Category: Religious Liberty

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 22, 2016

OneNationUnderGod_CVRChristians continually struggle to find the right approach, balance, and tone in their political witness, either co-opting the Gospel for the sake of political ends or retreating altogether out of fear of the same.

In their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo pave a fresh way forward. Though I haven’t quite finished it, thus far the book offers a refreshingly rich assessment of political ideology as it relates (or doesn’t) to the Gospel and Christian mission.

In a piece for Canon and Culture, Ashford whets our appetites on this same topic, providing a clear overview of how Christianity differs from conservatism and progressivism, as well as where and how we might engage or abandon each.

From my own experience, Christians seem to have an easier time discerning these distinctions with progressivism, most likely due to its overt rejection of or disregard for permanent truths. With conservatism, however, we tend to forget that without a particular focus on transcendence, conservatism languishes in its own shortsightedness and folly. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, January 15, 2016

Freedom-of-ReligionThomas Jefferson wanted what he considered to be his three greatest achievements to be listed on his tombstone. The inscription, as he stipulated, reads “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

On Saturday we celebrate the 230th anniversary of one of those great creations: the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.

Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” One way to honor the day is to reflect on these ten quotes about religious liberty that were expressed by some of our country’s greatest leaders:


0701whitefieldpreachingHow did religious freedom develop in America? It didn’t happen the way most of us were taught in school—whether in elementary school or law school. In fact, notes legal scholar Richard Garnett, the “standard story” about religious freedom in Early America is profoundly misleading:

In my experience, this “standard story” is familiar to most Americans, whether or not they are historians or constitutional lawyers, though lawyers have probably been more exposed to and influenced by it than most. In this account, our sophisticated and “enlightened” Founding Fathers—with far-seeing Virginians like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the lead—took special care to write and design a “godless” constitution so as to spare our new political community and experiment from the superstition and strife that, they knew all too well, had ravaged and torn Europe in the preceding centuries. In this story, the First Amendment was crafted and constitutionalized so as to entrench a principle—a “wall”—of church-state separation and ensure a secular “public” sphere, with religion protected, but confined within, the “private” realm.

This story is not true. In fact, America’s revolution and constitution were shaped not only by the Enlightenment but also by the Great Awakening, by preachers as well as pamphleteers. And, as John Witte describes in Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, the Founding-era arguments about religious freedom under law included not just “Enlightenment thinkers” but also “congregational Puritans,” “Free Church Evangelicals,” and “Civic Republicans.” It would not have been difficult to identify a consensus in favor of the liberty of religious conscience and a distinction between religious and political authority and office, but this consensus obtained at a high level of generality and allowed for variation and disagreement with respect to many—indeed most—questions and applications. And, it seems very unlikely that the First Amendment was widely seen as embodying, let alone entrenching, much beyond an aversion to a nationally established church, backed and propped up by legal coercion, of the kind they knew existed elsewhere. Hardly anyone, if anyone, thought that the ratification of the First Amendment meant that something called “religion” was now legally barred from the “public” or that, as a result of that provision, the constitutional validity of laws and policies was contingent on a judicial determination that they did not rest on “religious” beliefs or motives.

Read more . . .

contraceptive-mandateWhen is a religious group not religious enough for the government? When it conflicts with the government’s agenda.

After the launch of Obamacare, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had to determine which employers would get a religious exemptions to the their contraceptive mandate. Instead of relying on factors such as an employer’s religious character, they chose instead to rely on tax law.

This was a rather peculiar decision since, as Carrie Severino notes, “Throughout the long history of taxation in the United States, the tax-writing committees of Congress have generally tried to avoid entangling the Internal Revenue Service in First Amendment religious considerations.” Peculiar, but not accidental. Through the Freedom of Information Act Severino obtained internal government emails that revealed the Obama administration debated how to exclude certain religious organizations from the mandate:

29persecution_graphic1-1-700x454The rise of Islamic State has led to a renewed focus on the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria. But as Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan says, “The whole Middle East, without exception, is presently engulfed by a nightmare that seems to have no end and that undermines the very existence of minorities, particularly of Christians, in lands known to be the cradle of our faith and early Christian communities.”

And the problem is not just in the Middle East. In 2013, Christians were harassed either by the government or social groups in 102 of 198 countries, the highest tally for any religious group:

campus-causes-traumaAround the country, Christian groups on college and universities are being told that if they want to stay on campus they must compromise their mission and principles. As Chris Lawrence of Cru notes, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill denied recognition to a Christian fraternity because it would not agree to open its membership to students of different faiths.

Because the mission of Alpha Iota Omega is to train Christian leaders, lawyers for the fraternity say UNC’s action violated the fraternity’s rights to freedom of association, freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

“They are saying that you can’t use religion as the reason for how you select the officers or leaders,” says Jordon Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit Christian legal group.

Attorney Lorence points out that a vegetarian group on campus holds similar membership requirements, and logically so. “In order to be part of the club, you have to agree that vegetarianism is good and eating meat is bad,” he says. “If they find out that you go home and secretly eat pork chops and Big Macs, they’ll kick you out.”

Such restrictions are not just harming Christian groups, they’re undermining the role of the university, says Grant Jones:

hist-ff-first-amendment-7195911Ask most Americans why religious liberty is considered the “first freedom” and they’ll likely say it’s because it comes first in the Bill of Rights.

While technically true (it does comes first) that wasn’t the intention of the original framers of the Constitution The original Bill of Rights included two other amendments that were listed ahead of what we now consider the “First Amendment” but that failed to be ratified.

If the placement of “first” on the list was a mere historical accident, should we still consider religious freedom to be the “first freedom”? Matthew J. Franck explains why we should:

Yet friends of religious freedom should not be embarrassed in the least to continue calling it the first freedom, notwithstanding these picayune historical objections. We have it on no less an authority than James Madison, the father of the Bill of Rights, that our duty to the Creator is “precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.” Would Madison also view religious freedom as taking precedence over, or a pride of place among, our other rights? More to the point, should we?

The case for saying “yes” begins with Madison’s characterization of religious freedom as springing from a duty that we owe to God. It is a kind of American dogma that rights are prior to duties—even the Declaration of Independence seems to say so—but in the case of religious freedom the priority is the other way around. Religious believers—and throughout history that has described most human beings—understand themselves to be in a relationship with a divine, transcendent reality, whether understood as a Person or not, who is in some sense responsible for the ground of their very being. Thus they understand themselves as answerable to this divine reality’s ultimate concerns for humankind and for them as individuals. These concerns entirely encompass our moral life, and shape a kind of compulsion in our lives, a realm of unfreedom where the demands of conscience are concerned.

Read more . . .