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Mary Altaffer/Associated PressThe Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case with important religious freedom implications — Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education, City of New York. ADF asked the Supreme Court to reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s incredible holding that the New York City Board of Education can allow schools to be rented for meetings encouraging everything from atheism to zodiac watching, but deny use for a worship service. Briefly stated, the court held that school officials can prohibit churches from renting school facilities to hold worship services, as long as they allow churches in for other types of events.

The court’s ruling has serious legal implications for religious freedom. We at ADF were hopeful the Supreme Court would review this case and resolve the very difficult position in which the Second Circuit has placed churches (and school officials) in the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. Now, if a church needs to rent the school auditorium for a Christmas play, it must decide whether to describe the event as a worship service because it includes songs and a prayer, or merely a celebration of a national holiday from a Christian point of view. Is it dishonest to not refer to it as a worship service? And God help the school principals charged with reviewing such applications. How are they to determine if a Christmas play violates a school’s policy banning worship? It certainly would have been nice to get some direction from the Supreme Court on these questions. Hopefully the Court will see fit to take another similar case soon.

The more fundamental question, however, is what does the Bronx Household of Faith case tell us about the state of religious freedom in America? At minimum, we now know that some government officials and federal judges believe religious worship gets less constitutional protection than virtually any other type of expression – including political speeches, scientific lectures, global warming conferences, homosexual “rights” rallies, and even anti-religious teaching. That is a fundamental shift in thinking from just 67 years ago when Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the nation to prayer on D-Day and invoked the favor of the Almighty on our efforts to combat the Axis Powers. And it completely contradicts the philosophy of Founding Fathers like Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who said, “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

The court’s devaluing religious worship as compared to other types of expression has huge implications for religious liberty and the very core of how we govern ourselves in this country. As indicated by Mr. Rush, without religious freedom there is no other liberty.

Rest assured that we at ADF are not going to stand idly by and accept this serious attack on the religious freedom of churches. We have been advising the many churches affected by this ruling in New York City about how to attempt to remedy the problem in the state legislature. And we are working on several other legal strategies to make sure this New York case has a very limited effect. Please continue to pray for the many attorneys working on the matter, as well as the churches who have been displaced as a result of the ruling.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

On December 12, Judge Silver, a federal judge in Arizona, threw out a claim that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer violated the Establishment Clause by issuing day of prayer proclamations in observance of the National Day of Prayer. The court cited the Seventh Circuit’s recent ruling in FFRF v. Obama, saying “hurt feelings” don’t give someone standing to bring a federal case. The Court also said that no constitutional injury results from plaintiffs getting up to turn off the TV or avoiding conversations with people because they don’t want to hear about the prayer proclamations.

Judge Silver got it exactly right. The Establishment Clause doesn’t give anti-religionists license to roam the country or channel surf looking for things to be offended by, and then making a federal case out of them. There is no right not to be offended in America. This decision, like the Seventh Circuit’s decision in FFRF v. Obama in which ADF represented Mrs. Dobson and the National Day of Prayer Task Force, is another very important step in limiting the ability of anti-religion activist groups like FFRF to harass state and local government officials who simply want to acknowledge our nation’s religious heritage. These groups often use lawsuits and the attorney fees that come with them as a vehicle to intimidate government officials into silence about their own religious beliefs, as well as those of our Founding Fathers and the vast majority of present day Americans.

Certainly the government cannot tell people how, and to whom, to pray. But a long line of government officials like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan have encouraged people to pray because they believed it is helpful to our country and rightly acknowledges our religious heritage. Our Founders even had prayer at the Constitutional Convention. The Constitution was never meant to be used to censor this practice, and courts shouldn’t misinterpret it to do so now.

Kudos to Judge Silver for getting this one right, and to Governor Brewer for standing against special interest groups bent on silencing her and eradicating religion from all public acknowledgement.

Author

ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,  recently addressed the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on the occasion of International Human Rights Day. Her remarks, which you can read in full here, start out spot on. She acknowledges that rights are not creations of the government but are something we are born with. She said, “rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we
are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them.” She’s right. The unalienable rights our Founding Fathers risked their lives for are something governments have a responsibility to protect and no right to take away.

But she ignores the underlying questions of where those rights come from. Many academics today expect us to believe unalienable rights have been evolving along with us as we’ve made the journey from Big Bang fodder, to primal ooze, to self-aware beings at the top of the food chain. But the idea that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, even if they are not strong enough to assert those rights on their own, contradicts the natural selection principles upon which fundamentalist Darwinism stands. A couple of hours watching the nature channel demonstrates that only humans have “evolved” the characteristic that even the weakest and frailest among us have basic rights that we all must protect. The point of this post isn’t to demonstrate that humanistic theories on the origin of basic rights are flawed. You can read more about that here. Suffice it to say, the only adequate answer to the question of where basic rights come from is God, or as the Founding Fathers often phrased it, our Creator.

So if Secretary of State Clinton is willing to acknowledge that rights aren’t simply something we’ve made up ourselves as we bump along the evolutionary path to self actualization, why didn’t she say they emanate from God?  The simple answer is she probably knows God not only gave us rights, He’s given responsibilities. The whole point of her speech is she believes the freedom to engage in homosexual behavior is a basic human right that even trumps religious freedom. She says, “The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” In other words, even though all three of the major religions in the world teach that homosexual behavior is harmful not only to those who engage it, but society as a whole, that should never be used as a reason to treat those engaging in that behavior differently. She doesn’t acknowledge rights come from God, because that tacitly affirms we should embrace all that God has given us, including responsibilities – such as the duty to resist temptation to engage in sexual relations with anyone except one’s opposite sex spouse. See, e.g.Romans 1:24-27.

This is very dangerous for those who believe what the Bible actually says (not what many have twisted it to say in an attempt to justify their actions) and do their best to practice it. Under Secretary Clinton’s new rule, sexual freedom trumps religious freedom. A pastor cannot discriminate against a same-sex couple that wants to “marry” in his church and have him officiate the wedding. A church cannot expel a member for engaging in homosexual behavior. And certainly a Christian counselor can never advise a client that they will only be physically and emotionally healthy when they stop engaging in homosexual behavior. That would be discriminatory. It would also be the end of religious freedom.

The idea that we can enjoy God-given rights without accepting God-given responsibilities is not a new one. Adam and Eve eagerly bought this lie in the Garden of Eden. They believed the serpent when he told them that God didn’t really say certain fruit is forbidden. They were just misinterpreting God’s words. And even if He did say it, they won’t die if they eat it. God just made up that rule to restrict their freedom. There will be no consequences.

The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Many of us still believe we can enjoy the right God gave us to rule and care for the earth without heeding His instructions regarding how we should live. Secretary of State Clinton’s speech lays the groundwork for building this false teaching into our laws. If she succeeds, don’t be surprised when we experience the same fate as Adam and Eve and lose the God-given freedoms we hold so dear.

Author

ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

The Christmas season reminds us that religious freedom is alive and well in the USA – especially when compared to the restrictions on religion in the rest of the world. It’s easy to get discouraged hearing almost daily reports of the prospect of same-sex “marriage” and increasing attacks on churches in America. But these threats pale in comparison to the oppression many churches experience in other countries.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study on August 9, 2011, showing that numerous countries around the world place onerous restrictions on religious freedom – ostensibly to “protect” it. The study found: “As of mid-2009, 59 countries (30%) had a law, rule or policy at some level of government forbidding blasphemy (remarks or writings considered to be contemptuous of God), apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism) of particular religions or religion in general. Penalties for violating these laws, ranging from fines to imprisonment to death, were enforced in 44 of the 59.” These laws prohibiting blasphemy, apostasy, or the defamation of religion were directly tied to an overall decrease in religious freedom.

For instance, a 13-year-old Pakistani girl reportedly made the mistake of writing something in her school work that was deemed “blasphemous.” In Pakistan, criticism of Islam is considered defamation and is punishable by death. Authorities weren’t so harsh in this instance, but did expel the girl from school and forced her mother to change jobs. In Egypt, a court is reported to have sentenced a man to three years in jail and hard labor because he “intentionally insulted the dignity of the Islamic religion and attacked it with insults and ridicule on Facebook.” And in the United Kingdom, a Member of the Scottish Parliament asked Strathlyde Police to investigate the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow because he defended the institution of marriage in a church service.

We would be shocked if anything resembling this religious oppression were to occur here in the United States – and rightfully so. In 1940, our Supreme Court held in Cantwell v. Connecticut that pointing out the errors of the religious beliefs of another is exactly what the Free Speech Clause was designed to protect. And three years later, the court famously affirmed that the government has no power to determine which religious beliefs are acceptable and which are not, stating: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette. We at the ADF Church Project are doing our level best to make sure these important legal precedents are not eroded. If you hear of any situation where church freedom is being restricted, please contact us at speakupmovement.org or 1-800-TELL-ADF.

No, the U.S. does not have a perfect record on religious freedom, but we do score higher than most, if not all, other countries. We should thank God every day for our freedom to worship, especially during this holiday season. And I’m going to commit to praying for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world that fear for their lives every time they utter the name of Christ in public.

 

Author

ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

For many years, U.S. Senate Finance Committee member Charles Grassley (R-IA), has been looking into the financial practices of large media-based Christian ministries. Although he has not yet proposed any new laws that would govern how ministries report and manage their finances, in January he asked the ECFA
(Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) to create a commission that will make recommendations about how ministries can be more fiscally accountable.  The ECFA has indicated that it will look into issues such as whether churches should be required to file detailed information returns (990s), the housing allowance, and tax rules governing “love offerings.”  It has also indicated that it hopes to address these issues through self-regulation rather than legislation.

You can learn more about the issues the commission will address here. Also, ADF’s own Erik Stanley has been asked to serve on an advisory panel for the commission in view of his legal expertise in the area of churches and politics. We will continue to keep you updated on the work on the work of the commission.  In the mean time, the best way for churches to minimize risk of running afoul of current or future regulations is to become a member of a financial accountability organization such as ECFA.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

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