Tag archives: Religious Liberty

The Supreme Court Protects Religious Liberty—Barely

by Katherine Beck Johnson

June 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Times the Supreme Court Has Ruled Against California Church Restrictions

by Kaitlyn Shepherd

April 29, 2021

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a case challenging restrictions California imposed on houses of worship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monday’s order marks the sixth time that the Supreme Court has ruled against unfair restrictions that treated California churches more strictly than secular businesses.

For months, California churches faced particularly complicated and onerous restrictions that limited church attendance and inhibited religious exercise. In multiple cases, churches and pastors faced fines or the threat of imprisonment for holding indoor worship services. However, following Justice Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court in October 2020, California churches have started to experience relief. As of April 23, 2021, California’s guidance for houses of worship states that “location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended. Additionally, the restrictions on indoor singing and chanting are recommended only.”

The Supreme Court’s willingness to defend religious liberty is a welcome development. Because of the Court’s guidance on this issue, more and more states are relaxing their worship restrictions. As of April 26, 2021, 41 states impose no restrictions on in-person indoor worship. Only nine states and the District of Columbia still impose a percentage-based limit on indoor worship. D.C. is the last remaining jurisdiction that imposes both a percentage limit and a numerical cap on the number of people who can congregate for indoor worship services. However, these restrictions were enjoined by court order in March 2021, and the D.C. government has announced it will remove the numerical cap beginning May 1, 2021.

What follows is a timeline of the six times the U.S. Supreme Court has issued opinions or orders upholding the rights of churches against California’s COVID-19 restrictions.

1. South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom

On February 5, 2021, the Supreme Court enjoined California’s total ban on indoor worship in Tier 1 counties (i.e., those where the risk of COVID-19 transmission was said to be widespread). The Court’s decision allowed churches in these counties to reopen at 25 percent capacity but left the state’s ban on indoor singing and chanting in place. In a separate statement, Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, noted that “California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses.”

2. Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom

On the same day, the Supreme Court partially granted an injunction that prevented California from enforcing its total ban on indoor worship services against Harvest Rock Church while the case was being resolved in the lower courts. The decision allowed Harvest Rock and other churches in Tier 1 counties to reopen at 25 percent capacity, but it kept California’s ban on indoor singing and chanting in place. Although they joined the majority’s order, Justices Thomas and Gorsuch stated that they would have granted the injunction against the capacity limits and the ban on singing and chanting as well.

3. Gish v. Newsom

On February 8, 2021, the Supreme Court vacated a California district court’s dismissal of a case that challenged various state and local orders banning indoor worship services. The Supreme Court directed the lower court to reconsider the case in light of its recent South Bay decision.

4. Gateway City Church v. Newsom

On February 26, 2021, the Supreme Court granted an injunction that prevented enforcement of California’s restrictions against Gateway City Church. Noting that the “outcome [was] clearly dictated by [its] decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom,” the Court admonished the lower court, saying its “failure to grant relief was erroneous.”

5. Tandon v. Newsom

On April 9, 2021, the Supreme Court granted another injunction against California’s restrictions. This time, the Court addressed California’s requirement that at-home religious gatherings could not contain more than three separate households. In its opinion, the Court emphasized that “government regulations are not neutral and generally applicable … whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise.” The Court added that some secular activities being treated worse than religious ones is not a defense. It also stressed that the government bears the burden of showing “that measures less restrictive of the First Amendment activity could not address its interest in reducing the spread of COVID.” Because California “treat[ed] some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise” and the lower court did not find that religious activities posed more of a threat than the secular activities, the Court found that the “[a]pplicants [were] likely to succeed on the merits of their free exercise claim” and that an injunction was warranted.                                                                           

6. South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom

On April 26, 2021, the Supreme Court returned to South Bay United Pentecostal Church’s case. The Court vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of its decision in Tandon v. Newsom.

It is unfortunate to have seen so much discrimination against religious gatherings over the past year. For a full list of such instances, see here. May we continue to work and pray toward the protection of our freedom to gather as believers and live out our faith during this time.

Texas Takes a Stand for Religious Belief

by Katherine Beck Johnson

April 28, 2021

Liberal states have been attempting to demand total adherence to their ideology for a while now. The Left is no longer interested in co-existing, but rather in demanding every person adheres to their views on sexuality and marriage. The latest target? Texas. But California should know better than to mess with Texas. The Lone Star State is fighting back.

This case arose from the following string of events: California banned state-funded or state-sponsored travel to Texas. Why? Because Texas respects the religious beliefs of those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman and that a mother and father is best for children. Texas acknowledges the religious freedom of faith-based child welfare providers within its own border. California is so bothered by Texas allowing its own citizens to freely live out their faith that they have decided that nobody can travel there if their travel is being sponsored by the state. It’s unclear if California would allow any state-funded travel to China, where an actual genocide is occurring. Yet, California is taking a hard stance again Christians living out their faith in Texas.

Texas went straight to the Supreme Court to file a complaint against California’s unconstitutional action. Texas was not alone, as 19 other states joined an amicus in support of Texas standing up to the demands of the woke. While the Supreme Court denied what is known as a “bill of complaint” earlier this week, Texas did not fully lose the case. The Court’s denial simply means that Texas needs to go through the lower courts first, as the Supreme Court did not have the proper jurisdiction at the moment—a point with which Justices Alito and Thomas disagreed. No justice commented on the merits of the case, but Alito and Thomas would have accepted the case without it working its way through lower courts.

For now, Texas lives to fight on another day, and we can expect to see this case and the issue it deals with arise again in the future.

Thinking Biblically About Religious Freedom

by David Closson

April 28, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on Unity, Safety“Christian Nationalism”LoveCourageForgivenessthe Resurrection and the Social GospelLoyalty, and Identity.

Last week, Montana joined 21 other states in passing legislation that requires the government to have a compelling reason for violating its citizens’ sincerely-held religious beliefs. Montana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—like the federal version passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993—says that when the government must restrict religious expression, it may only do so using the least restrictive means possible.

Lawmakers in Montana, including Gov. Greg Gianforte, were criticized for approving the legislation. This is not surprising; recent attempts to pass RFRAs in other states, such as Indiana in 2015, have elicited passionate responses. Although it received relatively little national attention, Montana’s RFRA was still opposed by over 250 businesses, including national corporations like Google, Amazon, and Verizon.

Why are efforts to protect religious freedom encountering so much opposition nowadays? The political left’s opposition to RFRA laws has become predictable. However, a well-known pastor and seminary chancellor recently stunned evangelicals when he called religious freedom “idolatry.” The United States of America was founded in part by those fleeing religious persecution, but it seems our society’s understanding of the value of religious freedom has been lost.

How should Christians think about religious freedom? Is religious freedom worth defending? Moreover, does the Bible provide a rationale for a policy of broad religious freedom?

First, it is important to define our terms. Religious freedom is the freedom to hold religious beliefs of one’s own choosing and to live in accordance with those beliefs. Religious freedom protects individuals’ ability to come to their own conclusions about matters of utmost importance—such as God, the world, and themselves—free from government coercion.

An important implication flows from this definition: religious freedom does not privilege one religion over the other. Religious freedom protects people of every faith and people with no faith affiliation. Although its detractors often characterize religious freedom advocacy as the attempts of a dominant faith group (e.g., American Christians) to acquire more power or rights, this is simply not the case. Properly understood, religious freedom levels the playing field and protects the conscience rights of everyone.

Now that we have established what religious freedom is, we must ask ourselves: is it biblical? Can a biblical case be made for policies that protect religious freedom? In short, yes. Although no one verse in the Bible expressly demands religious freedom on its face, I would argue that the concept is implicit on nearly every page of Scripture.

How did I reach this conclusion? First, it is important to recall what Christian theology teaches about the interior nature of faith and the futility of coercion in matters of religion. Consider someone’s relationship with God. Although outside forces can certainly influence a person’s perception of God, a person’s inner beliefs are ultimately only known to the person himself (and, of course, to God). The spiritual nature of faith makes it impervious to outside control. This is why an aggressor can torture, abuse, and persecute a believer’s physical body without affecting that believer’s core beliefs. External pressure may be successful in producing outward conformity, but external forces can never change inward belief.

Scripture passages that underscore these truths include Jesus’ parable of the tares (Mat. 13:24-30) and the story of the rich young ruler (Mat. 19:16-30). In the parable, Jesus explains that the wheat (representing believers) and weeds (unbelievers) must be allowed to grow together. Although the unbelievers do not belong to the community of faith, they should be left alone because God’s judgment is eschatological (i.e., it will happen at the end of days). At the end of the age, God will root out the weeds (unbelievers) for their unbelief. Likewise, in the story with the rich young ruler, Jesus allows a potential disciple to walk away instead of coercing or scolding him. By honoring the man’s choice, Jesus underscored the personal nature of faith.

Further evidence that the Bible supports religious freedom is the persistent language of appeal and persuasion in evangelism. For instance, Paul reasons and debates with his listeners in Athens (Acts 19:8, 26). Throughout his ministry, Paul never attempted to force anyone to believe the gospel; he knew such a move would be futile and counterproductive. Rather, he used the means of persuasion and pleaded with people to follow Christ. Paul sought to be faithful with the gospel without being confrontational in encouraging conversion.

In short, the Bible can be said to support a broad conception of religious freedom.

As secular society increasingly misunderstands religious conviction, a growing number of people are content to restrict religious liberty protections. This is reflected in the opposition to the RFRA legislation passed last week in Montana—legislation modeled after a federal bill that once passed Congress with strong bipartisan support. Thus, there is an urgent need to explain to our society why protecting everyone’s ability to believe and live out those beliefs without consequence or restriction serves all people—religious and non-religious.

For a more extended treatment of the Bible’s teaching on religious freedom, visit frc.org/belief.

Terrible News for Nigeria’s Christians as Violence Increases

by Lela Gilbert

April 16, 2021

On Friday, April 16, the Washington Post reported that tens of thousands of Nigerians have fled deadly attacks by armed groups, making the shocking statement that “the latest rebel attack on Wednesday drove out as many as 80% of the population of Damasak, according to the U.N. refugee agency, who said up to 65,000 people were on the move… . Assailants looted and burned down private homes, warehouses of humanitarian agencies, a police station, a clinic, and also a UNHCR facility… .”

Trying to verify this almost unbelievable story, I wrote to my Nigerian Christian friend Hassan John – who actively reports about the ongoing tragedy in his country. He replied, “Yes, the attack on Damasak and surrounding villages has been intense in the last two weeks. Most Christians have fled in the last four weeks as the intensity of the fight increased. Boko Haram has now taken over control of most of the region around Lake Chad up to the Cameroonian boarders. They are now moving in towards Mauduguri.”

Family Research Council continues to actively document the deteriorating security situation here, as explained in our full report on Nigeria updated earlier this year. The report explains, “1,202 Nigerian Christians were killed in the first six months of 2020. This is in addition to 11,000 Christians who have been killed since June 2015. Such violence has reached a point at which expert observers and analysts are warning of a progressive genocide—a ‘slow-motion war’ specifically targeting Christians across Africa’s largest and most economically powerful nation.”

The stories that emerge from Nigeria are always terrifying and similar: heavily armed jihadis suddenly appear in the dead of night. They attack house after house, breaking down doors, shouting “Allahu Akbar.” They shoot the elderly and able-bodied men. They rape, mutilate, and murder women. They kidnap young boys and girls, often using them as slaves and concubines. They torch houses, schools, and churches.

Some villagers manage to flee into the bush. Too many of them are never seen again, while in following days it’s difficult to say for sure who is still alive, who has fled, and who has been kidnapped. Photos of survivors’ faces reflect the agony of trying to remember just what happened, exactly when the screaming and shooting began, and how they managed to escape with their lives after seeing friends and loved ones murdered or mutilated.

Beyond a doubt, there is a surging bloodbath in Nigeria. Murderous incidents are acted out with accelerating frequency and have long been attributed to two terror groups—Boko Haram and Fulani jihadis. Unfortunately, that picture is changing and worsening. The terrorist groups in Africa that enjoy major funding and notoriety are successfully reaching further into the continent, unifying their forces, absorbing other groups, and gaining greater power.

Olivier Guitta, Managing Director of GlobalStrat, ominously predicts the dawning of a new Caliphate. He writes:

Islamic State’s historical strong franchises have included the spinoff of Boko Haram in Nigeria that is part of Islamic State in West Africa Province. More recently the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has made huge progress almost supplanting al-Qaeda as the top dog in the region … the future looks unfortunately bright for Islamic State in a continent with lots of fragile, corrupt quasi-failed states that could allow the birth of a Caliphate in mini territories in Mozambique, the Sahel and possibly Nigeria.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest state and its most prosperous. The population is 53 percent Christian. And the Christian community is often intentionally targeted because of its religious faith. In many rural areas, residents report that they never go to sleep at night assured that they will not be attacked and murdered before sunrise. Those who have survived attacks report that the perpetrators shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they killed and destroyed.

Meanwhile, while nearly daily reports of kidnappings, murders and massacres continue to appear, WSJ explains that Islamic State is transforming itself into a different kind of enemy by “embracing an array of militant groups as if they were local franchises. After its dreams of imposing draconian Islamist law in a self-declared state in Syria were crushed, Islamic State successfully injected itself into localized conflicts in Nigeria, Libya and across the Sahel, the semiarid belt running east-west along the southern edge of the Sahara.”

As American Christians, we often focus our attention solely on our own country and its increasingly anti-Christian leadership and legislation. However, as we watch, pray and respond to opportunities to push back against ungodly forces in our homeland, let’s also keep in mind that there never has been a more dangerous and deadly time for Christians all across the world.

Britain’s Guardian reports that “more than 340 million Christians—one in eight—face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors. It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.”

As we pray and lift up America’s present concerns, we ought also to remember to lift our eyes beyond our borders. Let’s pray for those who are endangered in faraway places—like long-suffering Nigeria—as if we were suffering with them.

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.

Biden’s Cabinet (Part 6): Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh’s Fixation on the LGBT Agenda

by Joseph Norris

March 23, 2021

This is Part 6 of a blog series examining the records of President Biden’s Cabinet picks on abortion and family issues. Read previous posts on Antony BlinkenXavier BecerraJennifer GranholmMarcia Fudge, and Shalanda Young.

Confirmed by the Senate 68-29, Marty Walsh, the new secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), will have to choose between advancing the LGBT agenda and protecting religious liberty. Given the policies of past Democratic administrations and Walsh’s own track record, it is safe to assume that he will advocate for policies that favor the LGBT agenda to the detriment of religious liberty.

Walsh served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives before serving two terms as the mayor of Boston. During his confirmation hearing on February 4, Walsh highlighted his status as a labor union member and advocate. A closer analysis of his background reveals a long track record of prioritizing the LGBT agenda. As a Massachusetts state representative, Walsh argued in favor of same-sex marriage bills. As Boston’s mayor, he intentionally hired several LGBT employees as a political statement, not based solely on their merits for the job, and made the bathrooms in City Hall gender-neutral. Walsh also sought to ensure that city employees had access to “transition-related healthcare services.” Walsh seems set to continue his LGBT activism at the DOL.

The policies of the Obama-era DOL severely limited the religious liberty of faith adherents that sought to contract with DOL. As a result, religious individuals and non-profit organizations were less likely to seek government contracts or utilize government services. Seeking to reverse this trend, the Trump administration’s DOL finalized a rule encouraging “the full and equal participation of religious organizations as federal contractors.” Family Research Council had submitted comments in support of this rule change, which ensured that people would “be free to believe as they engage with the government and in the public square.” This rule change is one of the policies that is likely in danger with Walsh at the helm of the DOL.

As FRC’s David Closson has noted, there is a growing perception in America that religious liberty is merely an excuse for bigotry. We must tactfully and graciously contradict this misconception, explaining that religious liberty—freedom of belief—is good for everyone, not just people of faith. Christians should also pray that Walsh and the DOL will seek the good of all American workers while still respecting the religious freedom protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Elected Leaders Are Moving to Protect Children and Religious Freedom

by Chantel Hoyt

March 22, 2021

In recent weeks, congressional Republicans introduced legislation that would allow faith-based child welfare agencies to operate in line with their convictions and protect their religious freedom. The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Senators John Kennedy (R-La.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) while Representative Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) introduced a companion bill in the House. Speaking about the bill, Scott said, “At a time where religious freedoms are under assault, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act [CWPIA] is a necessary protection for those who are living according to their convictions.”

Several states have also recognized the need for such legislation. In recent weeks, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Kentucky have all introduced legislation that aims to provide the same protections to faith-based child welfare agencies. Specifically, this includes the freedom to place children in homes consistent with their beliefs on biblical family life and sexuality.

While it is the first time this type of legislation has been introduced in these three states, their introduction, as well as the introduction of the federal CWPIA, signals broader concern around the country about the Biden administration’s focus on LGBT issues and how it will impact religious liberty. With President Biden’s support for the Equality Act—a bill that would negatively impact these faith-based agencies (and many other groups)—the future of faith-based child welfare agencies is uncertain. But those committed to preserving religious freedom aren’t likely to go down without a fight.

Legislatures in eight different states have felt the need to pass legislation to protect foster and adoption care agencies, beginning in 2012 (Virginia) and most recently in 2020 (Tennessee). Such legislation allows these agencies to operate in a way consistent with their religious beliefs, without suffering from license revocation, contract termination, or other adverse action from the state. This growing threat has already been seen in Michigan, South Carolina, Illinois, and Massachusetts as well as cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia. In many of these instances, faith-based foster and adoption care agencies have been forced to forego their religious beliefs, serve in a severely limited capacity, and even close their doors because they were not willing to compromise on their principles regarding marriage and sexuality.

Although such discriminatory actions harm the children these agencies serve, opponents of faith-based organizations tend to only focus on LGBT couples who are ‘turned away,’ supposedly limiting the pool of parents willing to help children in need. However, this logic makes two false assumptions.

The first is that faith-based child welfare agencies are LGBT couples’ only option to become parents. This is simply not the case. The majority of agencies in the country are more than willing to work with same-sex couples. Only about 25 percent of agencies are faith-based and have narrow criteria potential parents must meet. For example, in Philadelphia in 2018, only two out of the nearly 30 child welfare agencies were faith-based. The city terminated these agencies’ contracts anyway. The lawsuit filed against the city by foster parents who worked with Catholic Social Services has shown that the agency had not denied service or turned away anyone because of their LGBT status. Further, it showed that should they be unable to partner with a couple that approaches them, they would help that couple connect with one of the other 29 agencies in the city. This is not enough for the activists. Clearly, they were sued because of their religious belief. The picture of a same-sex couple being turned away from a faith-based agency and having nowhere else to turn is simply inaccurate.  

The second false assumption is that more children will receive homes and much needed care if faith-based agencies are forced to make the choice between their beliefs and continuing to help those in need. The reality, though, is that fewer children will receive the care they need because some of the highest performing and longest serving agencies will be shut down or sidelined simply because they’re faith-based. Illinois’ foster and adoption system, for example, seems to still be suffering after the closure of Catholic Charities in 2011. Sadly, Illinois has seen a 14 percent decrease in the number of non-relative foster care beds or homes from 2012 to 2017, and the state lost 1,547 foster homes during that same time period—homes that could have been available to serve foster children in need. It should go without saying that this will harm children in the foster care and adoption systems.

Protecting the ability of faith-based child welfare agencies to continue operating in accordance with their religious beliefs is good for everyone. It helps more children receive care by increasing the number of agencies able to serve them. Allowing religious organizations of any kind to operate alongside non-religious ones is crucial to preserve freedom of religion in our society and to ensure that we are able to serve as many children in need as possible.

We are thankful for the many states and those in Congress who are taking steps to protect this crucial area of religious freedom.

Biden’s Cabinet (Part 4): Marcia Fudge Would Roll Back Religious Liberty Protections at HUD

by Joseph Norris , Mia Steupert

March 10, 2021

This is Part 4 of a blog series examining the records of President Biden’s Cabinet picks on abortion and family issues. Read previous posts on Antony BlinkenXavier Becerra, and Jennifer Granholm.

The ongoing debate over how legal protections for sexual orientation and gender ideology impact individuals, businesses, religious institutions, and the public square will take center stage under President Biden’s administration. This is something President Biden’s nominee to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Marcia Fudge will have to grapple with if she is confirmed. The six-term Democratic Congresswoman from Ohio will be in charge of leading a department that is tasked with ensuring housing for low-income individuals through a litany of government-funded programs. It is likely that she will strengthen Obama-era regulations that prioritized LGBTQ-identified individuals over others, including women, girls, individuals of faith, and faith-based organizations.

A study released by Baylor University found that most homeless shelters in the United States are run by Christian organizations. These organizations could bear the brunt of the liberal sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies that are passed by HUD. If Fudge is confirmed, she will have the opportunity to renew and further the Obama-era policies that used departmental rules to elevate protections of LGBTQ-identified individuals over others. Already, she voted in favor of codifying these special protections back in 2014, which would have enforced the LBTGQ ideology on private contractors with traditional religious beliefs. President Obama used HUD to advance LGBTQ ideology, when back in 2009, his administration commissioned a study to investigate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. This led to a 2012 rule which forced participants in HUD-assisted and HUD-insured housing programs to forfeit their religious beliefs if they wanted to continue their participation. Following this, a 2016 rule regarding HUD’s Community Planning and Development Programs was finalized which forced those participating in these programs (like sex-segregated homeless shelters) to allow biological men into private spaces intended for biological women and to forfeit their religious beliefs if they wanted to continue participation.

In 2020, the Trump administration proposed a rule to begin to roll back these regulations with then-Secretary Ben Carson remarking that this was an attempt to “better accommodate religious beliefs of shelter providers.” This rule would have given those operating as single-sex or sex-segregated facilities some flexibility in developing their own “admissions determination” policies. While the rule would not have given complete freedom, since organizations were still bound by local policy, it gave facilities more freedom to exercise their religious beliefs. Additionally, in compliance with a 2018 executive order titled “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative,” nine federal agencies, including HUD, finalized a rule that these agencies must give faith-based organizations the same opportunities to participate in their programs as their secular counterparts. With Fudge’s past voting record as a congresswomen, her past statements and her backing by the Human Rights Campaign for her pro-LGBTQ voting record, it is safe to assume that Fudge will scale back the advances for religious liberty made at HUD by the Trump administration.

There has been no clear statement whether Congresswoman Fudge would continue these policies, but her voting record is a strong indication. During her 12 years in Congress, she developed a strong pro-LGBTQ voting record. In 2011, she sponsored a bill that would add SOGI protections to school activities and facilities. Similarly, she voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have amended the Defense of Marriage Act to codify same-sex marriage. Outside of Congress she has publicly supported SOGI ideology and called for more action on the issue. Given her past record and her statements, it is likely that Marcia Fudge will not only push for a return to the regulations from the Obama administration but will also take these rules that threaten the religious liberty of Americans to new heights.

President Biden has already shown during his first few weeks in office that he has no problem advancing his liberal agenda through unilateral action. Fudge could issue memoranda or guidance and oversee rules that limit religious liberty and force organizations across the country to decide between their faith and access to greater resources to help the needy in their community, including battered women and the homeless. We should all pray that, if confirmed, Fudge’s actions do not come to fruition, for if they did, they would limit the avenues of help for those in need. If she is confirmed, we pray for a conversion of her heart and that she will use her platform to uphold the religious liberty rights of all people.

Joseph Norris is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on pro-life issues.

Mia Steupert is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on family and religious liberty.

H.R. 1: A Religious Test for Redistricting?

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

March 3, 2021

Tucked away in H.R. 1, a bill intended to enact sweeping election reforms, is a problematic religious test for public service—this time on redistricting commissions set up by the bill.

H.R. 1 requires states to establish a nonpartisan agency in the state legislature. This nonpartisan agency will establish an independent redistricting commission to organize electoral districts.

Section 2412 establishes eligibility criteria to serve on the redistricting commission. Any individual applying to serve on the redistricting commission must provide personal information, including:

The reason or reasons the individual desires to serve on the independent redistricting commission, the individual’s qualifications, and information relevant to the ability of the individual to be fair and impartial, including, but not limited to—

(I) any involvement with, or financial support of, professional, social, political, religious, or  community organizations or causes [emphasis added].

While it may appear minor, this is incredibly problematic because it suggests that religious affiliations may affect an individual’s ability to be impartial, and thereby may make them ineligible to serve on the commission. This is not only discriminatory, but also unconstitutional.

Article 6, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This is a tradition that has protected religious believers from discrimination for centuries. It is critical that we preserve the integrity of this constitutional clause and refuse to allow religious tests to become enshrined in law through H.R. 1.

As cancel culture rages, it is easy to see how this provision will be utilized to target conservative Christians, whose biblical values are increasingly at odds with the culture’s embrace of certain favored ideologies. When Judge Amy Coney Barrett was chosen to be a Supreme Court Justice, the Left relentlessly called her eligibility for the office into question based on her informal affiliation with a Catholic prayer group.

Provisions like this one only legitimize that shameful argument. The subtle religious test in H.R. 1 is just another reason Congress should reject this bill.

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