Category: Religious Liberty

Assyrian Fighters in Syria

Assyrian Fighters in Syria

The fate of more than 200 Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in northern Syria remains unknown (19 have been released), but fears of “a slaughter of major proportions” are well founded. The Assyrian International News Agency posted a plea from an Assyrian Christian fighter with the picture you see above from the front lines of the battle against ISIS.

In Tel Hurmiz our militia gave a heavy response to ISIS when they entered the village. Our fighers fought bravely, which made our people proud. Our militia fought until the ammunition was exhausted. When the ammunition ran out our fighters retreated.

Now we are trying to take back our villages but the enemy has a lot of soldiers. I have a call for all Assyrian and Christian people. Our peoples villages are being occupied and the women taken away. Until when will we stay like this? Until when will we stay in the Diaspora?

Every Assyrian must come back to his homeland and defend his people. No one can defend us but ourselves. Our martyrs have become a call for every Assyrian and Christian to fight back and defend all of Mesopotamia.

AINA also said that “it has been reported that ISIS has executed at least 12 Assyrian fighters who were captured, two of them women.”

In Foreign Policy, the article “Syria’s Christians Fight Back” places the Assyrians within the larger Christian population:

Assyrians, an ethnic minority, represent one small faction of prewar Syria’s 1.8 million Christian population. The Syrian government, to the exasperation of Assyrians, has never regarded the Assyrians as a separate ethnicity, instead classifying them as Arab, while Assyrians consider themselves a separate ethnic group with roots in the region dating back more than 4,000 years. Their identity is closely associated with Christianity, the faith Assyrians have followed since shortly after the religion’s beginning. Historically oppressed and underrepresented in political life, the Assyrians in northern Syria have armed themselves in an effort to protect their identity amid the chaos of civil war.

Assyrians in Iran

Assyrians in Iran

In both Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is literally hunting and killing Assyrian Christians. Just this week, dozens of these Christians in Syria were captured by the Islamic State; their fate remains unknown. Who are these people facing persecution?

Michael Holtz, at The Christian Science Monitor, examines the long history of these Christians.

Alternatively known as Syriac, Nestorian, or Chaldean Christians, they trace their roots back more than 6,500 years to ancient Mesopotamia, predating the Abrahamic religions. For 1,800 years the Assyrian empire dominated the region, establishing one of most advanced civilizations in the ancient world. (more…)

naziPew Research does an admirable job tracking global changes in religious practices and restrictions. In their latest report, they note that religious hostility has declined slightly, but Jews are suffering more than they have in years.

[T]here has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high. Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments. In Europe, for example, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region’s 45 countries (76%).

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stutzman-flowersChristian florist Barronelle Stutzman was sued last year for refusing to sell flowers for the purpose of a same-sex wedding. Last week, a Benton County Superior Court Judge ruled against her, stating that her religious beliefs do not “excuse compliance with the law.” The 70-year-old grandmother now stands to lose everything: her business, her home, and her livelihood.

Next came a settlement offer from the attorney general of Washington, who proceeded to dangle dollars in an attempt to tease Stutzman into submission. The offer: Reject your religious beliefs and agree to accommodate such requests, and life can go on as before (after paying $2,000 in penalties, that is).

Stutzman promptly refused, and did so quite stridently via letter. Joe Carter has already pointed to that response, but given the key themes and tensions that continue to define these battles, the following paragraph by Stutzman bears repeating:

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

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BronxRally120811Photo1New York City owns almost 1,200 public school buildings that sit empty on nights and weekends. To earn some extra income, the city rents out the empty schools to tens of thousands of community groups for any meetings that might be of interest to the community: Boy Scouts, drama clubs, labor unions senior citizen groups, etc. In 2011 alone, the NYC issued over 122,000 permits for using the schools.

But there is one group that is forbidden from using the facilities: churches.

According to the Becket Fund, “city bureaucrats decided that letting a church meet in an empty school would be unconstitutional. So it banned religious worship services—and only religious worship services—from its empty schools.”

The Bronx Household of Faith, an inner-city church serving one of the roughest neighborhoods in NYC, filed suit against this discrimination. That lawsuit, The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York, has been ongoing for 20 years and has been to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals five times.

As Michael Stokes Paulsen argues, it’s time for the Supreme Court to settle the issue:
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religious-hostility-AMERICALiberty Institute, a legal organization in Plano, Texas, has released the report, “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America, 2014 Edition,” featuring more than 1,300 cases of religious hostility, persecution and/or Constitutional violations of rights in the United States.

According to the report,

Hostility to religion in America is still growing. Because religion is so vital to a free and well-ordered society, our goal is to expose and document this growing hostility to help Americans confront and reverse it. The hostility is growing in the “Public Arena” of public places, government, and the workplace. it is growing in the “Schoolhouse” of education, from K-12 through higher academia. it is growing in the sector of “Churches and Ministries” where one might expect it to be safest. And it is growing in the areas of society that encompass the “Military,” which includes our veterans. The growth of hostility is undeniable and it is dangerous.

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coverstory-1Last year Washington State’s Attorney General sued Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts on the basis of consumer protection. Florist Barronelle Stutzman had refused to sell flowers to a long time customer when the arrangements were to be used for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Although Stutzman did not have any qualms about serving serving gay customers, she “didn’t want to be involved in a same-sex marriage.” “I just put my hands on his and told [the customer who made the request] because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding,” Stutzman said in a deposition.

A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that the law trumped her rights of conscience. “Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” said Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom in his 60-page opinion.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced last Thursday that he would accept $2,000 in penalties, $1 in fees and costs, plus an agreement not to discriminate in the future and to end further litigation.
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blaine-standing-leftEleven years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Locke v. Davey that continues to have a detrimental impact on religious liberty. But the seeds for that ruling were planted 140 years ago, in another attempt to curb religious liberty.

When James Blaine introduced his ill-fated constitutional amendment in 1875, he probably never would have imagined the unintended consequences it would have over a hundred years later. Blaine wanted to prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools (a code word for Catholic parochial schools) in order to inhibit immigration. Since the public schools instilled a Protestant Christian view upon its students, public education was viewed as a way to stem the tide of Catholic influence.

While the amendment passed by a large majority (180-7) in the House, it failed by a tiny margin (4 votes) in the Senate. Supporters of the amendment, however, pressed the issue at the state level, often making it a prerequisite for statehood. The measure finally found its way into 37 state constitutions, including Washington State.

Fast-forward to 1999, where a Washington high school student Joshua Davey applies for the state sponsored “Promise Scholarships.” According to a press report in 2004:
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The scene in Copenhagen following a deadly shooting at a synagogue

The scene in Copenhagen following a deadly shooting at a synagogue

Last week was a nightmarish week. Each day brought forth new violence, visited upon men and women of faith.

Attacks against Christians were carried out by both Boko Haram and the Islamic State. Stephen Hicks, a non-believer, shot and killed three young Muslims in North Carolina. Al Qaeda continues to terrorize people in Yemen, and in Copenhagen, a synagogue was the target of a gunman during a bat mitzvah.

In November 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI spoke to members of INTERPOL regarding crime and terrorism. He said,

Terrorism, one of the most brutal forms of  violence, sows hate, death and a desire for revenge. This phenomenon, with subversive strategies typical of some   extremist organizations aimed at the destruction of property and at murder, has transformed itself  into an obscure web of political complicity, with sophisticated technology, enormous financial resources and planning projects on a vast scale…

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When asked by the BBC interviewer what he would say to the terrorists if they were sitting in the studio at that moment, the bishop replied:

I would say that any religion starts from a premise of a sanctity of life. And no matter what differences there are, this doesn’t justify by any means the taking of a life and especially so horrifically. I pray for them and I pray that somehow hearts are touched. I’m sure that not everyone there is this callous. I’m sure people’s hearts must be touched. The only hope we have is a sense of humanity again.

Who are the Copts? from the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre UK.