Category: Religious Liberty

blaine-standing-leftEleven years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Locke v. Davey that continues to have a detrimental impact on religious liberty. But the seeds for that ruling were planted 140 years ago, in another attempt to curb religious liberty.

When James Blaine introduced his ill-fated constitutional amendment in 1875, he probably never would have imagined the unintended consequences it would have over a hundred years later. Blaine wanted to prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools (a code word for Catholic parochial schools) in order to inhibit immigration. Since the public schools instilled a Protestant Christian view upon its students, public education was viewed as a way to stem the tide of Catholic influence.

While the amendment passed by a large majority (180-7) in the House, it failed by a tiny margin (4 votes) in the Senate. Supporters of the amendment, however, pressed the issue at the state level, often making it a prerequisite for statehood. The measure finally found its way into 37 state constitutions, including Washington State.

Fast-forward to 1999, where a Washington high school student Joshua Davey applies for the state sponsored “Promise Scholarships.” According to a press report in 2004:
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The scene in Copenhagen following a deadly shooting at a synagogue

The scene in Copenhagen following a deadly shooting at a synagogue

Last week was a nightmarish week. Each day brought forth new violence, visited upon men and women of faith.

Attacks against Christians were carried out by both Boko Haram and the Islamic State. Stephen Hicks, a non-believer, shot and killed three young Muslims in North Carolina. Al Qaeda continues to terrorize people in Yemen, and in Copenhagen, a synagogue was the target of a gunman during a bat mitzvah.

In November 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI spoke to members of INTERPOL regarding crime and terrorism. He said,

Terrorism, one of the most brutal forms of  violence, sows hate, death and a desire for revenge. This phenomenon, with subversive strategies typical of some   extremist organizations aimed at the destruction of property and at murder, has transformed itself  into an obscure web of political complicity, with sophisticated technology, enormous financial resources and planning projects on a vast scale…

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When asked by the BBC interviewer what he would say to the terrorists if they were sitting in the studio at that moment, the bishop replied:

I would say that any religion starts from a premise of a sanctity of life. And no matter what differences there are, this doesn’t justify by any means the taking of a life and especially so horrifically. I pray for them and I pray that somehow hearts are touched. I’m sure that not everyone there is this callous. I’m sure people’s hearts must be touched. The only hope we have is a sense of humanity again.

Who are the Copts? from the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre UK.

IVCF_bannerEarlier today a federal appeals court handed down an important ruling that protects the liberties of religious organizations.

In the case of Alyce Conlon v. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected a plaintiff’s attempt to enforce state and federal gender discrimination laws on one of the nation’s largest Christian campus ministries.

According to the court opinion, Alyce Conlon worked at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA (IVCF) in Michigan as a spiritual director, involved in providing religious counsel and prayer. She informed IVCF that she was contemplating divorce, at which point IVCF put her on paid—and later unpaid—leave. Part of IVCF’s employment policy is that “[w]here there are significant marital issues, [IVCF] encourages employees to seek appropriate help to move towards reconciliation” and IVCF reserves the right “to consider the impact of any separation/divorce on colleagues, students, faculty, and donors.”

When Conlon’s marital situation continued to worsen despite counseling efforts, IVCF terminated her employment. Conlon sued IVCF and her supervisors in federal district court under Title VII and Michigan law. IVCF claimed the First Amendment’s ministerial exception to employment laws.

The Sixth Circuit rejected Conlon’s claims based on conclusions in the Supreme Courts’ ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School (2012).
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Last Friday at Religion Dispatches, Kara Loewentheil explored the recent story of a Denver bakery that is being “sued for refusing to bake a homophobic cake.” She calls into question the legitimacy of the request:

It’s a snappy inversion of the now-classic example of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies (or florists who refuse to provide flowers, photographers who refuse to photograph the ceremony, etc.). And that’s probably not an accident; if I were a betting woman, I’d bet heavily that a pro-religious-exemption think tank or law firm, like the Becket Fund, had come up with this plan and recruited a plaintiff to set it in motion.

Joe Carter has recently noted this case here at the PowerBlog as well, writing,

Whether the request was serious or a stunt done to make a political point, I find the viewpoint expressed to be loathsome. Assuming the words were indeed “hateful” they should have no association with a symbolic representation of the Christian faith. I also believe Ms. Silva should not be forced to use her creative skills in a way that violates her conscience.

This case is interesting, as Loewentheil put it, as “a snappy inversion of bakers who refuse to provide wedding cakes for gay marriage or commitment ceremonies.” And to her credit, despite her suspicion that the cake is a lie, she goes on to consider the implications by sharpening the question with a further hypothetical situation:

But what if there was no speech involved, or even no image at all? Just a customer who comes in and says “I want to order a cake to be used at my Church prayer group, where we plan to pray that God will smite anyone in a same-sex marriage or who has had an abortion. We will bless the cake and serve it in celebration of this holy purpose.” That’s a reasonable analogy to the gay couple that requests a cake for their wedding ceremony, I think, for the purposes of separating out identity from action, although it’s an imperfect one given the social and spiritual and legal significant of a marriage. But still, it’s a worthwhile foil for thinking through the argument. So does the fact that I find the prayer service purpose hateful or objectionable, or in conflict with my own principles, change its legal implications?

She explores several possible answers, but comes down undecided in the end:

Another interesting thought experiment is to imagine that you have an anti-marriage equality baker who is willing to bake cakes for gay customers in general, even knowing they are gay, but is not willing to bake one for a gay marriage. If that is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then how do we think about a baker who would be willing to bake a cake for religious Christians in general, but just not if it is to be used at an anti-abortion or anti-marriage equality prayer service?

I’m not sure what the answer is here. But one of the things I find really interesting about this example is the way it highlights the blurry boundaries between politics and religious values.

I have been hesitant to comment on these cases myself for precisely this reason. In fact, I think the boundaries are even blurrier. (more…)

supreme-courtCan prison bureaucrats arbitrarily ban peaceful religious practices?

Whether they should, they certainly have done so. As The Becket Fund points out, many prisons have barred Jewish inmates from wearing yarmulkes, denied Catholics access to the sacraments of communion and confession, and shut down Evangelical Bible studies. Prisons have frequently even banned religious objects, such as rosaries, prayer shawls, and yarmulkes.

In response to these and many other displays of religious suppression, an overwhelmingly bipartisan Congress enacted a landmark civil rights statute, which was signed by President Clinton in 2000: the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
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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.”

Today we celebrate the 229th 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:

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Rioting in Caracas, 2014

Rioting in Caracas, 2014

In a country rife with economic and social ills, Venezuela’s Catholic bishops issued a strongly-worded critique of the government during their annual conference this week. According to The Wall Street Journal:

The church has long preached reconciliation in the bitterly polarized nation. But as the oil price plummets and economic disaster threatens, the bishops clearly are losing patience. Monday’s statement recalled the 43 deaths during antigovernment protests in early 2014, the “excessive use of force” by the state against protestors, and “the detention of thousands . . . many of them still in prison today” or awaiting trial.

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france-israelEven before the Paris attacks, there were worries over a sharp rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and mainland Europe in 2014, says Caroline Wyatt of the BBC. In the past few years thousands of French Jews have fled the country to the one place they feel safe: Israel.

“The French Jewish community is gripped by a very deep sense of insecurity and that sense is often traced back to the attack in Tolouse in 2012,” says Avi Mayer, a spokesperson for the Jewish Agency for Israel. “But there’s also a lower-level sense that it’s simply impossible to be openly Jewish in the streets of France, and that’s something that’s manifested itself with Jewish discomfort with wearing yarmulkes in the streets or necklaces with Jewish stars.”

The resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe is appalling and tragic. What it shouldn’t be, however, is unexpected. Like it’s Islamist extremist counterpart, the roots of this hatred are often economic.

Europe has always been susceptible to the siren’s call of socialism, and as economist Tyler Cowen pointed out nearly 20 years ago, there is a direct link between statism and the persecution of minorities:
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persecuted church2014 was a terrible year for persecution of Christians. In Syria, North Korea and Somalia, Christians are routinely imprisoned and killed. In Iraq, 2014 saw the passage of a law requiring Christians to convert or pay an exorbitant tax. The other choice for Iraqi Christians is to flee.

Open Doors has been tracking persecution of Christians around the world for 60 years. They have just released their latest report, and it makes a grim prediction: 2015 may very well be the worst year for Christians since Open Doors began its work. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, explains:

Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.

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