Category: Religious Liberty

TPP-CountriesYesterday the U.S. Senate voted 92-0 to approve an amendment which adds a religious liberty provision to the overall negotiating objectives outlined in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The addition would require the Administration to take religious freedom into account whenever negotiating trade agreements within the partnership.

During a floor speech on the amendment earlier tonight, Senator James Lankford’s (R-OK) said, “Our greatest export is our American value. The dignity of each person, hard work, innovation, and liberty. That’s what we send around the world. It has the greatest impact.” Lankford added,
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wimbledon_tuesdayTwenty years ago, religious freedom was an issue that almost everyone agreed on. But more recently, support for religious liberty has tended to divide the country along political lines. Most conservatives still consider it the “first freedom” while many liberals believe religious freedom is less important than advancing a progressive agenda and promoting their understanding of “equality.”

What gets lost in the discussion, as Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom notes, is that sooner or later everyone benefits from religious liberty protections:
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revokedChief Justice John Marshal wrote, in the Supreme Court ruling in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), “That the power to tax involves the power to destroy; that the power to destroy may defeat and render useless the power to create . . . are propositions not to be denied.” Yet for the last 196 years, people have repeatedly tried to deny those propositions.

The latest example involves the Supreme Court’s pending ruling on the same-sex marriage issue will affect the non-profit status of religious institutions, such as colleges and universities. Many people seem to deny that taxing such institutions would have any nefarious effects, much less “destroy” them. Many other—more knowledgeable—understand the destructive implications for religious organizations and consider it a fringe benefit. 

Leslie Loftis explains why religious organizations have preemptively been exempt from taxation—and why religious freedom requires they remain exempt:
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witherspoonIn the spring of 1776, John Witherspoon preached his first sermon on political matters, about a month before he was elected to the Continental Congress. The sermon, “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” is a fascinating exploration of how God can work through human crises, and how even the “wrath of man” can lead us to glorify God in unexpected ways.

Surrounded by the conflict of the Revolution, Witherspoon calls on his countrymen to “return to duty,” neither letting blind rage get the best of them, nor retreating out of fear or for idols of security and “peace.” Yet while all this is directed specifically to the crisis of his time, I’m struck by how far his wisdom actually applies.

In today’s context, our conflicts vary, from economic woes to fights about religious liberty to racial tensions to terrorist threats to brazen abuses of power and authority within the halls of our own government. In each area, we can benefit from Witherspoon’s advice, learning to “hearken the rod” when times get tough, not only in terms of our own salvation, but for the sake and the cause of a free and virtuous society. (more…)

middle-east-conferenceIt’s time to stop talking about persecution of Christians in the Middle East and time to do something to stop the violence. That was the message of a recent conference on Christians in the Middle East held in Bari, Italy, and organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay movement.

Marco Impagliazzo, the president of Sant’Egidio, floated a different idea: the creation of an international police force capable of intervening in emergency situations when minority groups such as Christians are under assault.

As a model, Impagliazzo mentioned UNIFIL, a peacekeeping force under the Italian flag and the United Nations that is currently working in Lebanon.

Also at the Bari gathering, Gregory III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, called for “an ecumenical initiative of all Churches, able to work out a peace plan to bring to the common table of the great powers.”

Argentinian Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Church, said the indifference and inaction regarding the “true and real dismantling” of the centuries-old coexistence of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Middle East is “a scandal.”

Christians of the region “deserve our solidarity, our gratitude, and every possible support,” Sandri said.

Read more . . .

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.”
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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has issued its 2015 annual report on religious liberty around the world. In their report, the USCIRF documents religious freedom abuses and violations in 33 countries and makes county-specific policy recommendations for U.S. policy. One country worthy of particular attentions is Afghanistan.

religiousfreedomreport2015For the past nine years USCIRF has designated Afghanistan as a country of particular concern, a country where the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and are characterized by at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard. As the report notes,

Afghanistan’s legal system remains deeply flawed, as the constitution explicitly fails to protect the individual right to freedom of religion or belief, and it and other laws have been applied in ways that violate international human rights standards.

Notice that the country has been on the list since two years after the adoption of their new constitution—a constitution that the U.S. helped to create.

In 2004, after U.S. military and allied forces overthrew the Taliban, American diplomats helped draft a new Afghani constitution. Many people around the world were hoping the result would be similar to the constitution of Turkey—or at least be distinguishable from the constitution of Iran. Instead, what was created—with the help of the U.S. government—was an Islamic Republic, a state in which “no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam.”

While the White House issued a statement calling it an “important milestone in Afghanistan’s political development,” the USCIRF had the courage to admit what we were creating: Taliban-lite.
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In this video, Richard Hovannisian, professor emeritus of Armenian and Near Eastern History at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains the Armenian Genocide.

Today is April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which is held annually to commemorate the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 by Ottoman Turks. It is also the official remembrance of the centennial of the campaign of human and cultural destruction. Here are more reflections and news items:

Message of HH Karekin II at the Canonization of the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Church — Mother See of Etchmiadzin

The martyrs of the Genocide today, in the luminous chambers of the kingdom of heaven, bearing the crowns of martyrdom, are the patron saints of justice, philanthropy and peace; whose intercession from heaven opens the source of God’s mercy and graces wherever justice is weakened, the tranquility and security of peace is disturbed, where human rights and the rights of people are trampled, threats arise against the welfare of societies, and persecutions against faith and identity are fanaticized.


The courage to call genocide what it is: Recalling the Armenian slaughter, 100 years later

Robert Morganthau, New York Daily News

In 1939, when Hitler was explaining the rationale for wiping out the Polish people in order to take over their land, he asked, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” If there had been a greater outcry and condemnation from the international community, perhaps Hitler would not have been so encouraged to proceed with his plans.

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scaliaOver the past hundred years few judges have been able to match the wit, wisdom, and intellectual rigor of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. During his thirty year career he has been an indefatigable champion of originalism (a principle of interpretation that views the Constitution’s meaning as fixed as of the time of enactment) and a vociferous critic of the slippery “living constitution” school of jurisprudence. When future historians assess his career Scalia will be viewed as one of the most thoughtful, principled, and important jurists of his era.

But even a legal genius can produce a disastrous opinion, and Scalia delivered his worst twenty-five years ago this week in Employment Division v. Smith. As Michael Stokes Paulsen explains, this ruling has “proven to be one of the most devastatingly long-term harmful Supreme Court constitutional decisions of the past half century.”
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Protect-Religious-Freedom-Rally-SignThe recent pushback against state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts has sent a signal that, as Utah legislator Stuart Adams say, “the landscape of protecting religious liberty has changed. Permanently.” Many Christians are drawing similar conclusions about the cause of religious liberty being all but lost. I think this view is premature and that, to paraphrase John Paul Jones, we have not yet begun to fight.

But our arguments aren’t for religious liberty certainly aren’t as persuasive as they should be. The reason, as Jennifer Roback Morse explains, is that such arguments are not “compelling enough to induce our fellow citizens to sacrifice something they value, namely, sexual liberty.” Morse identifies three reasons for this:
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