Category: Religious Liberty

The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and LeftI recently read Yuval Levin’s new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, and found it remarkably rich and rewarding. Though the entire book is worthy of discussion, his chapter on choice vs. obligation is particularly helpful in illuminating one of the more elusive tensions in our social thought and action.

In the chapter, Levin provides a helpful summary of how the two men differed in their beliefs about social obligation and individual rights. How ought we to relate to our fellow man? What preexisting obligations do we have to our neighbors? How do those obligations come to be? What role ought the State to play in guiding or intervening in the social order?

For Paine, Levin explains, society is a “means to enable choice, or the freedom to shape our own future uncoerced—a means to the radical liberation of the individual from the burdens of his circumstances, his given nature, and his fellow man.” “The right to choose,” Levin paraphrases, is “the end toward which we aim in politics.” Or as Paine himself puts it: “The right which I enjoy becomes my duty to guarantee it to another, and he to me, and those who violate the duty justly incur a forfeiture of the right.” We choose our obligations, and y’all best let Paine choose his.

For Burke, however, this lopsided emphasis on choice amounts to “a fundamental misunderstanding of the human condition,” as Levin summarizes: “The most essential human obligations and relations—especially those involving the family but also many of those involving community, the nation, and one’s religious faith—are not chosen and could never really be chosen, and political and social life begins from these, not from an act of will.” We may think we can escape or subvert certain obligations, but for Burke,  they are “nevertheless binding.” Therefore, in structuring our society and acting therein, we ought not pretend otherwise. (more…)

jeopardy cartoonWe Americans are rather ignorant about religion. We claim to be a religious folk, but when it comes to hard-core knowledge, we don’t do well. The Pew Forum put together a baseline quiz of religious knowledge – a mere 32 multiple choice questions – and on average, Americans only got about half of them right. A few sample questions (without the multiple choice answers):

  • Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?
  • What is Ramadan?
  • In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?
  • What was Joseph Smith’s religion?

Who scored best? Atheists and agnostics. Yeah. (more…)

Christian Church in Middle EastThis past weekend, Christians around the world commemorated the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to ponder how Easter was celebrated in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity and the region in which these very events unfolded. There is one factor, however, that may have made the liturgical festivities less expansive and well-attended than one might imagine: the minimal number of Christians in the region. In the Middle East, the number of Christians has dwindled to less than 10 percent of the region’s population. This diminishing number is not, however, simply a result of natural immigration patterns or conversions to other faiths; it also reflects the determination of intolerant and extremist governments and associated groups to drive them out.

In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “The Middle East War on Christians,” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, explains that in Iraq alone over the past 10 years, “nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes.” Prosor then adds:
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Elise Hilton

Elise Hilton speaks at San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids, Michigan – April 8, 2014

On  Tuesday evening, Acton Communications Specialist Elise Hilton led a great discussion on the topic of “The Real War On Women” at Acton On Tap, held at San Chez Bistro in Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Beginning in 2010, the phrase “War on Women” became common in political discussions in the United States. Primarily, it has been used by those on the left who believe that there is an orchestrated effort to keep birth control out of the hands of women, to make abortion illegal, and to place other restrictions on women and their health care.

Hilton contends that this is not the real “war on women,” and examines these issues in light of women’s health, along with other issues affecting girls and women, such as the erosion of our religious liberty, sexually objectifying women, human trafficking, gender-selective abortions and infanticide.

You can listen to the audio of Tuesday’s event via the audio player below.

ap061011036516The “Christendom Show” really is over in America my friends. It’s a wrap. The culture of American politics is not simply made of up deists, agnostics, and atheists but men and women who are decidedly anti-Christian. To be anti-Christian is not to be merely apathetic or ambivalent toward Christian participation in societal life. Being anti-Christian is to pursue whatever arbitrary measures necessary to ensure that Christians are purged from receiving the same political liberties as other groups. For example, New York State forecasts, yet again, what will likely happen in more and more states in the coming years as state legislators rejected a measure that would allow tax payers to receive tax credits for financially supporting parochial education.

New York’s Education Investment Tax Credit would have provided a state tax credit for:
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article-photo-Elaine“This ruling is more in the spirit of Nero Caesar than in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson,” said Russell D. Moore. “This is damaging not only to the conscience rights of Christians, but to all citizens.”

Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to rule on a case involving Elane Photography and its owners Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Elaine received an email in 2006 asking her to photograph a “commitment ceremony” between Vanessa Willock and her same-sex partner. Willock asked if Elaine would be “open to helping us celebrate our day . . . .” Elaine politely declined to use her artistic talents to express a celebratory message at odds with her deep convictions. (Elaine had previously declined requests from others for things such as nude maternity photos.)

Willock, a licensed attorney who has served in various paid “diversity” positions, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. After a one-day administrative trial in 2008, the commission ruled against the Huguenins and ordered them to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees. The case made its way through the state court system, with the New Mexico Supreme Court ultimately affirming the commission’s coercive decision. In an ominous concurring opinion, one justice wrote that the Huguenins “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” adding “it is the price of citizenship.”

ADF attorneys representing the Huguenins are presenting only one claim to the U.S. Supreme Court—that the punishment of Elane Photography violates the constitutionally protected freedom “not to speak,” known as the compelled speech doctrine.

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At the Heritage Foundation’s Foundry blog, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal talks with Genevieve Wood about challenges he faces from the Obama administration on Second Amendment rights, energy development, economic freedom and religious liberty issues.

Days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two religious liberty cases challenging an Obamacare mandate, Jindal said he found the government’s actions troubling. “America didn’t create religious liberty. Religious liberty created America,” he said. “It’s very dangerous for the federal government to presume they know better.”

Read more and download a web graphic built around Jindal’s quote on religious liberty.

Today at Ethika Politika, I review The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd: Finding Christ on the Buddha’s Path by Addison Hodges Hart:

Addison Hodges Hart, a retired pastor and university chaplain, offers in The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd a wonderful exercise in comparative religion, examining the common ground that can be found in spiritual practice between Christianity and Buddhism. Hart focuses on the ten ox-herding icons of Zen, originating in China by the master Kakuan and accompanied by his verse and prose commentary. Hart, then, adds his own Christian perspective on the spiritual journey depicted and described by Kakuan, highlighting in the end his emphasis that outer acts of compassion require a prior, inner transformation.

One such person who was inspired by an inner, spiritual conversion not only to “outer acts of compassion” but also to build a freer and more virtuous society was the Indian Emperor Ashoka.

Lord Acton writes in his address “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,”

But in all that I have been able to cite from classical literature, three things are wanting: Representative Government, the emancipation of the slaves, and liberty of conscience. There were, it is true, deliberative assemblies, chosen by the people; and confederate cities, of which, both in Asia and in Europe there were so many Leagues, sent their delegates, to sit in federal councils. But government by an elected parliament was, even in theory, a thing unknown. It is congruous with the nature of Polytheism to admit some measure of toleration. And Socrates, when he avowed that he must obey God rather than the Athenians, and the Stoics, when they set the wise man above the [civil] law, were very near giving utterance to the principle. But it was first proclaimed, and established by enactment, not in polytheistic and philosophical Greece, but in India, by Asoka, the earliest of the Buddhist kings, 250 years before the Birth of Christ.

Tantalizingly, this is all that Acton says about Ashoka (=”Asoka”). Who was he? Why does Acton single him out? (more…)

hobbylobby1The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby contraception case. But which arguments will have the most influence on the justices? Michael McConnel, a respected Religion Clauses scholar from Standford, explains which four arguments are most likely to be important:

Cutting through the politicized hype about the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga case (“Corporations have no rights!” “War on Women!”) the Justices during oral argument focused on four serious legal questions, which deserve a serious answer:

(1)  Could Hobby Lobby avoid a substantial burden on its religious exercise by dropping health insurance and paying fines of $2,000 per employee?

(2)  Does the government have a compelling interest in protecting the statutory rights of Hobby Lobby’s employees?

(3)  Would a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby give rise to a slippery slope of exemptions from vaccines, minimum wage laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the like?

(4)  Has the government satisfied the least restrictive means test?

I think the answer to all four questions is “no.” I offer brief thoughts on each below.

Read more . . .

In USA Today comes this story from the Associated Press:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.

Francis had temporarily expelled Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg in October pending a church inquiry.

At the center of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.

But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.

The Vatican said Wednesday that the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered Oct. 20.

Back in October, I was part of a panel of guests on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the question, “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?” The springboard for the conversation was the scandal surrounding Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.

At the Boston Globe yesterday, John Allen sees this as a potential sign of a social gospel alliance between Pope Francis and President Obama, whose first meeting is today: (more…)