Category: Religious Liberty

RFRA1Last week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed his state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Social media went a bit, well, bonkers. Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT.” The CEO of SalesForce, headquartered in Indiana, says they will pull out. Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, has called religious freedom laws “dangerous” and likens them to Jim Crow laws.

What’s all of this about?

First, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. This act re-instated what is known as the Sherbert Act, in which the Supreme Court:

…set out a three-prong test for courts to use in determining whether the government has violated an individual’s constitutionally-protected right to the free exercise of religion. (more…)

indiana-religiousfreedomThere is something about religious freedom that causes some folks, including many journalists, to lose all sense of reason and objectivity. Last year Mollie Hemingway wrote a blistering critique of reporting on the issue in which she said, “we have a press that loathes and works actively to suppress this religious liberty, as confident in being on the ‘right side of history’ as they are ignorant of natural rights, history, religion and basic civility.”

The recent religious freedom legislation in Indiana has proved Hemingway’s point. In an attempt to clear up some of the number of “misconceptions and unwarranted concerns about the proposal,” Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett explains,

Whole Foods Founder John Mackey

Whole Foods Founder John Mackey

There are those who decry the infusion of faith in business; after all, why should the bakers down the street be able to turn down the account for the gay wedding? But many entrepreneurs – in many industries and with many different beliefs – intertwine their beliefs and their business … and it’s not always what you think.

Christ Horst at Values & Capitalism says faith (of many different types) plays a role in business in our country. Whether you agree with it or not, many business people live out their faith life with their business life.

For instance, many faithful business folk practice charity through their businesses because of their religious beliefs. Manoj Bhargava, the creator of the wildly-successful 5-Hour Energy, spent years as a monk in India. He predicts his company will give away $1 billion in the next 10 years. David Neeleman, of JetBlue, offers his company’s services to the Mormon church. (more…)

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently gave a speech at a seminary. That – an archbishop addressing his seminarians – is in itself hardly noteworthy. However, Chaput had some profound and substantial things to say regarding freedom and faith.

Our public discourse never gets down to what’s true and what isn’t, because it can’t. Our most important debates boil out to who can deploy the best words in the best way to get power. Words like “justice” have emotional throw weight, so people use them as weapons. And it can’t be otherwise, because the religious vision and convictions that once animated American life are no longer welcome at the table. After all, what can “human rights” mean if science sees nothing transcendent in the human species? Or if science imagines a trans-humanist future? Or if science doubts that a uniquely human “nature” even exists? If there’s no inherent human nature, there can be no inherent natural rights – and then the grounding of our whole political system is a group of empty syllables. (more…)

Archbishop Damaskinos

Archbishop Damaskinos

This is a doubly significant day in the nation of Greece in that not only is the Annunciation of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) observed but also Independence Day. March 25 commemorates the start of the War of Greek Independence in 1821 against the Ottoman Empire and the tourkokratia or Turkish rule that is traced back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The occasion is marked with much pomp, parades and speech making in Greece and where large numbers of Greek immigrants have settled all over the world. This week also marked the anniversary of another stirring witness to freedom and human dignity, this one by a heroic churchman.

On March 23, 1943, during the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Damaskinos, signed his name on a letter addressed to the collaborationist Prime Minister K. Logothetopoulos. The letter, composed by the poet Angelos Sikelianos, was a courageous defense of the Greek Jews who were being rounded up and it was signed by other prominent Greek citizens. “The Greek people were rightfully surprised and deeply grieved to learn that the German Occupation Authorities have already started to put into effect a program of gradual deportation of the Greek Jewish community of Salonika to places beyond our national borders, and that the first groups of deportees are already on their way to Poland,” the archbishop wrote. “The grief of the Greek people is particularly deep … ” When the Germans continued with the deportations, Damaskinos called the police chief of Athens, Angelos Evert, to his office and told him, “I have taken up my cross. I spoke to the Lord, and made up my mind to save as many Jewish souls as possible.” (more…)

For us the rebirth of Russia is inextricably tied, first of all, with spiritual rebirth … and if Russia is the largest Orthodox power [pravoslavnaya dershava], then Greece and Athos are its source. —Vladimir Putin during a state visit to Mount Athos, September 2005.

Writing for the Carnegie Council, Nicolai N. Petro says that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “call for greater respect for traditional cultural and religious identities was either missed or ignored in the West. One reason, I suspect, is that it was couched in a language that Western elites no longer use.” Summary of his report:

For many analysts the term Russky mir, or Russian World, epitomizes an expansionist and messianic Russian foreign policy, the perverse intersection of the interests of the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Little noted is that the term actually means something quite different for each party. For the state it is a tool for expanding Russia’s cultural and political influence, while for the Russian Orthodox Church it is a spiritual concept, a reminder that through the baptism of Rus, God consecrated these people to the task of building a Holy Rus.

The close symphonic relationship between the Orthodox Church and state in Russia thus provides Russian foreign policy with a definable moral framework, one that, given its popularity, is likely to continue to shape the country’s policies well into the future.

More on Putinism: (more…)

A columnist for Al-Monitor who writes under the pseudonym Edward Dark visited Siryan Adeemeh, or Old Siryan, an elevated area in the regime-controlled west of Aleppo, the largest city in Syria. Dark wanted to “gauge the sentiment” of this area, which he describes as a working-class neighborhood home to Christian Arabs of several denominations and also inhabited by a sizable Muslim and Kurdish population. “It’s one of the few areas of Aleppo where churches outnumber mosques, and communal relations had always been jovial and friendly, as could be seen while strolling its maze-like narrow streets, lined with markets, cafes, sandwich shops, bars and liquor stores,” Dark, a resident of Aleppo, recalls.

He interviews Abu Fadi, “a middle-aged man, tanned with silver hair and sharp dark eyes — a striking appearance to match his striking personality. He was the de facto mayor of his neighborhood, the go-to guy for news, stories and gossip, a figure much liked and respected by his Christian community and beyond.”

I asked him how he felt about the warring camps in Syria, whom he supports and why. He answered, “There is no question at all about whom we support: the government, of course. It is the only force protecting us from the jihadists and extremists.” (more…)