Archives For Religious Liberty

The Briefing

Who values religious freedom, besides U.S.?
Significant differences exist in the importance Americans and Europeans place on certain freedoms, including the right to choose your own religion, according to research from YouGov. Only in the U.S. do more than half (53%) choose the right to pursue a religion of their choice as one of the most important freedoms. The next highest nation is Finland with 37%. Support in all other European nations is below 30%.

Christian leaders praise Trump’s Saudi speech
President Trump’s address in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is garnering significant attention given that it was his first address on an international trip but especially because of its theological overtones while expressing his vision for U.S.-Muslim relations. In his speech, Trump said religious leaders must make clear to their faith’s adherents that “barbarism will deliver you no glory — piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.” Such an explicit theological judgment struck Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as highly significant.

‘I will pray for you,’ draws personnel warning
Offering to pray for a coworker could get you fired. A Baptist mother of two has filed religious discrimination and retaliation charges against a school system that threatened to fire her for privately telling a coworker she’d pray for him. Attorneys for Toni Richardson, an educational technician with the Augusta (Maine) School Department, are awaiting a response from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding the complaint filed May 16.

Planned parenthood clinics falling like dominoes
Planned Parenthood clinics around the country have posted permanent “Closed” signs because of low finances and lack of patients. Clinics in New Mexico, Iowa and Colorado have been experiencing the most shutdowns, because of financial issues. In July, the last Planned Parenthood clinics in North Dakota, Wyoming, and North Dakota are slated to close.

Married lesbians sue Tennessee over spousal definitions
Four married lesbian couples in Tennessee are fighting a new state law they say denies their parental rights. The couples, each expecting a baby this year, filed a lawsuit last week against a law mandating that undefined words in state statutes be interpreted to have “natural and ordinary” meanings. LGBT activists are calling the law “sneaky,” arguing it “clearly targets LGBTQ Tennesseans” by requiring words like “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” and “father” in state law apply only to opposite-sex couples.

Sources: Facts & Trends, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Conservative Tribune, World Magazine

The Briefing

Trump to Liberty grads: Follow Christian convictions
In front of a record-setting crowd of about 50,000 attendees, the newly minted politician winked to his support from evangelicals—repeatedly bringing up religious freedom and identifying with their position as Washington outsiders. “In America we do not worship government, we worship God. We do not need a lecture from Washington on how to lead our lives,” he said to the graduates.

La. Executive Board concludes study of ERLC
The Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board has concluded a study of “issues of concern” related to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and issued a letter commending ERLC President Russell Moore for “confessing his failings.” The letter, addressed to the ERLC president and trustees, also urged Moore “to listen carefully and respectfully to Southern Baptists even as we listen to him.”

Graham calls persecution of Christians ‘genocide’
Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, urged fellow Christians to struggle against a “Christian genocide” that he says has killed in greater numbers than most believers can fathom. Graham spoke May 10 at a conference aimed at highlighting an issue many feel is ignored by politicians and the media.

Court sides with Christian print shop
The owner of Hands on Originals, a Lexington, Ky., print shop, did not violate a local nondiscrimination ordinance when he refused to create T-shirts for an annual gay pride festival, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled. The 2-1 decision is the second to uphold Blaine Adamson’s right to engage in “viewpoint or message censorship.” A local gay and lesbian advocacy organization asked Adamson to create T-shirts promoting the organization’s 2012 Pride Festival. Adamson declined, saying he could not promote that message as a Christian.

Majority of Protestants support gay marriage
Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid. Although not meaningfully different from the 61% last year, this is the highest percentage to date and continues the generally steady rise since Gallup’s trend began in 1996. However, U.S. Protestants, including all non-Catholic Christians, are now about twice as likely to support gay marriage as they were in 1996 (55% vs. 27%). This year’s poll is the first-time Protestant support has reached the majority level.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, World Magazine, Gallup

The Briefing

IBDR flood response teams activated
The heavy rains that fell in late April and early May leaving behind several inches rain have caused major flooding in Southern Illinois and the St. Louis Metro area. Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) has been monitoring the situation and called assessors. Now, multiple IBDR flood response teams are on the ground in Williamson and Franklin Counties in Illinois.

Samford U considers pro-LGBT student group
A recommendation by Samford University’s faculty to approve a pro-homosexual student group could have “serious implications … for the relationship” between the university and the Alabama Baptist State Convention, according to a joint statement by the convention’s president and the executive director of its State Board of Missions.

Americans view of morality studied
Most older Americans say right and wrong never change. Younger Americans — not so much, according to a new study released May 9. The study by LifeWay Research found a significant generation gap in how Americans view morality. More than 6 in 10 of those older than 45 say right and wrong do not change. For those 35 and younger, fewer than 4 in 10 make that claim.

Religious liberty order doesn’t answer evangelicals’ prayers
In his biggest religious liberty push since taking office, President Donald Trump officially laid out in an executive order some of the protections he has promised faithful supporters for months. The move came on the same day that evangelical leaders gathered in Washington for the annual National Day of Prayer. One problem: This is not the executive order many evangelicals had been praying for.

Army secretary nominee bows out over marriage views
President Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of the Army has withdrawn from consideration amid criticism of his positions on marriage and gender. Mark Green, a state senator from Tennessee, said in a statement that false and misleading attacks against him made his nomination a distraction.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Florida Baptist Witness, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, World Magazine

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President Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect faith beliefs and practice in a ceremony May 4. Screen capture from WhiteHouse.gov. Courtesy Baptist Press

On May 4 – The National Day of Prayer – President Donald Trump, signed an executive order promising to provide churches, non-profit organizations, and Christian-owned business greater religious liberty. Reaction among Christians, especially evangelicals has been mixed. Here’s a round-up of some of those reactions:

Baptists cautious on Trump executive order
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “After years of open hostility toward religious institutions and conscience from the previous administration, this executive order is a welcome change in direction toward people of faith from the White House. Not only that, but many federal agencies are working already to ensure that the executive and administrative violations of religious freedom from the Obama administration are being rolled back.” Read more from Moore and other Southern Baptists.

Concern Trump’s order doesn’t address key issues
Some evangelical voices, like Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; David French, a lawyer and writer at National Review; and Gregory Baylor with Alliance Defending Freedom had critical words for the president’s religious liberty executive order. They called the order woefully inadequate, weak, and a promise unfulfilled.

What Trump understands about religious liberty in America
There is a war on religious liberty in America – and this war is targeting people of the Christian faith. An Army of militant atheists and LGBT activists are hell-bent on eradicating Christianity from the public marketplace and punishing Christians who follow the teachings of Christ. That’s why President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty Thursday in the Rose Garden – to protect Americans who have been targeted by a politically correct lynch mob.

Reaction mixed on order targeting birth control, churches, politics
Trump’s executive order targeted the Johnson Amendment, a provision of tax law which prohibits churches from getting directly involved in political campaigns. But it stopped short of his vow to “totally destroy” the amendment, instead instructing the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the law consistent with how it’s done so in the past — allowing speech on political and moral issues as long as it doesn’t advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

Analysis: Trump order unlikely to alter sermonizing
Many Americans want religious leaders to be clear about their values and how those values impact every aspect of life, including politics. And they want churches to be free to practice their faith, which includes discussing politics without any government intervention. But few want their preacher’s advice on which candidate to vote for.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Fox News, USA Today, Baptist Press

Exterior of Modern Church with Large Cross

A bill in the Illinois Senate that would have required pastors to take state-regulated classes in child protection raises important questions: Shouldn’t pastors do all they can to protect children, one colleague asked. Yes, obviously, but at what risk to religious communities’ First Amendment rights?

And, as important is this question: Why aren’t clergy engaging in stronger self-policing using a mechanism most already have in place, the ministerial code of ethics?

Sen. Melinda Bush of Lake County withdrew the bill last week, after objections from pastors on First Amendment grounds: If the state requires pastors to receive certification in this well-intended and altruistic concern, then what’s next? There aren’t many steps from this bill to government licensure of clergy and churches. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” isn’t a sufficient argument to allow government regulation of pastoral work.

And, there’s a better way.

As a seminary student, I was required to write for myself a ministerial code of ethics. I studied a dozen examples and came up with a list of biblical and ethical ways for dealing with people, issues, and sticky situations.

A year or two later, I was the grader for that class, and I read scores of codes of ethics submitted by students. Most of these aspiring pastors took the assignment seriously, considering how they should handle counseling and confidentiality, reporting of abuse or neglect, the pastor’s relationship to the law and enforcement agencies. Some addressed euthanasia, and a few spoke to sexual identity and relationship issues just entering public discourse at the time.

Some of these students laid a good foundation for engaging and regulating their future work, so when hard questions arose, they already had biblical ways of processing the issues not based on emotion and reaction.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy. It requires that pastors stay up-to-date on the issues and the law. Through such personally adopted codes, pastors police themselves. They may join in voluntary association with other clergy in their enforcement.

Our Baptist polity—respecting the autonomy of the local church—doesn’t allow the denomination to enforce rules on pastors. Neither does the U. S. Constitution. That’s why we must take responsibility to govern ourselves.

For the sake of the children.

– Eric Reed

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Cutline: Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court after rules change in a 54-45 vote April 7.
Screen capture from C-Span

Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed Friday, April 7, by the U.S. Senate as the next justice of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, 49, is known to be an advocate of religious freedom, as evidenced by his support for Hobby Lobby and other organizations that opposed—based on their religious convictions—healthcare legislation requiring their employee plans to cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs.

Gorsuch currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. He will be sworn in to the high court on Monday, April 10, replacing Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016 after 20 years on the Court. Last year, former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to succeed Scalia, but the Republican-majority Senate refused to hold a hearing on the nomination.

President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch in February, garnering praise from many Christian leaders, including Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“Make no mistake; this is a very important nomination,” Mohler said on a February episode of his podcast, “The Briefing.” “And for those of us who are looking for a particular way of looking at the Constitution that is in keeping with Justice Scalia’s tradition, and for those of us who care about the sanctity and dignity of human life, we have to understand this win in terms of the nomination is absolutely monumental…”

Gorsuch’s confirmation by the Senate came after Republicans invoked the “nuclear option,” changing the rules for filibustering of a Supreme Court candidate so that only a simple majority was needed to proceed with the nomination. His confirmation passed by a 55-45 vote.

“The confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is good news,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty President Russell Moore. “I am confident he will protect the Bill of Rights, especially our First Freedom of religious liberty. Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record, statements in confirmation hearings and his reputation for brilliance and integrity all commend him to sit on the nation’s highest court. I pray that he will serve for decades with principled commitment to the Founders’ vision of natural rights and ordered liberty.”

Gorsuch’s confirmation came after Senate Republicans invoked the “nuclear option,” changing the rules for filibustering of a Supreme Court candidate so that only a simple majority was needed to proceed with the nomination.

As the Court’s newest justice, Gorsuch will soon hear another religious liberty case, this one dealing with a Missouri preschool fighting for their right to take part in a government funding program. Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., sued the state after being denied participation in a grant program that helps non-profit organizations provide safer recreational space for kids, Fox News reported. The preschool applied for the funding in order to be able to replace its gravel playground surface with recycled rubber.

Many are calling the case, scheduled to be heard April 19, the biggest case of this Court session.

After Gorsuch’s confirmation, FoxNews.com released a list of five cases he’ll hear in his first month. In addition to the Missouri case, Gorsuch will weigh in on:

Weaver v. Massachusetts and Davila v. Davis
Both concern the Sixth Amendment and a defendant’s rights. After Kentel Weaver, then 16, killed a 15-year-old boy, the public and his family were locked out of court proceedings while a jury was selected. Weaver’s legal team did not object, which his current team says constitutes inadequate representation and a violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.

In the second case, lawyers for death-row inmate Erick Davila, who was convicted of killing a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother in a 2008 drive-by shooting, received ineffective counsel during his trial.

Maslenjak vs. U.S.
After it was discovered she made false statements about why she and her family came to the U.S., Bosnian refugee Divna Maslenjak was stripped of her U.S. citizenship—even though her statements were found to be immaterial to the decision to grant her citizenship.

California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc.
The case deals with whether the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s class action lawsuit concerning the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers should have been barred because it was ruled to have been filed too late.

The BriefingSenate lets states defund Planned Parenthood
For more than 40 years, the federal government has made funds available through Title X grants for organizations that provide family planning services. Through this program, the federal government can fund healthcare organizations directly or award grants to states, which choose money recipients. Days before President Barack Obama left office, he ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to block 13 conservative states from denying Planned Parenthood Title X funding. The Senate voted to rescind that order March 30.

VP Pence’s ‘Billy Graham Rule’ angers Internet
One line from a Washington Post profile of Second Lady Karen Pence is garnering reactions from many on social media. Ashley Parker’s profile of Indiana’s former First Lady cites a 2002 Mike Pence interview with The Hill. In it, the former Indiana congressman and governor said he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife, Karen. Pence also said he wouldn’t attend an event where alcohol would be served without her by his side.

Reprimand of Air Force colonel sparks protest
U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Madrid was reprimanded in 2016 for his Christian religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Air Force originally cleared him in 2014 of charges that he made unsubstantiated derogatory comments against homosexuality to an openly gay airman. But when Madrid was placed under the command of Maj. Gen. John E. McCoy two years after the case was closed, McCoy accused Madrid of having lied during the investigation and disciplined him without any new evidence.

Judge grants man right to become genderless
A 27-year-old video game designer has become the first American to gain legal designation as “genderless” following a ruling by an Oregon judge. The game designer known as Patrick Abbatiello who is now legally designated agender, also got legal approval to become mononymous — meaning only having one name instead of a given name and a surname — and is going by the name “Patch.”

Polar bear ‘prays’ next to cross
Jessica Andrews was scanning through dozens of photos she took of a polar bear roaming around her backyard when she came across one that stopped her in her tracks. The large animal was squatting beneath a white cross, its paws together and raised skyward as it looked up in a seemingly reverential pose.

 Sources: World Magazine, Indy Star, Baptist Press, NBC News, Toronto Sun