Posts tagged with: religious discrimination

Samuel Gregg, Acton’s director of research, recently wrote about the “complicated relationship” between religious freedom and business. While there may not seem like a natural connection between these two concepts, Gregg points out that, especially recently, we are seeing a number of businesses “impacted by apparent infringements of religious liberty.” He goes on to discuss just how complicated this relationship is:

Until relatively late in the modern era, most Jews in Europe were legally prohibited from formal involvement in political life and barred from serving in particular professions such as law, the civil service, and the military. Throughout Western and Eastern Europe, many Jews consequently gravitated towards commerce and finance as activities in which they were allowed to exercise their talents. To the eternal shame of Christians, the tremendous success of Jews in these areas made them frequent and easy targets for anti-Semitic pogroms (often incited by Christian business rivals) as well as legalized extortions by Christian kings and princes.

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no-shariaOn Tuesday, voters in Alabama passed a ballot measure that, among other things, forbids courts, arbitrators, and administrative agencies from applying or “enforcing a foreign law if doing so would violate any state law or a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.” Such measures (other states have passed similar laws) are often dubbed “anti-Sharia” measures since preventing the encroachment of Sharia is usually their primary objective.

Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam that deals with topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual relations, hygiene, diet, and prayer. The two primary sources of Sharia law are the Quran and the example set by the founder of Islam, Muhammad. The introduction of Sharia across the globe is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements.

Opposing Sharia law may appear to be commonsensical measure. But such laws are unnecessary since state law and the Constitution already trump foreign law. They also can’t be written to oppose only Sharia (that would be religious discrimination) so they are written in a broad way that has unintended consequences.

Indeed, there is a compelling reason why Christians should be leery of joining in supporting anti-Sharia legislation: 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 the Catholic legal scholar Robert K. Vischer explained last year in First Things:
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church-sunsetThe first kind of religious freedom to appear in the Western world was “freedom of the church.” Although that freedom has been all but ignored by the Courts in the past few decades, its place in American jurisprudence is once again being recognized.

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett explains how we should think about and defend the liberty of religious institutions:

To embrace this idea as still-relevant is to claim that religious institutions have a distinctive place in our constitutional order—and not only a distinctively worrisome or harmful one. It is to suggest that churches are not “just like the Boy Scouts” and that, while they to a large extent function in civil society in the same way and deliver the same Tocquevillian benefits as any number of voluntary associations, they are, in the end, different.

True, it is increasingly difficult, within the boundaries of argument set down by some versions of liberal political theory, to justify, on principled grounds, special treatment for religious liberty. Still, in our history and tradition, “religious” institutions and authorities have acted, and have been regarded, as special and distinct, whether or not “religion” has been understood as neatly separate from “culture,” “conscience,” or “morality.” We live under a written Constitution that “singles out” religion and we inhabit a tradition in which “church” and “state” have, in a special way, cooperated and contended. If it is anachronistic to invoke the freedom of the church, it seems even more ahistorical to deny the distinctive (for better or worse) place and role of religious actors in that tradition, and today.

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irf-reportYesterday the State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”

“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” is the depressing introduction to the report. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”
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dirty100pic-300x300There is a company in the U.S. that those who want businesses to be more socially-conscious should love. The company starts employees out at $15/hour, far higher than the minimum wage. Raises have been given throughout even the harshest of economic downturn. Employees always get Sundays off.

There’s another group that could easily be called socially-conscious. These folks take care of the neediest elderly people, any race or religion, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Despite the business practices and mission of both these groups, they are on the list of the “Dirty 100” – a list created by the National Organization of Women (NOW) to delineate organizations suing the Obama administration regarding the HHS mandate. Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and others on the list are considered “dirty” because they do not want their religious freedom impinged upon. Here’s how NOW sees it:

The two plaintiff corporations in Hobby Lobby [and Conestoga Woods] want the “freedom” to deny important health care services to thousands of women who work for them – whether or not they share their bosses’ religious faith or agree with their views on contraception. The plaintiffs, in other words, seek to extend their power as employers to include power over their employees’ medical decision- making. But the case also reflects a power struggle between government and corporate power, twisting the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantee into a club that enables a private business to act in ways that elected governments cannot limit or deny.

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Boy-Scouts-of-AmericaCalifornia lawmakers are moving close to a final vote on a bill that could threaten the tax-exempt status of a variety of groups — ranging from the Boy Scouts to Little League — if their membership policies are found to differentiate on “gender identity,” “sexual orientation,” and other bases. As Alliance Defending Freedom explains, the proposed legislation also threatens religious liberties:

SB 323, which bans discrimination based on “religion” and “religious affiliation,” and which contains no exemption from these bans for religious organizations, would strip religious youth organizations of d1cir tax-exempt status if they continued to select leaders and other persons responsible for carrying out their missions based on a shared set of religious beliefs.

Like SB 323’s ban on religious discrimination, its ban on sexual orientation discrimination, which is designed to punish BSA over its membership and leadership policy, will also severely and negatively impact religious organizations. Most religious organizations, undoubtedly including many covered by SB 323, require their leaders and members to express and conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with their religious beliefs regarding sexual conduct. Under these types of policies, individuals who approve of or engage in conduct that contradicts a group’s religious teaching regarding sexual morality may be denied membership or leadership positions. Such policies likely conflict with SB 323. Thus, if passed, the bill will require religious organizations to choose between complying with the law and abandoning their religious convictions, or defying the law and losing their tax exemptions.

Religious organizations that select members and leaders who share their religious convictions to maintain a coherent religious identity and message are not engaging in invidious discrimination. Rather, they arc engaging in d1e most basic and fundamental exercise of religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

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(Via: The Foundry)

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Annual Report has been published. The commission places countries in three “tiers”, with tier one being nations that are designated “countries of particular concern” in terms of religious freedom. In this year’s report, these nations include China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, among twelve others.saudi-arabia2

In China for instance, the report notes the following:

The Chinese government continues to perpetrate particularly severe violations of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. Religious groups and individuals considered to threaten national security or social harmony, or whose practices are deemed beyond the vague legal definition of “normal religious activities,” are illegal and face severe restrictions, harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses. Religious freedom conditions for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims remain particularly acute, as the government broadened its efforts to discredit and imprison religious leaders, control the selection of clergy, ban certain religious gatherings, and control the distribution of religious literature by members of these groups. The government also detained over a thousand unregistered Protestants in the past year, closed “illegal” meeting points, and prohibited public worship activities. Unregistered Catholic clergy remain in detention or disappeared.

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The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has been studying the steady rise of hostility towards religious expression and religious liberty worldwide. In fact, they found that restrictions on religion rose in every major area of the world, including the United States, since the study began in 2009.

Citing what the Pew Forum calls “social hostilities” (as opposed to government hostilities), the study found that Pakistan, India and Iraq were the most hostile countries to religious freedom.

The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups. This includes mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

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(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

According to the religious liberties established under article 24, educational services shall be secular and, therefore, free of any religious orientation.

The educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorance’s effects, servitudes, fanaticism and prejudice.

All religious associations organized according to article 130 and its derived legislation, shall be authorized to acquire, possess or manage just the necessary assets to achieve their objectives.

The rules established at this article are guided by the historical principle according to which the State and the churches are separated entities from each other. Churches and religious congregations shall be organized under the law.

Mexico, 1917. The government under Benito Juarez constitutionalized an increasingly secular way of life, in order to “reform” Mexico and create a more modern state. A largely Catholic country, Mexico’s population found itself officially devoid of religion. The new constitution was used to criminalize religious gatherings, close churches and religious schools, arrest priests and religious for performing their duties, and essentially drove religion underground. Undeniably, the government set out to destroy the Catholic Church. (more…)

“Is there a religious way to pump gas, sell groceries, or advertise for a craft store?”

In a new paper, “God and the Profits: Is There Religious Liberty for Money-Makers?,” Mark Rienzi asks the question. (HT)

Rienzi, an assistant professor at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, writes in direct response to the federal government’s HHS contraception mandate, focusing on the religious liberty challenges faced by for-profit companies. As Rienzi argues, imposing such penalties requires “singling out religion for disfavored treatment in ways forbidden by the Free Exercise Clause and federal law.”

From the abstract:

Litigation over the HHS contraceptive mandate has raised the question whether a for-profit business and its owner can engage in religious exercise under federal law. The federal government has argued, and some courts have found, that the activities of a profit-making business are ineligible for religious freedom protection.

This article offers a comprehensive look at the relationship between profit-making and religious liberty, arguing that the act of earning money does not preclude profit-making businesses and their owners from engaging in protected religious exercise.

Many religions impose, and at least some businesses follow, religious requirements for the conduct of profit-making businesses. Thus businesses can be observed to engage in actions that are obviously motivated by religious beliefs: from preparing food according to ancient Jewish religious laws, to seeking out loans that comply with Islamic legal requirements, to encouraging people to “know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” These actions easily qualify as exercises of religion. (more…)