Posts tagged with: religious liberty

Hobby-Lobby-StoreLast week, over 80 amicus briefs were filed with the Supreme Court on both sides of Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the HHS contraceptive-abortifacient mandate. Here’s what you need to know about amicus briefs and their role in this case.

What is an amicus brief?

An amicus brief is a learned treatise submitted by an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), someone who is not a party to a case who offers information that bears on the case but that has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. The amicus brief is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case.

Who can submit an amicus brief?

While any interested party can contribute or sign an amicus brief, it can only be filed only by an attorney admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. After filing, the Court decides whether it will accept the brief. Supreme Court Rule 37 provides that an amicus curiae brief which brings relevant matter to the Court’s attention that has not already been brought to its attention by the parties is of considerable help to the Court. An amicus brief which does not serve this purpose burdens the staff and facilities of the Court and its filing is not favored.

Do amicus briefs have any influence on Supreme Court rulings?
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little sistersMona Charen, writing for National Review Online, notes that the image-conscious Obama Administration has not been very careful about choosing it foes in the HHS mandate fight. Wanna pick a fight? How about some Catholic sisters?

The Little Sisters of the Poor is a Catholic charity providing care to the poorest elderly in a hospice-like setting. They serve 13,000 people in 31 countries, and operate 30 homes in the United States. Their faith calls them to treat every person, no matter how old, disabled, or poor, as if he or she were “Jesus himself.” There is no religious test for admission, only that you be poor and in need of care at the end of life. Think thousands of Mother Teresas.

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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.

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…)

dexterThe domestic threat to religious liberty and the global slaughter of Christians around the globe is becoming harder to ignore. It certainly is now one of the most important news stories to follow for the New Year.

Yesterday, I delivered a lecture on the topic of religious liberty to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. My Acton commentary is an abbreviated version of the portion of the lecture that focused on the current domestic threat. I’ve already talked about how the American Civil Rights Movement might be one model to push back against the rising tide of Christian persecution in this country. It is becoming increasingly clear that churches need to do a better job preparing believers to handle and deal with religious persecution.

We are really living through a dangerous era of historic revisionism, where the agenda to drastically curb the influence of religion and a faith informed virtue from the public square is strengthening. I simply ask in my piece, “What would Western Civilization look like without God, and more specifically the Lord Jesus Christ? Francis Cardinal George warns us that “secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow. (more…)

1984-Big-BrotherYesterday, there was a panel discussion on religious liberty sponsored by the Center for American Progress in Washington. Joel Gehrke has an excellent summation of the event in the Washington Examiner that highlighted some remarks by C. Welton Gaddy.

Later in the talk, Gaddy agreed with an interlocutor who asked if liberals “need to start educating, and calling out, Christians for trying to exercise ‘Christian privilege.’”

“As a Christian” — a big part of Gaddy’s rhetorical power seemed to derive from the fact that, as a Christian and a former Southern Baptist, he could ratify all of the CAP audience’s views of the people with whom they disagreed — “I think Christians ought to start calling each other out, because I think you’re exactly right,” he said.

This kind of nonsensical language echoes a kind of NewSpeak highlighted by George Orwell in his novel 1984. It is a controlled language created by the state and their apparatchiks as a tool to silence freedom of thought and conscience. We’ve seen it too by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the Obama administration, who have subtly shifted away from the term religious freedom, preferring to call it “freedom of worship” instead. The shift highlights the goal by many of the secular left to confine or ghettoize religious freedom to the four walls of churches. You can believe what you want and practice whatever you want as long as it is contained to the four walls of the church.
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TCC Banner

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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Mary Ann Glendon makes an excellent point about the outcry for more corporate responsibility while government is simultaneously stripping away the rights of religious conscience of businesses. In The Boston Globe, Glendon notes,

The simple truth is that if we want businesses, incorporated or not, to be responsible for their actions, they must be treated as having some moral agency. And with moral agency and accountability must go the freedom to act in accordance with conscience.

The push to ghettoize freedom of religion solely into the houses of worship is of course a disturbing trend. When the religious rights of civil society are pushed aside and made subservient to the state, we get not the church serving as conscience, but the state ruling tyrannically over man. “Once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it—the state and the individual,” says Richard John Neuhaus.

Read the entire article.

usccb 2The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a “special letter” regarding the Obama administration’s HHS mandate. The USCCB, meeting this month in Baltimore, passed the letter unanimously.

Calling the HHS mandate “coercive,” the bishops state that they have tried to work with the current administration, to no avail.

Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all. (more…)

2013-10-08T232005Z_1_CBRE9971STM00_RTROPTP_3_USA-FISCAL“Will the most fundamental liberty of all – freedom of conscience – survive in post-Obama America?” asks Terry Jeffrey at Townhall.com. He, along with many others,  is worried about the Obama Administration’s refusal to allow faithful Christians to live according to their conscience. He is particularly concerned about the Kennedy family, owners of Autocam, based in Kentwood, Mich. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that the Kennedys may not sue the director of the Health and Human Services Department, Kathleen Sebelius, because “Autocam is not a ‘person’ capable of ‘religious exercise.’” President of Autocam and Autocam Medical and an Acton board member, John Kennedy told Jeffrey that he and his family “strive to live all parts of their lives – including their business lives – in keeping with their Catholic faith.” He said that:

We’re called into different occupations, but we are supposed to respond to that call and try to basically show the teachings of Jesus Christ in everything we do… You have an obligation to treat everyone justly, and, in my mind, you are supposed to treat all people that you come across in life as part of your family.

Jeffrey discussed the HHS Mandate with Kennedy:

When I interviewed John Kennedy this week, I asked him: “Can your family-owned company, in keeping with the way you have run it in accordance with your Catholic faith, obey that regulation?”

“No,” said Kennedy. “I can’t see how we can do that.” (more…)