Category: Religious Liberty

new-york-cityLarge cities in the northeast like Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and so on, are often caricatured as wastelands of non-religious, unchurched, overtly secular theaters. Caricatures of this type seem odd given the fact that many of America’s oldest religious institutions are actively operating in those regions. One of my friends is quick to point out that every week people sit on church pews in northeastern churches that older than many states out west. For example, by looking at the Christian presence in the New York City area alone, research shows that the northeast might not be as religiously barren as many believe.

I recently contacted Tony Carnes, editor and publisher of A Journey through NYC Religions, to set the record straight on the New York City area. Since 2010, Carnes and his team have visited thousands of religious houses of worship, from all religious traditions cataloging the religious activity in New York City. In light of what he and his team have seen on the ground, Carnes has come to the conclusion that the best description of New York City is that it is a “post secular” city—a condition somewhere between a secular and sacred.
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hijab-caseIn the case of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that employers must offer a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious practices. Here is what you should know about that case.

What was the issue that sparked the lawsuit?

Samantha Elauf, a 17-year-old Muslim girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma, applied for a job at Abercrombie, a preppy clothing retailer, in 2008. After being interviewed by Heather Cooke, the store’s assistant manager, Elauf was given a rating that qualified her to be hired. However, the store has a policy forbidding employees to wear “caps.” Cooke informed her district manager that she believed Elauf wore her headscarf because of her faith. Her manager said that Elauf ’s headscarf would violate the store’s dress code, as would all other headwear, religious or otherwise, and directed Cooke not to hire Elauf.

The EEOC sued Abercrombie on Elauf ’s behalf, claiming that its refusal to hire Elauf violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship. Abercrombie claimed that dress policy wasn’t discriminatory because it applied to all head coverings. In addition, they claim, Elauf had not even requested a religious accommodation.

The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether this Title VII prohibition applies only where an applicant has informed the employer of his need for an accommodation.

What was the ruling of the Court?
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Mikhail-Gorbachev-Ronald-ReaganEarlier this month I argued that the moral center and chief objective of American diplomacy should be the promotion of religious freedom. When a country protects religious liberty it must also, whether it intended to or not, recognize a host of other freedoms, such as the freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech. Once these liberties are in place, it becomes more difficult for a country’s government to maintain a single, totalizing ideology.

President Reagan seemed to intuitively understand how increasing religious freedom can shape a nation’s ideology and relationship to the rest of the world. In his new book new book Reagan: The Life, historian H.W. Brands reveals a private conservation between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1988 Moscow summit in which the president encouraged the Soviet leader to embrace religious liberty:

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We’ve had an amazing collection of speakers participating in the 2015 Acton Lecture Series, and today we’re pleased to be able to share the video of one of the highlights of the series: George Weigel’s discussion of ten essential things to know about Pope Francis, which he delivered on May 6th.

Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D. C. An eminent Catholic theologian, he’s the author of numerous books, most famously Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II; he’s also a columnist, commentator, and regular guest on radio and TV to discuss Catholic issues. There are few who are better qualified to examine the always surprising and sometimes controversial papacy of Pope Francis.

We present the video of Weigel’s lecture below, and after the jump I’ve included a recent edition of Radio Free Acton, which features a discussion between Weigel, Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico, and our Director of Research Samuel Gregg.

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jefferson-portraitThomas Jefferson was a Deist who famously cut and pasted, with a razor and glue, his own version of the New Testament to remove all the miracles of Jesus and any reference to his Resurrection. So why did Baptists in New England cheer when he won the presidency and claim he had won a providential victory over John Adams?

As Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins explain, despite their differences the Baptists were able to find common cause with Jefferson on the issue of religious liberty:
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spring_cover_2015The Houston- based Prison Entrepreneurship Program looks at convicted criminals as if they were “raw metal in the hands of a blacksmith – crude, formless, and totally moldable.” PEP puts prisoners through a rigorous character training and business skills regimen to prepare them for a productive, even flourishing, re-entry to life after incarceration. Ray Nothstine took part in PEP’s “pitch day” presentations where prisoners test their start-up dreams before a panel of business people and investors. He describes his day at Cleveland Correctional Facility near Houston in the main feature in the Spring 2015 issue of Religion & Liberty and contributes an interview with Bert Smith, PEP chief executive.

Also in this issue, Rev. Gregory Jensen reviews Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation, a new book by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal. Rev. Jensen reminds us to pay attention to policy decisions that can help or hinder “our pursuit of the ethical goals that so many of our religious leaders recommend.”

“In the Liberal Tradition” profiles Isabel Paterson (1886-1961) a journalist, philosopher, and literary critic who is credited with being “one of the three women (along with Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand) who launched the libertarian movement in America.” Not enough people remember her today even though her 1943 book, The God of the Machine, was highly influential on its publication. You’ll want to read this profile, and learn why Paterson had a major falling out with Rand. (more…)

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…)