Category: Religious Liberty

What is the future of religious liberty? Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) type laws, says Richard Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.

In any society where there is (a) religious and moral diversity and (b) an active, regulatory welfare state, there will — necessarily — be conflicts and tensions between (i) duly enacted, majority-supported, generally applicable laws and (ii) some citizens’ religious beliefs and exercise. What Justice Jackson called “the uniformity of the graveyard” is not an attractive way to manage these conflicts and tensions; the toleration-and-accommodation strategy, however, is. RFRA-type laws are, in my view, effective and workable mechanisms for carrying out the latter strategy and so, yes, I think such laws are part of the “future of religious liberty.”

Garnett offers two “reasons for cautious optimism” and three causes for concern which you can read here.

church-state-christian-flagWeary and wary from the Religious Right’s checkered history of unhealthy political alliances, many pastors and churches have opted for disengagement altogether.

Or the illusion of disengagement, that is.

As Andrew Walker reminds us, “It is impossible for churches to be apolitical because Jesus is a King. He isn’t a pious emblem to tuck away into our hearts with no earthly effect.”

The Gospel we preach is inherently political. Indeed, as Walker continues, “Jesus is Lord” is “the most political statement ever uttered in the cosmos.” The question, therefore, is whether our churches are honest enough to connect the dots for God’s people:

The church that insists on calling itself “apolitical” or relegates “the gospel” to a message of pious sanctimony unbothered by earthly affairs has a tragic misunderstanding of what “politics” really is, and how the church’s very essence is fervently political in nature…

The early church knew this. Its statement that Jesus is Lord was a direct political assault on the claims of Caesar. Caesar was threatened by the church’s message because the church pledged allegiance to a higher authority, and in doing so, subjected Caesar’s temporal authority to Jesus’ kingly authority…The early church was political, and so must we—but political as the Bible defines political, not as how FOX or MSNBC define political.

It’s one thing to avoid the overt co-opting of the pulpit that we’ve come to behold — to cease with overly simplistic voter guides and cheap endorsements of particular candidates. It’s quite another to ignore or avoid the widespread cultural implications of the Gospel. (more…)

6cdb603ec737f3efb860aedefd6e4b88In the newly translated Pro Rege: Living Under Christ the King, Volume 1, Abraham Kuyper reminds us that Christ is not only prophet and priest, but also king, challenging us to reflect on what it means to live under that kingship in a fallen world.

Written with the aim of “removing the separation between our life inside the church and our life outside the church,” Kuyper reminds us that “Christ’s being Savior does not exclude his being Lord,” and that this reality transforms our responses in every corner of cultural engagement, both inside the church walls in across business, educations, the arts, and so on.

Kuyper was writing to the church in the Netherlands over 100 years ago, but over at Gentle Reformation, Barry York helpfully connects the dots to the American context, particularly as it relates to the current debates over religious liberty and our lopsided emphasis on worship within the church.

“You can sing whatever you want in church, but you can’t come out of church and act on those beliefs—at least not with any special protection from the law,” York writes, pointing to a recent doctrine from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “That legal viewpoint—already put into action in recent court and regulatory rulings—threatens public funding and tax breaks that now support Christian colleges, K-12 schools, poverty-fighting organizations and other charities.” (more…)

“Religious liberty exemptions should be given as long as _____________.”

How would you fill in the rest of that sentence? Most Americans (who are somewhat sympathetic to religious freedom) would say as long as “they don’t harm third-parties.”

But is that the right standard? Thomas C. Berg has an analysis of the question in the Federalist Society Review in which he argues that harmful effects should not automatically be a reason to deny exemptions:
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freeexerciseIs the ultimate repository of authority and control human or divine?

While that is a religious question, how we answer has profound ramifications on policy and law. In fact, as Marc Degirolami notes, the answer may determine whether free exercise of religion can survive as a legal concept:
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Two months ago Russian president Vladimir Putin signed into law a number of “anti-terrorism” measures that limit missionary and evangelistic efforts and restrict the religious freedoms on non-Orthodox groups.

As Christianity Today notes, to share their faith, citizens must now secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.

Why is Russian taking implementing such constraints on believers? Eric Patterson provides some context and shows how the laws fit into Russia’s continuing suspicion of “foreign” influences:
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A blank green horizontal chalkboard with chalk and eraser. 14MP camera.

For centuries, doctors subscribed to the Hippocratic Oath, a vow that includes admonitions against abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. This oath formed the core of Western medical ethics and provided a boundary marker for a physician’s conscience by outlining an ethic of neighbor love (Cf Rom 13:8-10).

But for decades the Hippocratic ideal and the Christians concept of neighbor love have been eroded in the medical field by unethical bioethicists. So it’s not surprising that we now find some bioethicists who would prefer to restrict the conscience of doctors in a more politically correct manner.

Recently, a “consensus statement” signed by prominent bioethicists from around the world was published by Oxford University. The statement proposes “guidelines for the regulation of conscientious objection” which would force doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals to participate in abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and other actions that violate their consciences or religious beliefs or suffer the consequences:
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