Category: Religious Liberty

Refo5002017 will mark the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, the event that would eventually lead to what we now know as the Protestant Reformation. In anticipation of this very significant anniversary, churches, seminaries, colleges, and many other organizations have begun the process of examining the events leading up to and flowing out from the reformations of that time, and a great deal of those organizations have joined together to form Refo500, which describes itself as “the international platform for knowledge, expertise, ideas, products and events, specializing in the 500 year legacy of the Reformation.”

Dr. Herman Selderhuis – Director of Refo500 and professor at the Theological University of Apeldoorn in the Netherlands –  was recently our guest here at the Acton Institute, and he took some time to sit down with Paul Edwards and discuss the legacy of the Protestant Reformation and the work of his organization. You can listen via the audio player below.

church and flagAt RealClearReligion, Rev. Robert Sirico remarks on concerns about liberty in the U.S., spurred on by the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding Hobby Lobby and the HHS mandate. Sirico wonders why we are spending so much time legally defending what has always been a “given” in American life: religion liberty. While the Hobby Lobby ruling is seen as a victory for religious liberty, Sirico is guarded about where we stand.

Many celebrated the Supreme Court’s June 30 ruling on Hobby Lobby. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Plenty of other challenges are coming for churches, synagogues, mosques and, yes, businesses.

On July 21, President Obama issued an executive order that prohibits federal government contractors from “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination and forbids “gender identity” discrimination in the employment of federal employees. In a scathing response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decried the executive order as “unprecedented and extreme and should be opposed.” (more…)

church-sunsetThe first kind of religious freedom to appear in the Western world was “freedom of the church.” Although that freedom has been all but ignored by the Courts in the past few decades, its place in American jurisprudence is once again being recognized.

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett explains how we should think about and defend the liberty of religious institutions:

To embrace this idea as still-relevant is to claim that religious institutions have a distinctive place in our constitutional order—and not only a distinctively worrisome or harmful one. It is to suggest that churches are not “just like the Boy Scouts” and that, while they to a large extent function in civil society in the same way and deliver the same Tocquevillian benefits as any number of voluntary associations, they are, in the end, different.

True, it is increasingly difficult, within the boundaries of argument set down by some versions of liberal political theory, to justify, on principled grounds, special treatment for religious liberty. Still, in our history and tradition, “religious” institutions and authorities have acted, and have been regarded, as special and distinct, whether or not “religion” has been understood as neatly separate from “culture,” “conscience,” or “morality.” We live under a written Constitution that “singles out” religion and we inhabit a tradition in which “church” and “state” have, in a special way, cooperated and contended. If it is anachronistic to invoke the freedom of the church, it seems even more ahistorical to deny the distinctive (for better or worse) place and role of religious actors in that tradition, and today.

Read more . . .

hobby_lobby_protest_bible_ap_ftrBefore I try to convince you that Katha Pollitt is dangerously wrong, let me attempt to explain why her opinion is significant. Pollitt was educated at Harvard and the Columbia School of the Arts and has taught at Princeton. She has won a National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary, an NEA grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Book Critics Circle Award.

She is, in other words, the kind of politically progressive pundit whose opinions, when originally expressed, are considered outré — and then within a few months or years, are considered mainstream in progressive circles.

However, in her latest column, “Why It’s Time to Repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Pollitt is but a few minutes ahead of the liberal curve.

She begins with the stunningly obtuse claim that, “In the not-too-distant future, it’s entirely possible that religious freedom will be the only freedom we have left—a condition for which we can blame the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.”

Pollitt is smart enough to know that claim is nonsense. She’s also smart enough to know that there are plenty of people who are gullible enough to believe it could be true.
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loveyourenemy-1“The open persecution of explicitly anti-Christian tyrants, while harder to endure, is easier to understand than the more complex attacks on the church in America today,” says Greg Forster.

What we face is different. True, many of those who control the institutions at the top of American civilization seem to be working diligently to make those institutions suppress Christianity. If things were to continue to progress as they have lately (which I do not expect to happen), even the most basic elements of life in our culture—such as holding down a job so we can put food on our families’ tables—will require Christians to compromise their consciences.

Yet these people in power are no Neros. Get to know them, or just listen carefully to what they say, and you will find that they are, humanly speaking, decent people. They don’t know God, but they know the basic rules of common morality—fair play, respecting others, treating people decently. Paul could almost have been writing about these people when he said that unbelievers’ behavior shows the law of God is written on their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15). Yet they invoke these same rules of morality as their justification for rolling back religious freedom; they even invoke tolerance to justify their intolerance. What gives?

Read more . . .

1800 year-old church allegedly burned by ISIS terrorists

1,800 year-old church allegedly burned by ISIS terrorists

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter has declared today, August 1, to be a World Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East. They ask that Christians use this day to pray for the perseverance of their Christian brethren in war-torn areas, and that they will be delivered from further suffering. It is fitting that all people of good faith pray for this.

At The Federalist, writer Mollie Hemingway says we need to pray, but we also need to be practical. She says we need to inform ourselves and others about what is happening in the Middle East, why it’s happening, and what we can do – practically – to help. She refers her readers to an article by Nina Shea at Fox News that bluntly tells us that only Americans can save the Christians in Iraq:

The last of Mosul’s Christians, those some 5,000 professors, doctors, lawyers, mechanics and their families that left between June 10 and July 19, find themselves suddenly destitute and homeless because of their faith. Some went to the nearest Nineveh Christian villages, temporarily sheltering in schools and churches. These villages would be vulnerable to ISIS attacks, too, but for their protection by the Kurds, who are, themselves, Sunni Muslim. Water and electricity have been cut off for some by ISIS, who told one Christian town official, “You don’t deserve to drink water,” reported Archdeacon Youkhana. The residents are desperately digging wells.

Many more have fled to Kurdistan, where there are ancestral Christian villages and big cities. (more…)

Today at The Imaginative Conservative, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in an excerpt from his recent book, bemoans what he sees as “The Spoiling of America.” While sympathetic to his support for self-discipline, I find his analysis of our consumer culture to be myopic. He writes,

Without even thinking about it we have gotten used to having it our way. Because excellent customer service is ubiquitous we believe it must be part of the natural order. The service in the restaurant is always friendly, efficient and courteous to a fault. The menus are perfectly written and professionally designed not only to inform, but to whet the appetite in a pleasing way. The re-fills on your drink are free, the food is tasty and reasonably priced, the decor is interesting and the ambiance carefully constructed. Is there a complaint? The footman-server will take the blame, the butler-manager will offer you a free dessert and quietly slip you a gift card to soften the price of your next visit as the porter opens the door.

The same delightful experience awaits you at the big box hardware store, the supermarket, the appliances store and every other major chain. Indeed, even the doctors, nurses and dentists have been trained in customer care. Communications with the customer are superb. You will receive thank you emails and polite enquiries about your experience. If you fill in a questionnaire you might win a free vacation or a hamper of other goodies. Pampering you further is not a nuisance. It becomes an exciting little game in which you might win a prize, for remember the customer is king and Everyman in America must be coddled and cuddled in one big Fantasyland where everything is wonderful all the time and everybody is always happy.

Longenecker reasons that we become addicted to fleeting pleasures and that this consumerist mentality has even corrupted religion. He continues, (more…)

irf-reportYesterday the State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”

“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” is the depressing introduction to the report. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”
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bad winePhil Lawler at CatholicCulture.org voices what should be obvious: that by taking federal money and grants, the Catholic Church has put herself in a very awkward place. Money from the government always comes with strings attached, and those strings have tied the hands of too many  Catholics.

Earlier this week, President Obama handed down an executive order that requires the cutting off of government funds from “any organizations that discriminate against homosexual or ‘transgendered’ persons. This executive order is not aimed solely at the Catholic Church; many others will lose federal contracts.” The U.S. Catholic bishops have opposed this move, but since Obama did this as executive “fiat” it is hardly something one can legally oppose. That’s okay, says Lawler.

So how can the Church respond? That’s easy. Stop taking federal contracts. President Obama doesn’t want help from the Catholic Church. Say it’s a deal; don’t give him any.

What would that mean, practically speaking? It would mean things would get really messy, especially in terms of health care, human services, and services to the poor. (more…)

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care ActArchbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, are asking the Catholic faithful and others to reach out to their senators in response to a piece of legislation known as “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014” (S. 2578.) Lori is the chairman for the United State’s Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and O’Malley serves as chair for the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

According to the letter on the USCCB website, the legislation is an attempt to reduce religious freedom, and puts health coverage above one of America’s most cherished freedoms. The bishops list several concerns:

    • This new legislation “appears to override  ‘any other provision of Federal law’ that protects religious freedom or rights of conscience regarding health coverage mandates.”
    • This bill would “rollback” not only federally-protected conscience clauses regarding artificial birth control “but to any ‘specific health care item or service’ that is mandated by any federal law or regulation.” In the future, if the executive branch decides to add late-term abortions (for example) to mandated health care coverage, employers would have no recourse.
    • This bill applies to all employers, not simply for-profit employers.
    • The bill would extend its reach past employees, to their dependents. For instance, a teen girl may wish to have an abortion over her parent’s objection, and the parent’s health care package would have to pay for it. The daughter would be federally-entitled to the abortion coverage.
    • The bishops believe this type of legislation will lead to employers dropping health care coverage for employees all together.

    (more…)