Posts tagged with: religious freedom

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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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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 . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, September 20, 2013
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UntitledIn an interview with Christianity Today, social critic Os Guinness explains why religious liberty it necessary for societal flourishing:

Americans employ the term “religious freedom,” while Europeans prefer the roughly synonymous term “freedom of religion and belief.” In the book, you suggest something deeper and broader with the term “soul freedom.” What is “soul freedom”?

“Soul Liberty” was Roger Williams’s magnificent term for religious freedom. It stands over against those who confuse religious freedom with mere toleration, or shrink it to mean only the freedom to worship. It challenges those who view it simply as “freedom for the religious,” or think that when religion is dismissed, religious freedom can be ignored. As Article 1 of the Global Charter of Conscience declares, religious freedom is “the right to adopt, hold, freely exercise, share, or change one’s beliefs subject solely to the dictates of conscience and independent of all outside, especially governmental control.” Seen this way, freedom of religion and belief (which covers secularist worldviews too) is essential because it involves nothing less that our freedom to be human.

You call “soul freedom” the “golden key” to building a free, just, and equitable public square. How so?

Religious freedom is a foundational human right that should be guaranteed and protected simply for its own sake. But over and above that, numerous studies show that when religious freedom is respected, there are many social and political benefits, such as civility in public life, harmony in society as a whole, and vitality in the entrepreneurial sectors of civil society. Violations of religious freedom, such as the recent health care mandates hitting Catholic hospitals and other religious employers, are therefore not only wrong, but blind. As such requirements spread, they will cramp, if not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. One day our brave new government officials will go out in the morning and find there is no golden egg—and therefore they must spend more, and grow government even larger, to cover the gap created by the diminishing of the faith-based organizations.

Read more . . .

There is little doubt that America is moving further away from the kind of broad and liberal religious freedom that was championed during the founding period. In terms of intellectual thought, that period was certainly the high water mark for religious liberty around the globe. As Americans celebrate their freedoms and Independence next week, I seek to answer the question in this week’s commentary about America’s ability to remain the land of religious liberty.

Sadly, the outlook is rather bleak, and America will need a fundamental shift in thinking to secure protection for the rights of conscience and houses of worship. It’s evident the significance of spiritual freedom is waning and can’t really be articulated by the wider culture. Spiritual freedom is essential to self-government and self-control. In fact, I make the point in my commentary that the most dangerous detriment to religious liberty is the popular notion that religion and faith constricts liberty. Obviously, just winning mere court cases is not enough. That ship has sailed.

I suspect today’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Defense of Marriage Act will only complicate matters of religious conscience for churches and dissent from culture and society becomes more dangerous. Secularization of society and the rise of centralized federal power is creating a government that seeks to operate above fundamental truths and the rights of conscience. It seeks to crowd it out and diminish its influence and limiting power upon the state. During his closing address at Acton University, Samuel Gregg explained so well how moral relativism now operates in a dictatorial fashion.

Just before the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his cousin Zabdiel that I think points to our inevitable path as a nation without a rejuvenated appreciation and understanding of religious liberty. Adams declared,

The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, They may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.

 

tyndaleAfter apparently recognizing the absurdity of arguing that a Bible publisher is not a “religious employer,” the Obama administration has dropped its appeal in the case of Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius. “For the government to say that a Bible publisher isn’t religious is outrageous, and now the Obama administration has had to retreat in court,” said Matt Bowman senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Tyndale in the case.

Following the government’s request, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday dismissed the administration’s appeal. This means the preliminary injunction temporarily halting the mandate — as it applies to Tyndale — will stand as the case moves forward.

The Obama administration required most businesses to comply with the Health and Human Services mandate by August 2012. Some faith-based organizations — including hospitals and universities — have a so-called safe harbor until August of this year. Tyndale does not qualify for the extension.

While this is a victory for Tyndale, there are still fifty-nine other lawsuits currently challenging the mandate. Maybe if the administration loses a few more of these cases they’ll decide that it’s not worth continuing to fight to allow the HHS to violate the religious liberties of Americans.

U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished to stave off a “tidal wave of fundamentalists.” That’s what Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told Fox News. Weinstein and his group met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23 to try to convince them to punish military officers who engage in such devious evangelistic tactics as having a Christian bumper sticker on their car or a Bible on their desk. Weinstein says such activities can can amount to “pushing this fundamentalist version of Christianity on helpless subordinates.”

military“If a member of the military is proselytizing in a manner that violates the law, well then of course they can be prosecuted,” he said. “We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution.”

“[Proselytizing] is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” Weinstein told Fox News.

The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian proselytization is against regulations. “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement.
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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…)