had requested a visit from a priest for her critically injured husband, Sidney Marcus. However, Prince George’s Hospital Center of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), the hospital where Sidney Marcus was admitted, denied the request. In late May 2020, Susanna and Sidney Marcus were involved in major car accident. Due to the nature of Sidney’s injuries, the couple was separated, and Sydney was placed in the intensive care unit. As a result of Sidney’s continued decline in health, Susanna requested a visit from a local priest for prayer at the hospital. The priest, however, was turned away by the hospital, based on a visitor exclusion policy adopted in response to COVID-19, despite being willing to wear any necessary personal protective equipment. In partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), OCR provided technical assistance to the hospital based on federal guidance which provides that “facilities must ensure patients have adequate and lawful access to chaplains or clergy.” Following this action by OCR, Prince George’s Hospital Center came into compliance with the federal guidance and granted Sidney Marcus’s request to freely exercise his religion by allowing the Catholic priest to visit and administer the sacraments of Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick to him.

This is significant because it concerns the ability of clergy to continue to operate and function during the coronavirus, something the administration made sure was included in nationwide guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump should be commended for ensuring clergy and pastors can continue to operate in this way and serve their communities during the coronavirus.

That same month, OCR also received a complaint from a medical student who was participating in rotations at the Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) in New York City. As a part of their response to COVID-19, SIUH temporarily suspended medical student rotations at the hospital. To return to rotation, SIUH required students to wear N95 respirator masks while assisting patients. As a result, SIUH informed one student that he would need to shave his beard if he wanted to return to his rotation. In accordance with the tenets of his religion, this student has not shaved his beard. HHS then stepped in to provided technical assistance to the hospital, and ultimately, they granted the student an accommodation to wear alternative protective equipment in the hospital so that he would not have to shave his beard.

These actions by the Trump administration may seem like small regulatory resolutions, but what they show is a consistent and concerted effort by this administration to protect religious freedom for all Americans. Everyone’s ability to practice their faith must be protected, and the administration is accomplishing this in concrete ways with actions like what HHS did yesterday. This also demonstrates that in times of crisis like the one our country is facing now, this administration will not protect one civil liberty at the expense of another. From the onset of the pandemic, HHS and the Department of Justice have been diligent to enforce laws protecting everything from disability rights to the right churches have to freely worship. No matter the situation our country faces, the Office of Civil Rights at HHS is on duty, protecting the guard rails of civil rights like religious freedom.

If you have a been discriminated against by a healthcare provider or government agency for your religious beliefs, please visit hhs.gov/ocr to file a complaint.

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on federal legislative affairs, with a concentration on pro-life issues.

The Trump Administration Is About to Do the Right Thing on Religious Freedom — Again

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M. , Mary Beth Waddell, J.D.

May 22, 2020

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is about to finalize a rule it proposed last year to ensure that religious freedom and conscience are protected, the medical profession is not politicized, and patient care is prioritized. We urge this rule’s swift finalization.

This rule is great news for patients and the health care community alike. In 2016, under the Obama administration, HHS issued regulations on Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act defining “sex” in the context of “sex discrimination” to incorporate “gender identity” and “the termination of pregnancy”. Health care institutions sued, contending that the heavy hand of government was forcing them to violate their conscience and threatening their ability to operate. Understanding that HHS had exceeded its authority, a federal judge issued an injunction to prevent the Obama administration rule from taking effect.

Now, President Trump plans to clean up this mess, and protect religious freedom, for our caregiving institutions nationwide. This policy change will enable the medical community to fulfill the Hippocratic oath, while protecting the convictions of those in that community who want to hold to their religious beliefs and consciences about the biological understanding of sex.

President Trump’s proposed rule is also pro-life, and will ensure that the pro-life convictions of medical professionals will be honored. The inclusion of “termination of pregnancy” in the Obama administration rule could be read to require the provision of, and coverage or referral for, abortion. This could then lead to federal financial assistance being conditioned on the promotion and performance of acts that devalue the sanctity of human life. Thus, removing this language is important to ensuring that federal laws protecting the right of healthcare workers not to provide or refer for abortion will be upheld. 

We applaud HHS for standing with science and religious liberty to ensure that the medical community is free of political chains and can simply focus on providing the best possible care to their patients according to the best medical science.

The finalization of this rule is a high priority for religious freedom, and very important to protecting the faith of many throughout our country.

It should be finalized promptly, so that those with long-running conscience and religious freedom concerns in this area can finally put them to rest.

Churches Are Filing Lawsuits Over Coronavirus Restrictions. Here Is a List.

by Katherine Beck Johnson , Kaitlyn Shepherd

May 20, 2020

**UPDATED as of 8/06

As the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold, religious services have been disrupted across the United States in perhaps the most drastic manner in recent memory. Many state and local governments have clamped down on gatherings, and almost everyone in the United States has had some kind of restriction placed on them. Yet not all government authorities have respected religious freedom during this process.

Various state authorities, particularly governors in California, Nevada, Washington, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maine, have failed to prioritize religious liberty even as they prioritized other secular interests. Rather than looking at churches as partners to help care for our communities at this time, the governors in these states have treated churches as antagonists. As have certain other governmental authorities, they have failed to cooperate with churches, often hindering them from assisting their communities during this time.

The Department of Justice, which has been keenly focused on protecting religious liberty, released a memo expressing its concern that this fundamental right not be violated during the pandemic. The memo notes that reasonable restrictions may be permissible during this time. However, a state may not cross the line from “an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections.” Many churches have challenged discriminatory state and local orders by bringing suit in court. These court cases are listed below.

Churches that Won

1. Tabernacle Baptist Church v. Beshear

To curb the spread of the coronavirus, Kentucky governor Andrew Beshear ordered nonessential businesses to close. The state put a limit on “mass gatherings,” including those considered “faith-based.” Tabernacle Baptist Church planned to hold services in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Nevertheless, they were not allowed. The judge held that Tabernacle’s free exercise rights were violated, and granted a temporary restraining order.

2. On Fire Christian Center v. Fischer

On Fire Christian Center in Louisville, Kentucky was granted a temporary restraining order, allowing it to hold drive-in services for Easter Sunday. Judge Walker found that the Louisville mayor’s prohibition was not neutral because it allowed businesses, such as liquor stores, to remain open for drive-through purposes but not churches.

*Update: The temporary restraining order was dissolved and the case was dismissed after the parties agreed that the church would take reasonable steps to comply with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

3. Maryville Baptist Church v. Beshear (church initially lost)

The district court denied the Hillview, Kentucky church’s emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. The district judge found that the order applied to “all gatherings” and not just faith-based gatherings. The judge found the exceptions to be singular transitory experiences, whereas church services are communal activities. However, the opinion was appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that the governor’s order likely prohibits the Free Exercise Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, especially with respect to drive-in services. The governor had allowed law firms, laundromats, liquor stores, and gun shops to continue operating. The plaintiff’s motion for an injunction pending appeal was granted in part.

*Update: On May 8, 2020, the district court granted the injunction with respect to the in-person services, finding that the church was likely to succeed on its Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim and its constitutional claims. On May 9, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in another case involving Maryville Baptist Church, found that the governor’s restrictions on in-person worship likely violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Read more about the case here.

4. First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs v. City of Holly Springs

In Mississippi, First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs filed suit seeking a temporary restraining order permitting a planned Sunday service. At the hearing, the judge believed the city had made concessions that would resolve the dispute in question, but the court still put forth an order to clarify things. The judge noted that drive-in services should be permitted. Yet, the judge was less sympathetic to a request for a 35-person indoor gathering.

*Update: The church was burned down on May 20, 2020 in an act of suspected arson. Two days later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the church’s motion for a temporary injunction, allowing it to hold in-person services. Judge Willett issued a powerful concurrence on behalf of the church, condemning the City’s lack of sympathy and outrage over the destruction of a “neighborhood house of worship” and declaring the City’s argument that the arson rendered the First Amendment claim moot to be “shameful.”

5. Berean Baptist Church v. Cooper

A federal judge in North Carolina granted a temporary restraining order, which allowed churchgoers to attend church in person. The North Carolina governor banned indoor church services of over 10 people, though outdoor services were still allowed. The judge noted that some religious services cannot be conducted outdoors or with fewer than 10 people. He also noted that the governor allowed over 10 people indoors for secular activities. Finally, the judge said, “The Governor has failed to cite any peer-reviewed study showing that religious interactions in those 15 states have accelerated the spread of COVID-19 in any manner distinguishable from non-religious interactions.”

*Update: The case was voluntarily dismissed in response to changes in the Governor’s orders.

6. Edgewater Christian Church v. Brown

Two churches in Oregon sued Governor Brown. The church argues that if people are able to gather at restaurants, they should be able to gather at church.

*Update: Case voluntarily dismissed on June 10, 2020 after Phase 2 of Oregon’s reopening plans allows church to resume services.

Churches that Lost

1. Lighthouse Fellowship Church v. Northam (DOJ intervened)

In Virginia, Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island filed suit after the pastor was issued a citation for holding a Palm Sunday service for 16 people. The church sought a preliminary injunction against Governor Northam’s order, but a U.S. District Court judge denied that request. The next day, attorneys for the church filed a notice that it would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and asked again for a temporary restraining order.

Governor Northam’s new order will allow churches to hold gatherings at 50 percent capacity.

*Update: The charges against the pastor were eventually dropped. On May 21, 2020, the U.S. District Court denied the church’s emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal.

2. Cassell v. Snyders

In Illinois, The Beloved Church sued because the stay-at-home order infringed on their religious practices. The governor reissued an order allowing churches to meet as long as they abided by the requirement of no more than 10 people. The judge held that the current crisis implicates Jacobson and advances the government’s interest in protecting Illinoisans from the pandemic. It has been appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

3. Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel

In New Mexico, Legacy Church challenged the governor’s executive order, which restricts places of worship to gatherings of no more than five people within a single room. The judge held that the order did not violate the church’s First Amendment because it was neutral and generally applicable.

*Update: On July 13, 2020, the court denied the church’s request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The judge found that there was no religious animus and that similar restrictions were imposed on secular entities.

4. Calvary Chapel of Bangor v. Mills

In Maine, Calvary Chapel sued Governor Mills over her executive order, which limited gatherings to 10 people. The district judge held that the plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits. The judge found that the order was placed to protect the people from the virus. The judge found the order to be neutral and generally applicable.

*Update: The First Circuit Court of Appeals denied the church’s motion for an injunction pending appeal on June 2, 2020.

5. Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker

Two churches in Illinois sued because they did not want to abide by the 10-person limit. The judge held that under Jacobson and a First Amendment analysis, the churches lost. The judge found that the order does not target religion. He noted that gatherings at church pose much more risk than gatherings at businesses. Finally, the judge noted that the order had nothing to do with suppressing religion but rather was executed to protect people from the disease.

*Update: After the churches’ request for an injunction pending appeal was denied by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the case proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied the application for injunctive relief because of new guidance issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on May 28. The case went back to the Seventh Circuit, and a panel of judges affirmed the court’s decision in favor of the governor. The court held that Illinois’s restrictions on the size of church gatherings did not violate the First Amendment. On July 27, the Seventh Circuit denied a request for a rehearing before the full court.

6. Gish v. Newsom

A day after Easter, three church pastors and a congregant sued the state of California, as well as Riverside and San Bernardino counties, for refusing to designate houses of worship as essential services. The social distancing mandates are particularly challenging for James Moffatt of Church Unlimited in Indio, who, the lawsuit complaint said, “believes that scripture commands him as a pastor to lay hands on people and pray for them, this includes the sick.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied. The orders were found to be neutral. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the request for an emergency injunction pending appeal. The case was eventually dismissed on July 8, 2020.

7. Cross Culture Christian Center v. Newsom

After a Lodi, California church was ordered to temporarily shut down, the Cross Culture Christian Center sued. “Plaintiffs have sincerely held religious beliefs, rooted in the Bible, that followers of Jesus Christ are not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, and that they are to do so even more in times of peril and crisis.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for Temporary Restraining Order was denied. The court noted the general police powers to promote safety during a public health crisis.

8. Abiding Place Ministries v. Newsom

The San Diego church Abiding Place Ministries argued that California’s exemptions for non-religious businesses such as “cannabis retailers, grocery stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, big box stores,” betray a preference for non-religious activity. Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for Preliminary Injunction denied on June 4, 2020 (issue is moot in light of May 25 guidelines).

9. South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom

With Gov. Newsom declaring a transition from “Phase 1” to “Phase 2” of the state’s pandemic response, allowing for more businesses to open and operate, two religious institutions felt they were not treated equally in the reopening plans. The South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and the Chabad of Carmel Valley synagogue in San Diego are suing, arguing that the revised order restricts their congregation’s free exercise of religion, assembly, speech, and right to due process and that it constitutes “excessive government entanglement with religion.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Case went to the Supreme Court. Application for injunctive relief was denied May 29, 2020 (Roberts, C.J., concurring) (holding that California’s reopening procedures do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment). After the decision at the Supreme Court, the church filed an amended complaint with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the unequal treatment of churches as compared to protests and other secular entities.

10. Spell v. Edwards

Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana filed suit to stop Governor Edwards from enforcing restrictions on him and his church. Spell has proceeded in a manner lacking legal strategy, making it more likely he will lose.

*Update: Motion for Temporary Restraining Order was denied by the district court. On June 18, 2020, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the pastor’s motion for an injunction because the request became moot when the challenged stay-at-home orders expired.

11. Bullock v. Carney

A pastor sued the Governor of Delaware claiming that the executive orders deprive his right to freely exercise his religion. A motion for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied.

12. Elkhorn Baptist Church, et al. v. Brown

More than 10 Oregon churches and multiple individuals brought suit against Governor Brown’s stay-at-home order. When the state started phase one opening, many churches still experienced heavy operating restrictions. The judge ruled that Brown’s executive order was null and void.

*Update: Although the church initially prevailed, the Oregon Supreme Court vacated the preliminary injunction in favor of the church because the lower court erred in holding that the Governor’s orders exceeded a statutory time limit.

Churches Awaiting an Opinion

1. Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville (DOJ intervened)

In Mississippi, Temple Baptist Church sued after congregants were ticketed for attending drive-in church services. The attorneys withdrew the request for a temporary restraining order because new guidance was issued.

2. Robinson, Knopfler v. Murphy

St. Thomas More Society is representing a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest against New Jersey’s Executive Order 107, which caps gatherings at 10 people. The police halted the celebration of Mass and a Jewish prayer ceremony, which requires 10 men.

*Update: Rabbi Knopfler was arrested in early May for violating the governor’s executive order. The plaintiffs asked the court for leave to file a third amended complaint on July 23, 2020.

3. High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis

High Plains Harvest Church sued Colorado health officials over their ban which prevents churches from gathering. The suit notes that if hundreds of people can gather at Lowe’s, they should be able to gather at church.

*Update: DOJ intervened in the case supporting the church. The district court denied the church’s motion for a temporary restraining order on June 16, 2020. Citing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, the court found that the church had “not made a strong showing of a reasonable likelihood of success in this matter.”

4. Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak

A complaint filed on May 22, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, challenging Governor’s ban on church services of more than 10 people; complaint amended May 28, 2020 (updated Phase II plan says that churches not allowed to meet with more than 50 people).

*Update: The church’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was denied by the district court on June 11, 2020. The court found that the church did “not demonstrate[] a likelihood of success on its First Amendment Free Exercise claim.” The U.S. Supreme Court denied the church’s application of injunctive relief on July 24, 2020. Four Justices dissented from the denial: Justice Alito (for himself, Justice Thomas, and Justice Kavanaugh), Justice Gorsuch (for himself), and Justice Kavanaugh (for himself).

5. Calvary Chapel of Ukiah v. Newsom

Three churches in California challenged Governor Newsom’s “ban on singing and chanting activities … in places of worship while permitting the same activities in all other similarly situated indoor uses within the counties where [they] are located.”

6. Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom

Another California church challenged Governor Newsom’s restrictions on singing and chanting during worship services. The church sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the Governor from enforcing the ban. Its request was denied by the court on July 20.

** It should also be noted that some attorneys and legal firms sent letters to localities that resulted in churches being allowed to resume services. They did not get to the point of bringing suit. First Liberty has a list that can be found here.

While there seems to be a split in approaches to how some courts are handling the lawsuits by the church, there is an overwhelming willingness of judges to allow outdoor church services. While the pandemic continues to unfold, we will be monitoring the church lawsuits in the courts and making sure churches are treated equally. Leaders in states less interested in protecting religious liberty during the pandemic should not be permitted to prioritize secular interests over faith-based ones. It is crucial to religious liberty that churches are treated equally; the right to freely exercise one’s religion should not be infringed upon unnecessarily.

Katherine Beck Johnson, J.D. is Research Fellow for Legal and Policy Studies at Family Research Council.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council.

Virginia Democrats Force Citizens to Deny the Reality of Male and Female - on Good Friday

by Cathy Ruse

April 15, 2020

While Virginia families were preoccupied with the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic and job loss, Governor Ralph Northam quietly signed into law a bill that forces public businesses and even private organizations to open women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and dressing rooms to men who claim that they are women. It is an official rejection of God’s purposeful design of male and female.

The new law prohibits “all places or businesses offering or holding out to the general public goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages, or accommodations” from denying access based on “gender identity.” “Gender identity” is defined as “gender-related identity, appearance, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

Two Democrats from Fairfax sponsored the bill: Delegate Marcus Simon and Senator Jennifer Boysko.

Christians, feminists, and all other conscientious objectors who believe in the science of biology can be punished for failing to follow this new law. The law makes no consideration for female athletes in Virginia, or for any women and girls who are not comfortable sharing intimate spaces with adult males. The Governor and his party have chosen sides, and they have chosen who the losers are. To the many women and girls who are sex abuse survivors, the message could not be clearer: We don’t care about you. Shut up and take it.

In a statement accompanying the signing, Northam said: “This legislation sends a strong, clear message—Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.” But that’s not true at all. This law renders public schools, businesses, and organizations unwelcome to people unless they affirm an anti-Christian, anti-woman creed.

The law includes an extremely narrow exemption for private organizations that are “not in fact open to the public.” The exemption reads: “The provisions of this section shall not apply to a private club, a place of accommodation owned by or operated on behalf of a religious corporation, association, or society that is not in fact open to the public, or any other establishment that is not in fact open to the public.”

What does that mean for churches that invite the public to worship services? That offer free English language classes and meals to those in need? That perform sacred music in concerts open to the public? What does it mean for Christian schools that host competitive sports in their gymnasiums? Are these services, activities, and events not, in fact, open to the public under the language of this narrow exemption?

As former Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his concurring opinion in NIFLA v. Becerra, “[I]t is not forward thinking to force individuals to ‘be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view [they] find unacceptable.’” This new law, which punishes people for not assenting to an anti-Christian, anti-woman view of the human person, is not forward-thinking. It is offensive to freedom and devastating to women.

And it happened in Virginia, of all places. The home of Thomas Jefferson’s Religious Freedom Act, the model for the first freedom in the Bill of Rights.

And it happened on Good Friday; the day Christians worldwide commemorate God’s willing sacrifice of His only Son as the ransom for our sins.

We must work and pray for an end to this unjust law.

The Atrocity of Forced Marriage in Pakistan

by Arielle Del Turco

February 20, 2020

A tragic situation has ended in the best possible way for one Pakistani Christian girl who had been kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and forced to marry a Muslim man in January. Fourteen-year-old Sneha has been recovered by authorities and reunited with her family, but not before enduring a traumatic abduction and being raped multiple times.

Sneha had refused the proposal of a Muslim man, who later kidnapped her with the help of six other men. The men beat her and forced her to sign blank sheets of paper on which they later forged a fake marriage certificate and certificate of conversion to Islam.

Sneha’s family continues to receive threats from the kidnappers, who pressured the parents to withdraw their legal case. In response, the family has moved to an undisclosed location for their own safety. 

Unfortunately, Sneha was lucky compared to the hundreds of other Christian and Hindu girls that are kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year. Not all the girls who face this situation are rescued, and not all the families of these victims find sympathy with the authorities or in court.

Just a few weeks ago, a Pakistani court ruled against the family of another 14-year-old Christian girl, Huma Younus, who was taken from her home and forced to marry a Muslim man on October 10, 2019. The Sindh High Court in Karachi ruled on February 3, 2020 that the forced marriage of this underage girl wasn’t against the law.

Christians face widespread persecution and discrimination in Pakistan, and young Christian women are among those most harmed by it.  

In its 2019 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recognized that approximately “1,000 young women are forcibly converted to Islam each year; many are kidnapped, forcibly married, and subjected to rape.”

Pakistan’s culture and legal system create an environment that leaves religious minorities particularly vulnerable to abuse. Christian communities are among the poorest in Pakistan and are often geographically segregated from the larger Muslim population. Christians are often resigned to take menial jobs which carry heavy social stigmas in Pakistani culture. These factors leave Christians without many resources to stand up to discrimination and violence.

The stigmatization and marginalization of Christians has consequences in the legal system as well. When a case is brought before authorities, the courts are often reluctant to help Christian victims. USCIRF’s report noted that the Pakistani government “has not adequately prosecuted perpetrators of violent crimes against religious minorities.”

Furthermore, USCIRF reports that local police and political leaders in Pakistan are often accused of being complicit in forced marriage and conversion cases by refusing to investigate them. In some cases that are investigated by authorities, young women have been questioned in front of the very men who they were forced to marry, creating environments that intimidate women into lying for their abusers. Pakistan’s legal system has proven itself unwilling and unable to ensure justice is served for the perpetrators of these crimes, and that needs to be met with strong international criticism. 

Pakistan’s failure to enshrine religious freedom and protect its own religious minority groups leaves innocent girls and young women vulnerable to forced marriage and the unspeakable abuses that entails. The government’s unwillingness to bring those who perpetrate crimes against Christians to justice only compounds the problem.

These human rights abuses shouldn’t be met with silence from the rest of the world. The U.S. government should take every opportunity to pressure Pakistan to protect Christians and other religious minorities and bring the perpetrators of crimes against religious minorities to justice. Until real legal protections are enforced on behalf of everyone in Pakistan, including religious minorities, this issue will only get worse.

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