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U.S. House approves bill to include houses of worship in FEMA grants

Posted on February 15th, 2013 Religious Freedom | No Comments »

On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed a bill to allow houses of worship to receive federal disaster aid from FEMA. The House took up the bill in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, where several churches were damaged, and voted 354-72 for the bill. If passed, the bill would include houses of worship in the federal government’s list of private nonprofit organizations that are eligible for FEMA grants to rebuild after national disasters.

The bill was co-authored by Representative Chris Smith, R-NJ, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. Rep. Smith said, “These houses of worship are conduits of healing and rebuilding in the community, while lacking the resources to address their own structural damage.”

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., added that churches, synagogues, mosq ues, temples, and other religious institutions deserve the same treatment as other non-profit organizations. “They shouldn’t be penalized just because of their religious involvement.”

The exclusion of churches from FEMA does not make sense. Under current rules, disaster relief is available for several nonprofit organizations, including colleges, universities, parochial schools, hospitals, museums, zoos, community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops and facilities that provide health and safety services. But in order to qualify, an entity generally had to spend over fifty percent of its activities in one of the listed areas. So to qualify as a community center, it has to spend a majority of its time being a community center.

The problem with the current rules is that while churches will regularly spend over fifty percent of their time doing covered charitable activities, they rarely will spend over fifty percent of their time in any one area. For example, churches regularly educate, visit the sick in hospitals, transport the sick to hospitals, open its facilities to the public for use, host various community programs, provide rehabilitation services such as AA and divorce recovery, house a library and operate clothing and food banks. But a church will rarely do just one of these activities over fifty percent of its time. As it stands now, churches are penalized for being over-charitable in their activities!

As Rep. Smith noted, houses of worship serve vital roles in their communities. And after national disasters, communities need houses of worship to be rebuilt just as much as the other charitable organizations.

Opponents of this bill argued that churches are already covered under FEMA because they can seek loans just like other businesses. The problem with this argument is that churches are more akin to charities than businesses. Churches just can’t raise their price to cover expenses so providing loans is cold comfort for struggling churches.

Other opponents say that houses of worship should not be covered by FEMA grants because of the separation of church and state. But nowhere in the constitution does it permit the government to be hostile to religion and exclude religious organizations from neutral government programs. In fact, in American Atheists, Inc. v. Detroit Downtown Development Authority, , the Sixth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of a grant program that gave money to a church to fix its facilities in light of the upcoming Super Bowl. It does not violate the constitution to allow churches to participate in a neutral government program, on the same terms and conditions as others.

The bottom line is that churches play vital roles in their communities and therefore should be rebuilt after national disasters. Churches are not like businesses and thus are less able to rebuild after national disasters. Churches routinely educate, provide food and clothes for the poor, transport the sick to hospitals, visit the sick in hospitals, allow community groups to use their facilities, operate as community centers, allow performing artists to perform, house libraries, etc. This bill is a wonderful acknowledgment that churches remain vital partners in the community. It also recognizes that the Constitution does not require a radical hostility to religion by the government.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

What Every Pastor Should Know About The Obama Administration’s HHS Mandate

Posted on February 7th, 2013 Religious Freedom | No Comments »

The recent battle over the Obama Administration’s HHS abortion pill mandate may seem confusing at times.  There are many lawsuits, with a great deal of legal technicalities being thrown around in the litigation.  So it may seem difficult to unravel exactly what is happening and what effect the mandate may have on your church, your church’s ministries, and the people in your congregation.

But one thing is certain; the battle over the abortion pill mandate is the premier religious liberty battle of our day.  When the Obama Administration enacted the mandate, it essentially declared war on the free exercise of religion.  It elevated sexual liberty over religious liberty.  And it crystallized the issue into stark terms.  Simply put, if the Obama Administration can force you to violate your religious freedom, then it can force anyone to do anything.

Pastors should be well-informed about this battle considering its impact on the religious freedom of churches, religious organizations, and religious business owners.  Alliance Defending Freedom is at the forefront of the litigation over the constitutionality of the abortion pill mandate and, based on our experience, here is what you need to know at this stage of the battle:

We Are Winning!

The vast majority of cases filed on behalf of for-profit businesses have resulted in injunctions against the abortion pill mandate.  For an up-to-date scorecard of the cases in litigation, click here.  It is important for you as a pastor to know this battle is winnable.  And not only is it winnable, Alliance Defending Freedom and our allies are in fact winning.

But the fact that we are winning should not breed complacency.  The Obama Administration has appealed in every case where we have obtained an injunction.  The battleground has shifted now from the federal district courts to the federal appellate courts.  There is reason for optimism, but we must temper our optimism with the realization that the battle is far from over.  Winning a skirmish does not equate to winning the war.

It is likely that  one or more of these cases will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.  There are simply too many of them percolating in the lower courts for the Supreme Court to ignore.

The “New Rule” is still unconstitutional

Last year, after several groups filed lawsuits against the abortion pill mandate, the Obama Administration announced a “compromise.”  It would enact a one-year “safe harbor” for nonprofit religious organizations and then begin the process of adopting a new rule that might exempt more religious organizations from the mandate.

The “safe harbor” did not apply to regular for-profit businesses where the owners seek to run their businesses according to their religious faith.  That’s why several for-profit businesses had no choice but to file lawsuits and seek injunctions.

After a year of thinking about it, the Obama Administration announced a proposed new rule for who can be exempt from the abortion pill mandate.  Here is how the new rule breaks down:

Churches:  Under the proposed new rule, churches remain exempt from the mandate as do conventions or associations of churches, integrated auxiliaries of churches, and religious orders.  An “integrated auxiliary of a church” is an organization affiliated with and predominately supported by a church.  An example of an integrated auxiliary of a church is a homeless shelter controlled and funded by a church.

Religious Organizations:  The proposed rule does not completely exempt religious nonprofit organizations.  It simply shifts the burden of providing contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs to the insurer selected by the religious nonprofit.  This is no compromise at all.  The Obama Administration claims the insurer will provide the coverage for free and there should be no conflict with the religious organization’s faith.  But this simply ignores reality.  The insurers will pass on that cost to the organizations paying for the insurance.  They won’t just provide coverage for these drugs out of the goodness of their hearts.  In the end, the religious organization will still be on the hook to pay for these abortion-inducing drugs in some way.  So the proposed rule does not protect religious freedom for religious nonprofit organizations.

For-Profit Businesses:  The proposed rule offers no exemption at all for any for-profit business.  This even includes businesses like Tyndale House Bible Publishers, which the Obama Administration strenuously argues is not religious enough to qualify for an exemption from the abortion pill mandate.  Business owners who seek to run their businesses in accordance with their religious faith have no exemption and no refuge from the mandate.

As a pastor, you need to be aware that the effect of the abortion pill mandate will fall most heavily on business owners in your church who employ more than 50 people.  They will have no choice but to either comply with the mandate or face crippling fines that may drive them from the marketplace.  Your church can, and should, come around these brave business owners and support them in the battle to preserve their religious freedom.

We must continue to fight this battle – and win!  Please stay informed about what is happening with the battle against the Obama Administration’s abortion pill mandate.  Visit our Obamacare resource page for up-to-date information to inform your congregation about what is happening.  Often the media does not report the facts correctly about the cases we are fighting.

And please pray for victory.  Pray for the courageous lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom and our allies who are fighting in court to preserve religious freedom – our first freedom.  And pray for the judges who will hear these cases that the Lord will direct their hearts and minds to preserve the right of individuals, organizations, and businesses to live their faith in the public square.

This battle is far from over.  But together, as our name says, we can be an Alliance Defending Freedom.  We’ll keep you updated as this important issue advances.

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Quarantining Churches as a Community Health Threat

Posted on February 4th, 2013 Equal Access | 3 Comments »

By Rory Gray, Alliance Defending Freedom Litigation Counsel

Churches have always served a key role in American society, not only as centers of worship but also as polling places, food pantries, concert venues, and general meeting places.  So it is hardly surprising that when the Elmbrook Community School District in Wisconsin lacked an adequate venue for its high school graduation ceremonies, it rented a local church.  Graduation moved back on campus once a building was completed that could comfortably accommodate every student’s guests.  But the District’s secular use of a church building upset the atheists who so often view religion as a kind of communicable disease that must be quarantined from public life.  And they filed a federal lawsuit to prohibit the District from renting a church, in the future, for any purpose.

Thankfully, the district court saw the atheists’ religious phobia for what it was and ruled that renting a church to obtain “an adequate, convenient, cost-effective graduation venue” did not violate the Establishment Clause.  On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago agreed, citing the lack of evidence that the District had “any religious purpose” in renting the church and noting the District’s clear desire “to make use only of the Church’s material amenities.” But, unfortunately, the fact that everyone acknowledged the District rented the church’s building simply for its large, air-conditioned auditorium was not enough for a majority of the Seventh Circuit’s judges sitting together en banc.

Contrary to what four judges had already found, seven out of ten Seventh Circuit judges sitting on the en banc Court concluded that the District violated the Constitution by failing to run away from the church’s “pervasively religious” facilities at full sprint.  Oddly emphasizing the church’s rather conventional religious symbols and decorations, the Court declared that churches are generally off limits, which means that schools must rent secular facilities no matter the inconvenience or cost.  For example, the Court noted that if all secular buildings burned to the ground in a natural disaster, the District’s rental of a church would pass muster.  Otherwise, the Court viewed exposing high school students to “pervasively religious” church buildings as simply too dangerous.  The Court’s fear was that students might voluntarily undertake religious activity inspired not by the District but by their friends.

The Seventh Circuit’s reasoning is deeply troubling because it supports the atheists’ view that religion is a dangerous force that must be isolated and contained—a view which has no basis in the Constitution.  Alliance Defending Freedom fights against such misconceptions on a daily basis and we filed a friend-of-the-court brief recently that urges the Supreme Court to take the Elmbrook case.  The brief explains that nothing in the Constitution requires government to treat churches like the leper colonies of the modern American state.  And it emphasizes the dangers the Seventh Circuit’s reasoning poses to religious freedom by requiring discrimination against not only churches but religious students as well.  Indeed, the Seventh Circuit viewed private religious conduct—protected by the Free Exercise Clause—as the primary justification for finding an Establishment Clause violation.

Your support is key in the legal battle ahead.  We ask that you pray for the Supreme Court, that the justices would grant review in the Elmbrook case, and for our attorneys, as they continue our legal efforts.  And we ask that you would also pray for a change of heart in the atheists:  that they would learn Christianity is not a plague that threatens humanity, but the cure by which God chose to save it.

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Chaplains Alliance: No Margin of Error for Military Chaplains

Posted on January 31st, 2013 Religious Freedom | No Comments »

Over on American Thinker, Ron Crews talks about how there is “No Margin of Error for Military Chaplains Dealing with Same-Sex Couples.”

Ron’s column looks at the fact that more and more, military chaplains have zero margin for error in matters touching on faith and sexuality. Read the entire article here.

Ron Crews is the executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, an organization of chaplain endorsers, the faith groups that provide chaplains for the U.S. military and other agencies needing chaplains.

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Roe v. Wade: Forever is Longer than Forty Years

In a recent blog post, Dr. Al Mohler recounted a conversation he had with a woman who spoke to him after he had addressed a large crowd, and asked him the question, “Why won’t the abortion issue just go away?”  As we reach the fortieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps that is a question that a lot of our fellow citizens ask.  Every year that passes seems to heighten the fact that the mounting statistics are literally and unalterably horrifying.  The death toll now surpasses 55 million babies aborted since the 1973 decision.  There is no varnishing the fact that we stand today in a country where there are millions less of us than there normally would be. In 2011, Planned Parenthood reported over 333,000 abortions.  That averages to one abortion every 94 seconds.  In the time it takes you to read this blog post, two or three babies have been killed by abortion.

So on this 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision are we at times tempted to echo the woman who questioned Dr. Mohler and wonder why this issue won’t just go away?  Do we grow weary in the battle at times?  In times like this, when we mark milestones in the abortion battle, it is good to step back and realize just why this issue will never go away for Christians and why America’s pastors must never stop proclaiming God’s truth about abortion.  Because no matter what society does or says, and no matter how the death toll mounts, God’s truth never changes and He hates abortion.

Psalm 119:160 says of God, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”  Isaiah 40:8 proclaims that “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”  The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:23 speaks of the “living and abiding word of God” and then echoes Isaiah that “the word of the Lord remains forever.”  Scripture proclaims that God’s Word stands forever.  Put another way, it never, ever, ever changes.  And when God says in Proverbs 6:16-17 that he hates hands that shed innocent blood, His hatred doesn’t somehow go away after we reach a threshold of innocent blood that has been spilled. No, God’s Word stands forever.  He will forever hate hands that shed innocent blood.

But we must also remember that our God forgives and heals.  The Psalmist declares that God “forgives all your iniquity.” In 1 Chronicles 16:34, David proclaimed that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.”  That’s also a message today’s pastors must proclaim.  Because for every one of the over 55 million babies that have been aborted since 1973, there also stands a woman broken by the pain and hurt of abortion who is in desperate need of a forgiveness and love that only God can extend and that He promises to provide to those who ask.

On this day that we mark forty years of abortion on demand, and mourn the loss of over 55 million of our fellow citizens, we must remember why this issue will never just “go away” until abortion is once again recognized as illegal and punishable as murder in our criminal laws.  It’s because God’s truth never changes.  His truth has not changed in forty years and will remain the same forever.

On this blog, we frequently talk about how biblical truth is under assault.  That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom was created, though.  Because we must protect the proclamation of God’s unchanging truth to a culture that doesn’t want to hear it.  If America’s churches and pastors are to remain faithful in this day, we must stand together for biblical truth no matter how our society tends to ignore it or try to change it.  Pastors must proclaim that God’s truth does not and will not change.  Abortion is just as wrong today as it was 40 years ago.  And it will be wrong forever.

And forever is a lot longer than forty years.

 

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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