Category: Freedom of Conscience

gty_pope_francis_kim_davis_wg_150929_16x9_992On the papal plane back to the Rome, Pope Francis said that government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty if they feel it violates their conscience. “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.

The pontiff admitted, though, that he “can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection.” But what would he think about the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who objected to having her name on same-sex marriage licenses?

Turns out he told her, in person, to “stay strong.”

At least that’s the report of Davis’s lawyer, Mathew D. Staver. According to Staver, Davis and Francis met at the Vatican embassy:

Pope Francis talks aboard the papal plane while en route to ItalyWhen Pope Francis gave addresses at the White House, Congress, and the UN, he mentioned the importance of religious freedom. But many people (including me) were rather disappointed that he didn’t speak more specifically about what sorts of religious liberties are under threat.

Once aboard the papal plane, though, it appears the pontiff provided more clarity on the issue. According to Reuters, the pope said government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty, such as issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals, if they feel it violates their conscience.

March for Life(1)Imagine if the government were to tell an organization dedicated to veganism that, because of a new mandate, they must purchase a meat platter to serve at their monthly meetings and that the chair cushions in their conference room must be made of leather.

Appalled by this governmental intrusion, the vegans ask to be excluded from the mandate since none of their members wish to eat bologna while sitting on dead cow skin. They also point out that a group of Jain vegetarians who meet next door were given an exemption and that they are merely asking to be treated similarly.

The government considers their request and decides to deny the exemption. The reason? Unlike the Jains, the vegans’ objection is based on moral philosophy rather than religion.

Such reasoning would be morally and legally absurd. Yet it is the exact reason the Obama administration gave for denying an exemption from the HHS’s abortifacient mandate to March for Life, a non-religious, non-profit pro-life organization whose staff opposes all forms of abortion, including those caused by contraceptives that can act as abortifacients.

sbbIn response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, Governor Sam Brownback issued a new executive order to ensure religious freedom protections for Kansas clergy and religious organizations.

In the majority opinion of Obergefell, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that, despite this newly invented “right” for same-sex couples to marry, religions and their adherents “may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” and further, that “the First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection.”

And yet, given the otherwise broad and blurry language of Kennedy’s opinion and the corresponding concerns of the dissenting justices, religious persons continue to worry.

As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “People of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.” (more…)

We’ve had an amazing collection of speakers participating in the 2015 Acton Lecture Series, and today we’re pleased to be able to share the video of one of the highlights of the series: George Weigel’s discussion of ten essential things to know about Pope Francis, which he delivered on May 6th.

Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D. C. An eminent Catholic theologian, he’s the author of numerous books, most famously Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II; he’s also a columnist, commentator, and regular guest on radio and TV to discuss Catholic issues. There are few who are better qualified to examine the always surprising and sometimes controversial papacy of Pope Francis.

We present the video of Weigel’s lecture below, and after the jump I’ve included a recent edition of Radio Free Acton, which features a discussion between Weigel, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico, and our Director of Research Samuel Gregg.


chinamapMany Muslims believe the use of tobacco products is forbidden (haram) because “tobacco is unwholesome, and God says in the Qur’an that the Prophet, peace be upon him, ‘enjoins upon them that which is good and pure, and forbids them that which is unwholesome’.” Similarly, the Quran prohibits the use of intoxicants, such as alcohol, and considers such use to be sinful. For these reasons, many Muslim shopkeepers consider it against their religious beliefs to sell alcohol and cigarettes.

The refusal to engage in those vices does not sit well with the leaders in Xinjiang, a region of northwest China. The fact that some Muslims do not smoke is even considered “a form of religious extremism.” According to Adil Sulayman, a local party official in the region, “We have a campaign to weaken religion here and this is part of that campaign.”

As part of the campaign the Chinese authorities have issued an order in the Muslim Uyghur village that “all restaurants and supermarkets in our village should place five different brands of alcohol and cigarettes in their shops before [May 1, 2015].” In addition to directing owners to create “eye-catching displays” to promote the products, the April 29 announcement stated that “anybody who neglects this notice and fails to act will see their shops sealed off, their business suspended, and legal action pursued against them.”

“Our village is the key village—we have to implement the ‘Weaken Religion’ campaign effectively,” says Sulayman, “Religious sentiment is increasing and this is affecting stability.”

handsonoriginalsBlaine Adamson is the owner of Hands On Originals, a printing company in Fayette County, Kentucky. Like almost every printer since Gutenberg, Mr. Adamson believed he had the right to decide what items his conscience would allow him to print and which he’d have to reject. Indeed, his company regularly declines to print expressive materials because of the message that they display.

When he was asked to print shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival, a gay pride event, Adamson politely declined and offered to recommend another printer who would do the work for the same price. (The group found another printer to do the work free of charge.) Adamson says he would be disobeying God if he printed materials that suggested people should take “pride” in immoral sexual activities.

You can probably predict what happened next.

A representative of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed suit against Mr. Adamson with the local “human rights commission.” Although Mr. Adamson has never refused to provide his services to homosexual customers and has hired at least six employees who identity as gay or lesbian, he was charged with discriminating against individuals because of their sexual orientation. Not surprisingly, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ruled that Adamson was guilty of discrimination and was required to print a message that offended his beliefs.

Fortunately, there are some government entities still left in the land that believe First Amendment protections still apply. Earlier today the Fayette Circuit Court reversed the commission’s decision. The court wrote in its decision:

??????????????????????????Amidst the hubbub surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the owners of Memories Pizza, a local family-owned restaurant, have been the first to bear the wrath of the latest conformity mob.

We knew they’d come, of course. “They” being fresh off the sport of strong-arming boutique bakeries and shuttering the shop doors of grandmother florists (all in the name of “social justice,” mind you).

The outrage is rather predictable these days, and not just on issues as hot and contentious as this. A company does something we don’t like and we respond not through peaceful discourse or by taking our services elsewhere, but through direct abuse and assault on the party in question (self-righteous tweets included). When Patton Oswalt points out these instincts in defense of an anti-semitic comic, the mob may temper its tone for a season. But alas, there are small businesses to bully, and this is about sexuality, an idol well worth the blood. (more…)

Archbishop Damaskinos

Archbishop Damaskinos

This is a doubly significant day in the nation of Greece in that not only is the Annunciation of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) observed but also Independence Day. March 25 commemorates the start of the War of Greek Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire and the tourkokratia or Turkish rule that is traced back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The occasion is marked with much pomp, parades and speech making in Greece and where large numbers of Greek immigrants have settled all over the world. This week also marked the anniversary of another stirring witness to freedom and human dignity, this one by a heroic churchman.

On March 23, 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Damaskinos, signed his name on a letter addressed to the collaborationist Prime Minister K. Logothetopoulos. The letter, composed by the poet Angelos Sikelianos, was a courageous defense of the Greek Jews who were being rounded up and it was signed by other prominent Greek citizens. “The Greek people were rightfully surprised and deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community of Salonika to places beyond our national borders, and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland,” the archbishop wrote. “The grief of the Greek people is particularly deep … ” When the Germans continued with the deportations, Damaskinos called the police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert, to his office and told him, “I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” (more…)

ssmweddingcakeThe U.S. judiciary has made it increasingly clear that the rights of conscience either do not apply or are strictly limited for people who own businesses that serve the public. We have an obligation to keep fighting against this injustice against this judicial tyranny, but in the meantime, what are business owners to do? How, for example, should they respond when forced to violate their conscience by serving a same-sex wedding?

That question has been recently debated on Public Discourse, the excellent website of the Witherspoon Institute, by Russell K. Nieli and Jeffery J. Ventrella. Both men agree it would be morally permissible and even commendable for business owners to avoid violating the law by ceasing to serve all weddings, whether traditional or same-sex, or even by ceasing operations completely and finding another line of work. But they disagree on other options. Nieli suggests it would be morally permissible for such shopkeepers to comply with the law and provide services to same-sex couples if they also announced publicly. Ventrella disagrees, arguing that complying with an unjust law is always morally wrong and thus that any shopkeeper implementing Nieli’s suggestion would be engaged in an action that is inherently immoral.

Robert T. Miller joins the debate and asserts that a shopkeeper who objects to sex-same weddings but who nevertheless provides services at such weddings generally acts in a morally permissible way if he acts to comply with a validly-enacted law, to preserve the goodwill of his business, and to make a just profit.