Category: Religious Liberty

Nahad's baby awaiting burial

Nahad’s baby awaiting burial

Myanmar is a mess. Years of ethnic and religious warfare have left deep scars in both the Buddhist and Muslim communities there. There have been cries of ethnic cleansing charged against Buddhists, but very few are held responsible for crimes against Muslims.

When an issue is this enormous, it is often hard to think about it in human terms. After all, “violence against Muslims” or “ethnic cleansing” isn’t the same as “my friend was killed.” The perspective shifts when there are faces, names, grief and empathy. I don’t know Shamshu Nahad, but I suppose that, like nearly every woman, she was looking forward to holding her baby in her arms, caressing the child’s cheeks, watching the little changes that happen in the first few weeks after birth. But none of this will happen now.

Hours after Shamshu Nahad gave birth to her second child, a beautiful baby girl, her husband was digging its grave.

The tiny corpse, wrapped in white cloth, was placed on a straw mat and lowered into the moist earth, neighbors and relatives bowing their heads as they quietly recited Muslim prayers.

Like the child’s life, the ceremony was brief, over in a matter of minutes.

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dirty100pic-300x300There is a company in the U.S. that those who want businesses to be more socially-conscious should love. The company starts employees out at $15/hour, far higher than the minimum wage. Raises have been given throughout even the harshest of economic downturn. Employees always get Sundays off.

There’s another group that could easily be called socially-conscious. These folks take care of the neediest elderly people, any race or religion, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Despite the business practices and mission of both these groups, they are on the list of the “Dirty 100” – a list created by the National Organization of Women (NOW) to delineate organizations suing the Obama administration regarding the HHS mandate. Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and others on the list are considered “dirty” because they do not want their religious freedom impinged upon. Here’s how NOW sees it:

The two plaintiff corporations in Hobby Lobby [and Conestoga Woods] want the “freedom” to deny important health care services to thousands of women who work for them – whether or not they share their bosses’ religious faith or agree with their views on contraception. The plaintiffs, in other words, seek to extend their power as employers to include power over their employees’ medical decision- making. But the case also reflects a power struggle between government and corporate power, twisting the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantee into a club that enables a private business to act in ways that elected governments cannot limit or deny.

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Andrew White, Anglican Vicar of Baghdad

Andrew White, Anglican Vicar of Baghdad

While you’re munching on hot dogs, chasing the kids around the yard with a Super Soaker and generally enjoying a 3-day weekend benefit of the Founding Fathers, remind yourself (at least once) what a gift religious liberty is. Come Friday night, Saturday or Sunday morning, you can (or not!) go to the mosque, synagogue or church of your choice and peacefully enjoy the service. You can sit and be a vaguely interested participant or you can go full-throttle with song and prayer. You can go home and ponder whatever you’ve learned, or not give it another thought. You are free to pray, praise, worship, meditate.

Sometime while you’re doing all of this, think about a man named Andrew White. If (God forbid!) all our religious liberties disappeared this weekend, Andrew White would be the guy who stayed behind to tend to the flock, the faithful who are forced to sneak about to pray and worship. How do I know this? Because that is exactly what Andrew White does for his flock in Iraq. (more…)

The Liberty Bell in PhiladelphiaRegarding the Hobby Lobby decision and the Supreme Court, I believe the National Review editors summed it up best: “That this increase in freedom makes some people so very upset tells us more about them than about the Court’s ruling.”

I address this rapid politicization and misunderstanding of religious liberty and natural rights in today’s Acton commentary. The vitriolic reaction to the ruling is obviously not a good sign for religious liberty and we’re almost certainly going to continue down the path of losing rights of conscience and free expression. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong. But I wanted to step back and take a more comprehensive look at where we are now.

One point I make in the piece is that our federal lawmakers no longer hold a consensus to protect religious liberty, as they did with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Back then, there was overwhelming unification and bipartisanship to protect and strengthen religious liberty, that is a thing of the past and it has been swallowed up by partisan politics. Our collective partisan politics is becoming bigger than our once common understanding of natural rights.

Another point I stress is that there is an obvious difference on the very meaning of religious liberty that cuts through our country. This is well known to those who pay attention to these issues. Many saw the Hobby Lobby ruling not as a ruling in favor of the rights of conscience and liberty, but only a temporary setback in divorcing religion from public human affairs.

The Supreme Court ruling is being politicized in a myriad of vicious ways and that by itself is a bad sign for religious liberty. It will be a tough task going forward to educate people on the necessity of a vibrant understanding of religious liberty and natural rights that promotes the common good.

Supreme_CourtSupreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision was decided in large part because it aligns with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that passed the U.S. Senate 97-3 and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The law is intended to prevent burdens to a person’s free exercise of religion. At the time, it had wide ranging bipartisan support and was introduced in the House by current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

That four justices voted against the decision speaks to the current ideological divide at the court and in the nation of a once non-controversial understanding of religious liberty.

Some significant lines from Alito’s majority decision are below:

As applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA.

Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.

…the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.

RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty…

Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection.

Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

Hobby-Lobby-StoreThis morning the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate (see here for an explainer article on the case). The Court ruled (5-4) that that employers with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Here are six points you should know from the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito:

1. The “Hobby Lobby” decision is really a collection of three separate lawsuits.

Although the focus was primarily on one plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, the case actually combined three separate lawsuits by three different companies: Conestoga Wood, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel. In the three cases before the Supreme Court, the Court agreed that the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point.

2. The opposition by the companies was to only specific contraceptives. 

 Of the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the FDA and required to be covered by the HHS mandate, four may affect an zygote from developing by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus. The belief that these four contraceptive cause an abortion was the religious reason these three companies opposed the contraceptive mandate.

3. The Court determined that the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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A boy flees Iraq with his family

A boy flees Iraq with his family

There are virtually no Jews left in Iraq. There used to be Jews there – 130,00+, but most have fled, many to Israel. And now, one Christian leader in Iraq fears Christians will suffer the same (or a worse) fate.

Baghdad’s Monsignor Pios Cacha made a grim prediction. He said that his Iraqi Christian community was experiencing the kind of religious cleansing that eradicated the country’s once-thriving Jewish community half a century before.

His rather prophetic words made headlines in Lebanon’s DailyStar: “Iraqi Christians fear fate of departed Jews.”

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Writing for Canada’s National Post, Acton University lecturer Fr. Raymond de Souza calls our attention to the 25th anniversary this year of the defeat of communism and observes that “there are new questions about the unity of liberties.” In the 1980s, he writes, “when in the Gdansk shipyard the workers began to rattle the cage of communism, they demanded economic liberties (free trade unions), personal liberties (speech, the press), political liberties (democracy), legal liberties (against the police state) and religious liberty (the strikers insisted upon public worship in the shipyard itself).”

In continuity with older revolutions and even older political philosophy, he adds, “the liberties demanded were thought to be all of a piece. Liberty was not divisible, it was thought and often said. Today that question is is up for debate.”

For his National Post column, Fr. de Souza interviewed theologian Michael Novak — also lecturing at Acton U. in Grand Rapids, Mich., this week.

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Church vs. StateIf you thought the Obama Administration had taken its final swipe at religious liberty with the HHS mandate, think again. At Catholic Vote, John Shimek tells us that there is a new attack on American’s religious liberty, and it won’t affect just Catholics.

According to Shimek, the social media website Buzzfeed announced that the White House is drafting an executive order that will bar federal contractors from discriminating against anyone based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

President Obama is moving on the issue a week after talking about the important role that administrative action can play in advancing LGBT rights.

At a question-and-answer session at the White House last week, Obama spoke about how transgender students can now “assert their rights” following recent Education Department action laying out an expanded view of sex discrimination protections under Title IX.

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Rise-and-DeclineThere is an informative podcast on a new book titled The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom over at the Library of Law and Liberty. The author, Steven D. Smith, is the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, University of San Diego and Co-Executive Director of the USD Institute for Law and Religion. Smith challenges the popular notion that American religious freedom was merely an enlightenment revolt from European Christendom and was meant to uplift a secular interpretation of the First Amendment.

Smith will be a guest writer over at their blog for the month of July. Below is an excerpt from the description of the podcast:

Our conversation begins with the history of the ratification of the First Amendment. What do we make of the fact that the religion clauses were scarcely debated in the Congress that approved them? Smith argues that this should dissolve any notion that a grand constitutional moment occurred and that gave us the religion clauses as “articles of faith” in secularism. We discuss Smith’s view that the lack of debate owed to an existing consensus that wanted to prevent the national government establishing a national church while the states would continue their established churches, in some cases, and other lesser forms of religious influence in their laws. Contrary, Smith argues, to a national standard of religious freedom or secularism, the constitutional course was “contestation” or an ongoing conflict between religious and secular claims. Thus the Court’s separationist jurisprudence of mid twentieth century, Smith discusses, was a departure from original understanding of religious liberty and its practice for most of our history.

Smith also discusses and disputes the view that American religious freedom is an outcome of the Enlightenment. His controversial claim is that it is a recovery of a key concept of Western civilization, freedom of the church, and, its later Protestant development, freedom of the “inner church” or conscience. Recovery is here stressed because it was modern political development, Smith notes, that had subordinated the church to the state and to be stripped of institutional freedom.

Listen to the podcast:

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