Posts tagged with: religious freedom

Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokoamsk

Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk

For Syria’s Christians, it’s a time of great peril and uncertainty. Over the Holy weekend, one Christian in Syria summed up the situation in The New York Times: “Either everything will be O.K. in one year, or there will be no Christians here.”

In Religion & Liberty, Metropolitan Hilarion gives considerable attention to the plight of Christians in Syria and the Middle East. On ecumenical relations, the Metropolitan also talks about the obstacles of a united front for Christianity because of doctrinal liberalism within some Protestant branches, who incessantly rebel against historic Christian teachings. Metropolitan Hilarion is a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church and chairman of the Department of External Church Relations.

“First Citizen and Antillon” by Samuel Hearne is a timely contribution given the rise of religious persecution in America today. The Charles Carroll of Carrollton and Daniel Dulany debates in 18th century Maryland helped to advance religious freedom in the colonies. Charles Carroll was the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last signer to pass away in November of 1832.

Timothy J. Barnett reviews Dennis Prager’s Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph and Bruce Edward Walker reviews Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson.

The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Metropolitan Phillip II (1507 – 1569). Phillip was a martyred Russian Orthodox monk. His life and courageous testimony serves as an example for Christians everywhere.

One of the most misunderstood and maligned aspects of businesses throughout history and certainly today are profits. Profitable companies and services still stir considerable misunderstanding and even rage in some. Rev. Robert Sirico offers an excerpt on “The Role of Profits” from his book Defending the Free Market.

You can check out all of the content in the R&L issue here. The next issue features an interview with Peter Schweizer on cronyism. Schweizer is a best-selling author and fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Paul and Henry Griesedieck, owners of American Pulverizer Company of St. Louis and pro-life Christians, made a stand against the Health and Human Services Mandate and won, for now.  The HHS mandate requires employers and health insurers to provide employees with health insurance that includes coverage of contraceptives and abortifacient drugs which terminate early pregnancies. According to LifeNews, “[t]he U.S. District Court for Western Missouri issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law.”

In their lawsuit, the Griesediecks contend that compliance with the Obamacare mandate would force them to violate their religious and moral beliefs.  In their lawsuit, the Griesediecks state that “it would be sinful for us to pay for services that have a significant risk of causing the death of embryonic lives.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Dorr ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to be able to prove that Obamacare “substantially  burdens their exercise of religion…Plaintiffs must either pay for a health plan that includes drugs and services to which they religiously object or incur fines.”

Judge Dorr noted that the federal government contends that the Griesedieck Companies are secular entities, and thus cannot “exercise religion.”  Judge Dorr responded by saying:  “There are many entities under which an individual can run a business…Does an individual’s choice to run his business as one of these entities strip that individual of his right to exercise his religious beliefs?”

In addition to concluding that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act the mandate and its penalties would substantially burden plaintiffs’ free exercise rights, the court held that for 1st Amendment purposes, the mandate is not a neutral law of general applicability.

The court wrote: “Plaintiffs have shown to the court’s satisfaction for the purposes of these initial proceedings, that the [Affordable Care Act] mandate is not generally applicable because it does not apply to grandfathered health plans, religious employers, or employers with fewer than fifty employees.  Specifically, plaintiffs argue that the ACA mandate’s exemptions clearly prefer secular purposes over religious purposes and some religious purposes over other religious purposes.  Burdens cannot be selectively imposed only on conduct motivated by religious belief.”

Read the full article here.

Arabic icon of St. John of Damascus

Today (Dec. 4) is commemorated an important, though sometimes little-known, saint: St. John of Damascus. Not only is he important to Church history as a theologian, hymnographer, liturgist, and defender of Orthodoxy, but he is also important, I believe, to the history of liberty.

In a series of decrees from 726-729, the Roman (Byzantine) emperor Leo III the Isaurian declared that the making and veneration of religious icons, such as the one to the right, be banned as idolatrous and that all icons be removed from churches and destroyed. The Christian practice of making icons dates back to decorations of the catacombs in the early Church as well as illuminations in manuscripts of the Scriptures; indeed, many icons can be found in manuscripts of the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures and several icons have even been uncovered in the ruins of synagogues.

Naturally, most Christians of the time protested. Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople was forced to resign and was replaced by Anastasios, who supported the emperor’s program. This began what is known as the iconoclastic controversy. It spanned over 100 years, and the iconoclasts in the Roman (Byzantine) empire martyred literally thousands of the Orthodox who peacefully resisted and destroyed countless works of sacred art that would be priceless today. Whatever one’s understanding of the place of icons in the Church today, this controversy was a clear abuse of government power that resulted in great tragedy. (more…)

Pravmir.com, a Russian site, has published an English translation of an interview given by Archpriest Nikolai Chernyshev, who is identified as “the spiritual father of the Solzhenitsyn family during the final years of the writer’s life.” The interview touches on Aleksandr Solzenitsyn’s upbringing in a deeply religious Russian Orthodox family, his encounter with militant atheism ( … he joined neither the Young Pioneers nor the Komsomol [All-Union Leninist Young Communist League]. The Pioneers would tear off his baptismal cross, but he would put it back on every time). Fr. Chernyshev describes the writer’s later “period of torturous doubt, of rejection of his childhood faith, and of pain.” The priest talks of Solzhenitzyn’s return to the faith after his experience in the Gulag and how “he suffered and fretted about the Church being in a repressed state. For him this was open, obvious, naked, and painful.” Excerpt from the interview:

Today many people remember the writer’s famous “Lenten Letter” to Patriarch Pimen (1972) and say that Solzhenitsyn expected, and even demanded, greater participation by the Church in society. What were his views in this regard at the end of his life?

Fr. Chernyshev: Solzhenitsyn was one of those people who could not remain silent; his voice was always heard. And, of course, he was convinced that the Savior’s words Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature should be fulfilled [Mark 16:15]. One of his convictions, his idea, was that the Church, on the one hand, should naturally be separate from the government, but by no means should be separate from society.

He felt that they are quite different, that they are completely opposite things. Its inseparability from society should become more and more manifest. And here he could not but see the encouraging changes of recent years. He joyfully and gratefully took in everything positive taking place in Russia and in the Church – but he was far from complacent, since all of society had become twisted and sick during the years of Soviet rule. (more…)

Making the case for religious liberty for those with ultra-short attention spans.

Ed Morrissey also provides a 30 second argument:
(more…)

The first presidential election I remember was the Ronald Reagan – Walter Mondale race in 1984. My kindergarten class in the Philadelphia suburbs held a mock vote that Reagan overwhelmingly won. It of course reflected the way our parents were voting. I can remember at the age of five, John Glenn was one of the Democrat candidates seeking the nomination and I knew he was a famous astronaut. The truth is, I’ve always been fascinated by presidential elections and Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms by Ed Rollins and Bad Boy: The Life and Politics of Lee Atwater by John Brady are two political books that deeply influenced my thought. Both books remain relevant and offer valuable lessons today.

Frank Hill, who directs The Institute for the Public Trust, has a solid post discussing Robert Kennedy, self-government, and tomorrow’s election. Hill quotes Lord Acton in his essay as well. He cites Kennedy’s “Day of Affirmation Address” in South Africa in 1966. It was a striking address, touching on the universal truths recognized by the West. Below is a great line from Kennedy’s speech that day:

At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.

Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and Ronald Reagan’s 1976 campaign are probably the two campaigns that offer the most mystique and magic for liberals and conservatives. One campaign ended with a tragic assassination and the other left conservative activists heartbroken by a narrow defeat. Both candidates were treated to adoring fans and followers and shook up the political landscape. While they represented different ends of the political spectrum, they were both visionary presidential campaigns. Those two campaigns caused a lot of young people to get excited not just about politics or power but deeper ideas about government and the human person.

Tomorrow is a big election. We’ve rightfully placed a heavy emphasis on the limits of politics here at the Acton Institute. Politics will not solve the deeper issues and problems facing this nation. The topic was the overarching theme of Rev. Robert Sirico’s 2012 Annual Dinner address. Jordan Ballor and I hosted an Acton on Tap addressing that very question in 2010. But elections and politics are important and serve a purpose. There are clear philosophical differences between the candidates and the peaceful transition of power reflects well on the foundations of our country.

At Acton we’ve always tried to raise the discourse and talk about higher truths. In a country that now faces crippling debt, moral chaos, and threats to religious freedom, we would be wise to draw upon some words James Madison used to close a letter he penned to a friend in 1774. Madison, concerned about persecuted Baptists in Virginia wrote, “So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty and Conscience to revive among us.” I would think most of our readers would agree and wish that much would be so.

Over at The Claremont Institute, Hadley Arkes considers whether religious freedom is a “natural right.” His exploration of the question is lengthy and complex and, as with everything Prof. Arkes writes, worthy of serious consideration. Here is his conclusion:

It may be jarring in some quarters to say it, but it is eminently reasonable to be a theist, and quite as reasonable to understand that not everything done in the name of religion and theism is reasonable and defensible. What else explains the refusal of the law to allow a religious exemption from laws on homicide or theft or evading the laws on child labor or paying social security taxes? But the deeper truth reveals itself when we recognize that the Catholic church has been making natural law arguments in the public arena even as the bishops invoke religious freedom. The bishops invoke the claims of religion, but the uncomfortable truth is that the Church and its allies among Protestants and Jews have become the main sanctuaries for preserving the tradition of moral truths in a society in which the currents of relativism have eroded the academy, the media, and the professions. The Church and the religious stand contra mundum today, and appear so much at odds with the world, not because they, more than others, exalt “beliefs,” but because they have become the last redoubt for the insistent claims of reason. Among our major institutions they have become the main force in declaring publicly the understanding of those moral truths and natural rights that underlay this constitutional order from the beginning.

Without that underlying moral understanding and the doctrines of natural law, it would be impossible to explain a regime in which a system of law is built upon a body of first principles forming a fundamental law (or a “constitution”). Without that accompanying faith it would be hard to explain why we seem to think that human beings, wherever we find them, will have an equal claim to our sympathy and respect; that they are made in the image of something higher; that they are creatures of reason who deserve to be ruled with the rendering reasons for the laws imposed on them. Without all of that, it becomes harder to explain why we can accord to them the standing of “bearers of rights” flowing to them by nature. In short, then, without the moral understanding sustained now mainly by the religious, it would be hard to take seriously the notion that there are natural rights that command our respect because they are grounded in truths about “the human person.” That is the case for religion as a natural right, and the measure of our desperation is that, in the current state of our public life, the bishops find the gravest test of their preparation and learning as they try to explain the matter to their own public in a post-literate age.

(Via: Mirror of Justice)

Current lawsuits against the HHS contraceptive mandate may undermine religious liberty in the long run, says Vincent Phillip Munoz. Not all religious objectors to the mandate are likely to be exempted even if the lawsuits are successful, and judges violate the core meaning of religious liberty when they assess plaintiffs’ religious character:

The religious liberty lawsuits ask for exemptions from the HHS mandate for those religious believers who find compliance conscientiously impossible. Exemptions would seem to be reasonable, and politically feasible, and they are probably legally required. Protecting religious liberty through court-granted exemptions, however, entails three “costs,” outlays that are frequently overlooked. Whether these expenditures are worth it and what alternative strategies ought to be adopted are, in part, prudential questions that can only be answered intelligently if a full and forthright evaluation of the exemption approach to religious liberty is undertaken.

In today’s essay I consider the first two costs; namely the implausibility of getting religious exemptions for all conscientious objectors to the mandate, and the overreach of judicial authority involved in religious liberty cases. In tomorrow’s essay, I will discuss how religious liberty litigation can undermine long-term arguments for upholding our first freedom, and explore what can be done to prevent the downside of litigation.

Read more . . .

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tackles the topic of religious liberty with his most recent column, “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” In it, Douthat highlights the public nature of the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the “free exercise of religion”:

It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair. Most religious communities conceive of themselves as peoples or families, and the requirements of most faiths extend well beyond attendance at a sabbath service — encompassing charity and activism, education and missionary efforts, and other “exercises” that any guarantee of religious freedom must protect.

Many would say that the religious liberty squabbles of today–the HHS mandate debate and last week’s Chick-fil-A fracas, for example–reflect a contemporary confusion about what is actually protected by the Bill of Rights’ “free exercise of religion.” Instead, Douthat posits that the conflict is a result of a present tension between religious values and the modern idea of freedom. This, Douthat argues, is really at the heart of the religious liberty debate.

The question is not whether “the free exercise of religion” allows the government to mandate contraception purchase or regulate businesses according to their values. The question is whether certain religious beliefs of today run so contradictory to the public zeitgeist that, like 15th century Aztec sacrifice rituals, they violate the common good and cannot merit public protection. Those who answer the latter question with a “yes” should quit the emaciated definitions of religious liberty and move on with the debate:

It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.

It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade.

If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.

There, didn’t that feel better? Now we can get on with the fight.

Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own  “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:

Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”

The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.

Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012′s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.