The 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.”
Around 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.”
Ask 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.
Statement from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America on the Reception of Refugees in the United States in Light of Recent Terrorist Actions around the World
Since the tragic terrorist actions in Paris, Beirut, Mali and elsewhere in the past two weeks, there have been polarized reactions to the reception of refugees, mainly of Syrian nationality, worldwide: an understandable reaction of concern on the one hand, but a sad overreaction of fear on the other. We are all concerned first and foremost for the safety of the citizens of the United States which must be continually addressed and assessed. At the same time, the humanitarian disaster caused by the war in Syria to which the U.S. government has contributed by calling for the removal of the established Syrian leadership – as it did in Egypt, Iraq and Libya – requires a moral response from the people and government of our great country. Misguided U.S. foreign policy helped create the so-called “Arab Spring” which has been a “tornado” that has destroyed Arab countries, leaving power vacuums that have fostered the soaring, vicious activity of terrorist groups including ISIS, al-Nusra, and others in the Middle East and around the world. All of this has resulted in an unprecedented number of deaths of innocent people and lack of basic services like healthcare and sanitation, healthy food and drinking water, safe and dignified housing, and so forth.
We must us not be guided by fear or bigotry, but rather let us work to heal the wounds of the injured, clothing the naked and feeding the poor as our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ has taught us (Matthew 25:35-36).
The Obama administration is moving to designate the Islamic State’s persecution of the Yazidi in Iraq an act of “genocide.” For the past few years the Yazidi, a tiny religious minority in the Kurdish region of the country, have been forced to flee the killings, rapes, and enslavement by Islamic State (the terrorist group formerly known as ISIS).
There is no doubt that what is happening to the Yazidi should be considered genocide. But what about the Christians who are suffering under Islamic State? According to some reports, Christian groups might not be included.
Nina Shea, a former commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, explains the significance of the exclusion:
The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a challenge from religious nonprofit groups to federal government’s contraceptive mandate. Here are some answers to questions you may have about that case.
What is this case and what’s it about?
The case the Supreme Court will hear, Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, combines seven challenges to the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraceptive mandate.
To fulfill the requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka ObamaCare) the federal government passed a regulation (often called the “HHS Mandate”) that attempts to force groups into providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients. Some religious groups, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, objected on the ground that the requirement violates their religious liberty as protected by the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). HHS offered an accommodation which the Little Sisters found to be insufficient.
The Supreme Court will decide, as SCOTUS Blog explains, whether the government has offered nonprofit religious employers a means to comply and whether the whether HHS satisfies RFRA’s test for overriding sincerely held religious objections in circumstances where HHS itself insists that overriding the religious objection will not fulfill HHS’s regulatory objective—namely, the provision of no-cost contraceptives to the objector’s employees.
What was the accommodation and why was it rejected?
Last weekend was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, an annual day to put special emphasis on praying for the persecuted Church. Remembering the persecuted church around the globe, though, should be a continual effort for all Christians. We need to continually remind ourselves that our brothers and sisters are beaten, jailed, or even killed for their faith.
One group in particular that we need to remember to pray for is the underground church in China. In this brief video by Deidox Films, Li Yang provides a glimpse into an underground home church.
In this short addendum, Li Yang answers the question, “Is Christianity legal or illegal in China?” He explains why the question is difficult to answer and how the Chinese government protects its Communist ideology from the threat of Christianity.