Category: Religious Liberty

FT_14.07.10_destructionReligiousPropertyWenzhou is called “China’s Jerusalem” because of the number of churches that have popped up around the city. And Sanjiang Church was, according to the New York Times, the “pride of this city’s growing Christian population.”

That was before the government brought in bulldozers and razed the church building to the ground.

The government claimed the the church violated zoning regulations, but an internal government document revealed the truth: “The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document says. “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”

Unfortunately, China is not the only country that is inflicting damage on religious property. A new Pew Research Center analysis finds that such incidents are occurring in almost three dozen countries around the world:
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rightstalkAre you sick to death of hearing about the recent Hobby Lobby contraceptive mandate kerfuffle? Me too. Yes, it’s one of the most important religious liberty cases in decades. But the constant debates about the case on blogs, newspapers, TV, radio, and social media, has left even those of us concerned about freedom beaten and exhausted. Besides, what is left to discuss? Is there really anything new that can be said?

Surprisingly, the answer seems to be “yes, there is.”

Earlier this week Megan McArdle wrote one of the most insightful articles I’ve read on the issue (and I’ve read enough about it to make my eyes bleed). McArdle outlines three points that frame the debate and lead us into bitter disagreements:
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slipperyslopeMany pro-life Catholics and evangelicals cheered when the Supreme Court ruled that small business employers don’t have to pay for abortifacients in health insurance plans. But could support for conscience rights lead down a slippery slope? “Some slopes are indeed slippery, and we do well to approach them with caution,” says theologian and philosopher Richard J. Mouw, “Which is why I take it seriously when I find myself challenged by a slippery slope argument about something that I advocate.”

My challenge in this regard has to do with the recent court decisions regarding Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College. In each case employers have resisted health insurance arrangements that violate their sincere opposition to funding abortions. I share their views, and have argued that these sincerely held convictions ought to be granted legal status—which is basically the perspective set forth recently by the majority of Supreme Court justices.

Here, however, is the slippery slope challenge in this context. Suppose a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to support a health plan for their employees that permitted blood transfusions? Or what if a Christian Science employer refused to provide any health insurance at all? Surely those are sincerely held convictions that have a right to be considered for protection in providing employ benefits.

The challenge is legitimate. And I don’t have an immediate response that settles the concern in any satisfactory manner. But I do take the challenge seriously. I have to—if I want the defenders of same-sex marriage also to take my challenge to them seriously.

Dr. Mouw raises an important point for consideration. I too take that challenge seriously, but I also think I have a response that can settle the issue in a satisfactory manner. Indeed, I think the worst-case outcome has likely already been settled.

Slippery slope arguments are often misunderstood and many people think they are always logically fallacious. As a general rule, if someone summarily dismisses a slippery slope claim, they are probably not the type of person who understands how arguments work. A full defense of slippery slopes against supporters of folk fallacies will have to wait for another day. For now, I’ll simply refer to and recommend one of the best analyses and explanations of the slippery slope, Eugene Volokh’s 2003 article in the Harvard Law Review, “The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope.” In his paper Volokh says,

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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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