Category: Religious Liberty

“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:

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:

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:

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:

Brooks-2x1500We continue to see the expansion of freedom and the economic prosperity around the world. And yet, despite having enjoyed such freedom and its fruits for centuries, the West is stuck in a crisis of moral imagination.

For all of its blessings, modernity has led many of us to pair our comfort and prosperity with a secular, naturalistic ethos, relishing in our own strength and designs and trusting in the power of reason to drive our ethics.

The result is a uniquely moralistic moral vacuum, a “liberal paradox,” as Gaylen Byker calls it — “a hunger for meaning and values in an age of freedom and plenty.”

In the past, American prosperity has been buoyed by the strength of its institutions: religious, civil, political, economic, and otherwise. But as writers such as Yuval Levin and Charles Murray have aptly outlined, the religious and institutional vibrancy that Alexis de Tocqueville once hailed appears to be dwindling, making the space between individual and state increasingly thin.

The revival and restoration of religious and civic life is essential if we hope to cultivate a free and virtuous society, occurring across spheres and sectors, from the family to business, from the church to political institutions.

Given the increasing attacks on religious liberty, Christian colleges and universities are standing particularly tall, even as they endure some of the highest heat. In a recent talk for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, David Brooks demonstrates the cultural importance of retaining that liberty, explaining how his recent experiences with Christian educational institutions have affirmed their role in weaving (or re-weaving) the fabric of American life. (Read his full remarks here.) (more…)

state-department-religious-libertyThe State Department recently released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. 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.”

A major concern addressed in this year’s report is the threat to religious freedom posed by blasphemy laws:

In many other Islamic societies, societal passions associated with blasphemy – deadly enough in and of themselves – are abetted by a legal code that harshly penalizes blasphemy and apostasy. Such laws conflict with and undermine universally recognized human rights. All residents of countries where laws or social norms encourage the death penalty for blasphemy are vulnerable to attacks such as the one on Farkhunda. This is particularly true for those who have less power and are more vulnerable in those societies, like women, religious minorities, and the poor. False accusations, often lodged in pursuit of personal vendettas or for the personal gain of the accuser, are not uncommon. Mob violence as a result of such accusations is disturbingly common. In addition to the danger of mob violence engendered by blasphemy accusations, courts in many countries continued to hand down harsh sentences for blasphemy and apostasy, which were used to severely curtail the religious freedom of their residents.

The report highlights several examples of state-sponsored persecution because of these laws:

Today, a group Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders have released a statement in defense of the religious freedom of private colleges and universities in California. Current legislation pending in the California State Senate threatens to strip some private colleges and universities of an exemption that protects them from lawsuits and allows them to function as faith-based organizations. The effort, spearheaded by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, includes signatures from 145 religious leaders.

Here is the full text of the statement along with a list of leaders who have signed the statement. You can also add your name to the document here.