Category: Religious Liberty

shariaIn 2010, voters in Oklahoma passed a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment that would prohibit state courts from using international law or Sharia law when making rulings. But yesterday, a federal judge ruled the amendment violated religious freedoms granted by the U.S. Constitution:

In finding the law in violation of the United States Constitution’s Establishment Clause, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the certification of the results of the state question that put the Sharia law ban into the state constitution.

“While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out, the Court finds that the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual’s constitutional rights,” the judge wrote.

You don’t have to be in favor of Sharia law to be appreciate this victory for religious freedom. By helping to push the idea that religious beliefs should be kept private, anti-sharia laws are a threat to all of our religious liberties. As legal scholar Robert K. Vischer explained last year in First Things:

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In The Wall Street Journal, Michael J. Totten reviews Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity (Hoover Institution, 236 pages, $19.95) by Samuel Tadros. Totten says the book offers a scholarly account of the ongoing exodus of Christians from Egypt, where the “most dramatic” decline of Christianity in the Middle East is now occuring. Since the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Totten writes, “the rise of Islamists and mob attacks” have driven more than 100,000 Copts out of Egypt.

The Copts are indigenous inhabitants of the Nile delta, children of its ancient Pharaonic civilization. They have been Christians for as long as Christianity has existed. (Egypt is part of the greater Holy Land, and St. Mark, one of the disciples of Jesus, spread the gospel there and founded the Church of Alexandria, which today belongs to the Copts.) The Copts have their own Eastern Orthodox rite, their own pope and for hundreds of years they’ve made up roughly 15% of Egypt’s population.

Mr. Tadros, an Egyptian Copt who immigrated to the U.S. in 2009, makes it clear that the story of Egypt’s Christians isn’t one of relentless abuse. Copts have received both good and bad treatment at the hands of the region’s succession of reigning powers. But mostly it’s been bad. They were persecuted by the Roman and Byzantine empires long before the Islamic conquest in A.D. 639, after which they were cast as second-class citizens subject to additional regulations and taxes. Isolation from Christendom and survival in the face of adversity are etched into their soul. “Coptic history has been an endless story of decline and despair,” Mr. Tadros writes, “but it has also been a story of survival.”

Read the entire review here.

hist-ff-first-amendment-7195911What do Americans know about the First Amendment? Since 1997, the First Amendment Center has attempted to find out by taking an annual survey of the “state of the First Amendment.” The results for 2013 are about as depressing as you’d expect:

Americans were asked what they believed was the single most important freedom that citizens enjoy. The majority (47%) of people named freedom of speech as the most important freedom, followed by freedom of religion (10%); freedom of choice (7%); right to vote (5%); right to bear arms (5%); right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (3%), and freedom of the press (1%).

Women were twice as likely as men to name freedom of religion as the most important freedom. Thirteen percent of women named freedom of religion, whereas only 6% of men did.

Freedom of religion is literally the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment, making it the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights. It was listed first because of it’s historic importance to the Founders and their forefathers. Yet today only 10 percent of Americans think it is our most important freedom? No wonder our government officials are so unconcerned with violating our religious liberties.

Then again, it could be that most American aren’t even aware that religious liberty is a specific freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. For instance:

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America’s Founding Fathers considered religious liberty to be our “first freedom.” But as Ken Blackwell notes, that view is no longer shared by our media and foreign policy elites:

All such understandings of the religious freedom foundation of American civil liberty and foreign policy seem long forgotten by the elites of today. The media cares little about religious freedom. The famous Rothman-Lichter study of 1981 surveyed 240 journalists from the prestige press. Of course, 80 percent of them voted one way, but a whopping 91 percent said they never attended a religious service of any kind. No wonder CNN’s Bill Schneider could famously say that the media “doesn’t get religion.”

But if 91 percent of top journos never worship, they are a tent revival in comparison to our foreign policy clerisy. And there’s the rub: Not only is religion not important in their own lives, our top foreign policy thinkers also fail consistently to understand why religion is important in the lives of others—especially those restive peoples whom they are forever trying to explain to America’s rapidly dwindling readership on foreign affairs.

Read more . . .

europe-muslimBy failing to recognize the importance of religion and its relationship to human rights, says Roger Trigg, European courts are progressively eroding religious liberty:

[T]he Council of Europe affirmed in 2007 that “states must require religious leaders to take an unambiguous stand in favour of the precedence of human rights, as set forth in the European Convention of Human Rights, over any religious principle.”

It is ironic that freedom of religion is expressly protected by the Convention and that the council recognizes this protection, because now the right to manifest one’s religion is highly qualified. In the council’s words, “a religion whose doctrine or practice [runs] counter to other fundamental rights would be unacceptable.”

In Europe, as opposed to the United States, freedom of religion translates to “freedom of religion or belief,” a phrase that covers not just atheism, but “philosophies” like vegetarianism or environmentalism. “Religion,” however defined, is no longer regarded as a unique contribution to the common good.

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, July 24, 2013

religious-freedomIn its fullest and most robust sense, religion is the human person’s being in right relation to the divine, says Robert George, and all of us have a duty, in conscience, to seek the truth and to honor the freedom of all men and women everywhere to do the same:

. . . the existential raising of religious questions, the honest identification of answers, and the fulfilling of what one sincerely believes to be one’s duties in the light of those answers are all parts of the human good of religion. But if that is true, then respect for a person’s well-being, or more simply respect for the person, demands respect for his or her flourishing as a seeker of religious truth and as one who lives in line with his or her best judgments of what is true in spiritual matters. And that, in turn, requires respect for everyone’s liberty in the religious quest—the quest to understand religious truth and order one’s life in line with it.

Because faith of any type, including religious faith, cannot be authentic—it cannot be faith—unless it is free, respect for the person—that is to say, respect for his or her dignity as a free and rational creature—requires respect for his or her religious liberty. That is why it makes sense, from the point of view of reason, and not merely from the point of view of the revealed teaching of a particular faith—though many faiths proclaim the right to religious freedom on theological and not merely philosophical grounds—to understand religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

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Religious intolerance is increasingly common around the world, and Sudan is one country where Christians are especially vulnerable. As a minority in a nation that is 97 percent Muslim, Christians there are worried that their right to practicesudan choir their faith freely is more and more at risk. According to Fredrick Nzwili, a two-decade long civil war continues to fester.

The two regions had fought a two-decade long civil war that ended in 2005, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The pact granted the South Sudanese a referendum after a six-year interim period and independence six months later. In the referendum, the people of South Sudan chose separation.

But while the separation is praised as good for political reasons, several churches in Khartoum, the northern capital, have been destroyed and others closed down along with affiliated schools and orphanages.

Christians in Sudan are facing increased arrests, detention and deportation with church-associated centers being raided and foreign missionaries kicked out, according to the leaders.

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Fr. Benjamin Sember, a Catholic priest, has written a superb piece on the dangers of making the government one’s God:church and state

When a society has made the decision to live without God, that society inevitably begins to rely on the Government to do everything that God used to do: to declare what is right and what is wrong, to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, divide the wheat from the chaff and throw the evildoers into maximum security prison, to protect and care for orphans and the widows, to give healing to the sick, and to guarantee stability, security, prosperity, and peace. Prayers that used to be offered to God for these things are now offered up in the form of ballots and votes.

Read “My Lord and my God or my Lord and my Gov?” at BrotherPriests.com.

Last week the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued it decision in a much-anticipated case involving the right of Romanian Orthodox priests to unionize against the wishes of their church. According to the Center for Law and Religion Forum, the proposed union was meant to promote members’ ability to obtain representation in the Holy Synod, the Church’s highest authority, and to strike in order to advance members’ interests within the Church. By registering a union with goals like these, the Grand Chamber reasoned, the state would hamper the ability of the Church to organize and govern itself according to its own rules:

Respect for the autonomy of religious communities … implies, in particular, that the State should accept the right of such communities to react, in accordance with their own rules and interests, to any dissident movements emerging within them that might pose a threat to their cohesion, image or unity. It is … not the task of the national authorities to act as the arbiter between religious communities and the various dissident factions that exist or may emerge within them.

Read more . . .

(Via: First Things)

Writing for National Review Online, Andrew Doran looks at how Christians have become “convenient scapegoats” and targets of violence for Islamists in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. A consultant for UNESCO at the U.S. Department of State, Doran says that “had the Muslim Brothers not been stopped, they would have continued to radicalize and Islamicize Egypt, further isolating and persecuting their enemies — secularists, liberals, and religious minorities, especially Christians.” More:

The peaceful rising of the Egyptian people against the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi constitutes the first popular overthrow of an Islamist regime in the Middle East. Beyond revolution, it was a restoration of Egypt’s heritage of secular moderation. Had the Muslim Brothers not been stopped, they would have continued to radicalize and Islamicize Egypt, further isolating and persecuting their enemies — secularists, liberals, and religious minorities, especially Christians. Egypt is the largest nation-state in the Arab world, with strong traditions of secular governance and a Christian minority that constitutes approximately 10 percent of the population. That this was the site of the first revolution against an Islamist regime is of inestimable significance, not merely for Egypt but for the Arab world, whose moderates look to Egypt as the standard bearer. If moderation fails in Egypt, it bodes ill for moderates elsewhere.

As Joseph Kassab, a Chaldean Christian and human-rights advocate, has observed, Christians are vital to the Middle East because they are a bridge to the outside world. Without Christians and other minorities, the entire Middle East would soon come to resemble the uniform extremism of Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most brutal and oppressive regime in the world — a state sponsor of extremism, anti-Semitism, and arguably terror. According to Amnesty International, crucifixion still occurs in Saudi Arabia. The fact that such regimes do not advance American interests ought to be self-evident. Apparently it is not.

Read “In Solidarity with Egypt’s Christians” by Andrew Doran on NRO.