Category: Religious Liberty

washingtonIf the American Founding got one thing right more than anything, it was its commitment to a broad and liberal religious liberty. In 1790, President George Washington told a Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy; a policy worthy of imitation.”

Currently, the country faces a number of threats to religious liberty and America seems to be squandering its profound moral authority it can offer to a world starving for its example. On the evening of February 4, I’ll address many of these challenges at Acton on Tap in Grand Rapids. The title for the event is “The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty.” If you are local to the area please join us and be prepared to share your own thoughts and insights.

The weakening of religion of course inevitably leads to more centralization and government. Thus, the American Framers clearly saw the need for a strong religious and moral fabric to guarantee liberty. “The people, who are the source of all lawful authority, are inherently independent of all but the moral law,” declared Thomas Jefferson. The framers were concerned that freedom would break down and become less about restraint and more about license.

It is undeniable that one of the gravest problems we face in this country is a misunderstood and disordered view of liberty that permeates society. Lord Acton put it well when he said liberty is “not the power of doing what we like but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

While America has dramatically changed over the centuries, I believe the founding period offers a lot of important lessons today. Religious persecution in America was an ongoing problem at that time, and would remain to degrees, but there was a deep desire to avoid the kind of devastation that fomented religious wars in Europe. I’ll address that more at Acton on Tap. One thing is certain, with all the challenges America now faces in regards to surviving as the home for a free people, it’s ludicrous to believe that is possible without a vibrant morality and a championing of religious liberty.

hosp3-e1380055370914“It was extremely unwise of Obama to take on the Little Sisters of the Poor,” says Robert P. George, “They are simply too strong an opponent. What was he thinking?”

Prof. George was commenting on the fact that on Friday the Little Sisters received a permanent injunction from the Supreme Court protecting them from the controversial HHS mandate while their case is before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals:

The injunction means that the Little Sisters will not be forced to sign and deliver the controversial government forms authorizing and instructing their benefits administrator to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and drugs and devices that may cause early abortions (see video). The Court’s order also provides protection to more than 400 other Catholic organizations that receive health benefits through the same Catholic benefits provider, Christian Brothers.

“We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund. “The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn’t need to force nuns to participate.”

Read more . . .

Acton Institute Director of Research and author of Tea Party Catholic Samuel Gregg joined host John Pinhiero for a discussion of his latest book and the Catholic influence on the American founding on Faith and Reason, Pinhiero’s new show on Holy Family Radio in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Michigan. The wide-ranging discussion lasted a full broadcast hour, and can be heard using the audio player below.

taking_woodstock05In a nation founded upon (at least in part) the ability to practice one’s religious beliefs without government interference, we Americans are in a weird spot. It seems that everywhere we turn, folks who practice their religious beliefs are under assault. Again, weird, since most of us who do practice our faith don’t try to cram it down anyone’s throat. Even groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses – well-known for their door-to-door proselytizing – are happy to step off your front porch if you aren’t interested in what they have to say. (more…)

contraceptive-mandateAs 2013 was coming to a close, federal courts issued rulings on three injunctions sought by religious non-profits challenging the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage mandate rules:

• Preliminary injunctions had been awarded in 18 of the 20 similar cases, but the 10th Circuit denied relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns from Colorado. However, late in the evening on December 31, Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement, and ordered a response by the federal government by 10:00 am on Friday. Justice Sotomayor’s order applies to the nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and other Catholic nonprofit groups that use the same health plan, known as the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.

• Earlier in December an Indiana federal district court rejected Notre Dame’s claim in University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius that its rights under Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the 1st Amendment are infringed by applying the accommodation in the final rules to its self-insured employee plan and its health insurance policies offered to students. On December 31, the 7th Circuit denied Notre Dame’s emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal, but ordered expedited briefing and oral argument.

• In Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, the D.C. federal district ruled on December 19th that no substantial burden was placed on a pro-life group’s free exercise by requiring it to complete the self-certification form to opt into the accommodation for religious non-profits. But on December 31 the D.C. Circuit granted emergency motions for injunctions pending appeal filed by Priests for Life and by the various plaintiffs in the Catholic Archbishop of Washington case. The court also ordered the two cases consolidated for appeal.

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Dan Clements, an American student studying at the University of Leuven, and I help greet conference attendees

Last week, an exciting new organization called the Transatlantic Christian Council (TCC) hosted its inaugural conference. The theme of the conference was “Sustaining Freedom”, which aligns well with the Council’s mission “to develop a transatlantic public policy network of European and North American Christians and conservatives in order to promote the civic good, as understood within the Judeo-Christian tradition on which our societies are largely based.”

What I find most exciting about this Council, for which I commend Todd Huizinga and Henk Jan van Schothorst on their vision and initiative in founding, is this: like the Acton Institute, the TCC is not exclusively devoted to just one aspect of life, but rather aims to provide a forum for conversation on a broad range of life’s many important and fundamental human questions.

The starting point for these conversations is with a basic concept of human dignity. This concept is rooted in an openness to the idea of man as an image of God — endowed with the capacities for willfulness and reason, a creature and a sub-creator. And it is this understanding of the human person that serves as a point of departure for working through all sorts of interesting questions of politics, economics, liberty, government, religion, and family.

When I mentioned to a friend that I would be travelling to Belgium for this conference, he said to me: “Be sure they don’t euthanize you and harvest your organs!”

“Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s certainly a novel way to wish someone a good trip.”
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eagle-windfarmThere are currently two sets of laws in America: laws that apply to everyone and laws that apply to everyone except for friends of the Obama administration.

In January I wrote about how the executive branch had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 should be broadly interpreted in order to impose criminal liability for actions that indirectly result in a protected bird’s death. The administration used that reasoning to file criminal charges against three energy companies.

Yet while one section of the Obama Administration was arguing that they should be able to prosecute energy companies (oil and gas) for killing migratory birds, another section of the Obama Administration was arguing that other companies in the energy industry (wind) should be exempt from prosecution for killing birds. The latter section at least got what it wanted: the wind industry can now apply for a free pass to kill birds:
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no-religion_designIncreasingly, Americans who adhere to a religion are told they cannot “force their beliefs” on others. Simply stating publicly that one doesn’t believe gays have the right to marry can cost you your career. Literally hundreds of lawsuits are now in motion against the government because employers do not want to be forced to violate their religious beliefs by paying for employees’ contraception and/or abortions.

Richard W. Garnett ponders this topic in today’s Los Angeles Times. Garnett takes the reader back just 20 years, when he says the government did something right:

Lawmakers from both parties and across the political spectrum found common ground and passed, by a near-unanimous vote, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which firmly commits the federal government to protecting and promoting our “inalienable right” to freely exercise religion. As President Clinton remarked when he signed the legislation into law, “the power of God is such that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen.”

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bishop shakenThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) regarding a case in a Muskegon, Mich. hospital. According to the ACLU, Tamesha Means was 18 weeks pregnant in December, 2010, when her water broke. A friend brought her to Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon. Ms. Means subsequently made two more trips to this hospital, and her baby, born prematurely, died.

According to a New York Times piece,

…Dr. Douglas W. Laube, an obstetrician at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, described the care Ms. Means received as “basic neglect.” He added, “It could have turned into a disaster, with both baby and mother dying.”

The A.C.L.U. said it had filed suit against the bishops because there had been several cases in recent years in which Catholic hospital policies on abortion had interfered with medical care.

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contraception-253x300Until 2012, no federal law or regulation required employers to cover contraception or abortifacients in their company health plans. But last month a New York Times Times editorial claimed that “the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners’ religious views on workers who do not share them.”

What changed over the course of a year that now makes it a “war on contraceptives” to oppose adding such coverage? As Ramesh Ponnuru explains, it’s not really about contraceptives but an attack on religion:

If 2011 was marked by a widespread crisis of employers’ imposing their views on contraception on employees, nobody talked about it.

What’s actually new here is the Obama administration’s 2012 regulation requiring almost all employers to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that may cause abortion. It issued that regulation under authority given in the Obamacare legislation.

The regulation runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law. That act says that the government may impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious belief only if it’s the least restrictive way to advance a compelling governmental interest. The act further says that no later law should be read to trump this protection unless it explicitly says it’s doing that. The Affordable Care Act has no such language.

Is a marginal increase in access to contraception a compelling interest, and is levying steep fines on employers who refuse to provide it for religious reasons the least burdensome way to further it? It seems doubtful.

Read more . . .