Category: Religious Liberty

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. recently stirred up a bit of hubbub over his endorsement of Donald Trump, praising the billionaire presidential candidate as a “servant leader” who “lives a life of helping others, as Jesus taught.”

For many evangelicals, the disconnect behind such a statement is more than a bit palpable. Thus, the critiques and dissents ensued, pointing mostly to the uncomfortable co-opting of Trump’s haphazard political proposals with Christian witness.

As Russell Moore put it:

Richard Muow picks up on this same point over at First Things, noting that this “third temptation” has lured many Christians throughout church history, and was aptly warned against by Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch statesmen and theologian. (more…)

FITW_World_Map_nolabels_GF2016_FINAL_940pxA new report shows that global indicators of economic and political freedom declined overall in 2015, with the most serious setbacks in the area of freedom of speech and rule of law. Freedom House, an “independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world,” released its Freedom in the World 2016 Report which included some disturbing statistics and worldwide trends, particulary as it concerns the progress made by women in some regions.

The beginning of the report summarizes the situation:

The world was battered in 2015 by overlapping crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These unsettling developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. [emphasis added]

Key findings from the report: (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 22, 2016
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OneNationUnderGod_CVRChristians continually struggle to find the right approach, balance, and tone in their political witness, either co-opting the Gospel for the sake of political ends or retreating altogether out of fear of the same.

In their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo pave a fresh way forward. Though I haven’t quite finished it, thus far the book offers a refreshingly rich assessment of political ideology as it relates (or doesn’t) to the Gospel and Christian mission.

In a piece for Canon and Culture, Ashford whets our appetites on this same topic, providing a clear overview of how Christianity differs from conservatism and progressivism, as well as where and how we might engage or abandon each.

From my own experience, Christians seem to have an easier time discerning these distinctions with progressivism, most likely due to its overt rejection of or disregard for permanent truths. With conservatism, however, we tend to forget that without a particular focus on transcendence, conservatism languishes in its own shortsightedness and folly. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, January 15, 2016
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Freedom-of-ReligionThomas Jefferson wanted what he considered to be his three greatest achievements to be listed on his tombstone. The inscription, as he stipulated, reads “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

On Saturday we celebrate the 230th anniversary of one of those great creations: the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.

Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” One way to honor the day is to reflect on these ten quotes about religious liberty that were expressed by some of our country’s greatest leaders:

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0701whitefieldpreachingHow did religious freedom develop in America? It didn’t happen the way most of us were taught in school—whether in elementary school or law school. In fact, notes legal scholar Richard Garnett, the “standard story” about religious freedom in Early America is profoundly misleading:

In my experience, this “standard story” is familiar to most Americans, whether or not they are historians or constitutional lawyers, though lawyers have probably been more exposed to and influenced by it than most. In this account, our sophisticated and “enlightened” Founding Fathers—with far-seeing Virginians like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the lead—took special care to write and design a “godless” constitution so as to spare our new political community and experiment from the superstition and strife that, they knew all too well, had ravaged and torn Europe in the preceding centuries. In this story, the First Amendment was crafted and constitutionalized so as to entrench a principle—a “wall”—of church-state separation and ensure a secular “public” sphere, with religion protected, but confined within, the “private” realm.

This story is not true. In fact, America’s revolution and constitution were shaped not only by the Enlightenment but also by the Great Awakening, by preachers as well as pamphleteers. And, as John Witte describes in Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, the Founding-era arguments about religious freedom under law included not just “Enlightenment thinkers” but also “congregational Puritans,” “Free Church Evangelicals,” and “Civic Republicans.” It would not have been difficult to identify a consensus in favor of the liberty of religious conscience and a distinction between religious and political authority and office, but this consensus obtained at a high level of generality and allowed for variation and disagreement with respect to many—indeed most—questions and applications. And, it seems very unlikely that the First Amendment was widely seen as embodying, let alone entrenching, much beyond an aversion to a nationally established church, backed and propped up by legal coercion, of the kind they knew existed elsewhere. Hardly anyone, if anyone, thought that the ratification of the First Amendment meant that something called “religion” was now legally barred from the “public” or that, as a result of that provision, the constitutional validity of laws and policies was contingent on a judicial determination that they did not rest on “religious” beliefs or motives.

Read more . . .

contraceptive-mandateWhen is a religious group not religious enough for the government? When it conflicts with the government’s agenda.

After the launch of Obamacare, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had to determine which employers would get a religious exemptions to the their contraceptive mandate. Instead of relying on factors such as an employer’s religious character, they chose instead to rely on tax law.

This was a rather peculiar decision since, as Carrie Severino notes, “Throughout the long history of taxation in the United States, the tax-writing committees of Congress have generally tried to avoid entangling the Internal Revenue Service in First Amendment religious considerations.” Peculiar, but not accidental. Through the Freedom of Information Act Severino obtained internal government emails that revealed the Obama administration debated how to exclude certain religious organizations from the mandate:
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29persecution_graphic1-1-700x454The rise of Islamic State has led to a renewed focus on the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria. But as Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan says, “The whole Middle East, without exception, is presently engulfed by a nightmare that seems to have no end and that undermines the very existence of minorities, particularly of Christians, in lands known to be the cradle of our faith and early Christian communities.”

And the problem is not just in the Middle East. In 2013, Christians were harassed either by the government or social groups in 102 of 198 countries, the highest tally for any religious group:
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