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It’s seems almost daily we’re reminded of the relentless attack on religious freedom. But we must keep in mind that there are small, but meaningful victories occurring along the way, as well. Recently, a positive trend has developed in case law under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.  This positive trend recognizes and affirms important constitutionally protected freedoms for churches and para-church ministries, such as Christian schools or substance abuse programs.

A group of recent, seemingly disparate cases illustrate this encouraging theme in the law.  In one case, a Christian school prevailed against a teacher’s discrimination claim after she was not rehired.  In another, a student at a Michigan University was allowed to proceed with her claim against the University after being expelled from its counseling program because of her personal moral beliefs.  Finally, a church in New York City was told it will be allowed to rent a school building for now to hold worship services on Sundays. The common theme is that all of these wins were based (in whole or part) on a vibrant understanding of free exercise of religion protections.

These significantly different factual scenarios – a religious school’s right to hire and fire employees, a student’s right to live out her faith at a public university, and a church’s right to rent a school building – show how broadly free exercise protections extend. Courts appear to be receptive to extending the protections recognized by the First Amendment in ways the framers of the Constitution took for granted. As those in the religious liberty community know, the Free Exercise Clause has taken a beating in recent years.  But that trend seems to be reversing itself.

While space does not allow for a detailed analysis, we do want to point out a few common considerations that may position you, as a ministry leader, and your church to take advantage of this positive trend in the law. First, protections for religious exercise extend to churches and organizations that clearly explain and practice their religious beliefs. Courts will not always take for granted that an organization has a religious mission when it is not clearly and consistently expressed. Thus, churches that take proactive steps, such as updating their bylaws or statement of faith, gain an advantage under the Free Exercise Clause.  We have resources that will help you understand how best to update your bylaws and governing documents.

Second, churches and para-church ministries need to stand firm in their religious beliefs.  No church should ever be afraid to confront unrighteousness in the community or to stand in accordance with its religious beliefs when hiring or firing staff or ministers, or in any other exercise of its faith.  Churches should also have equal access to community benefits, such as the use of public facilities, and should not be afraid to press a Free Exercise claim when treated unfairly.

Third, churches and para-church ministries need to seek legal advice – and do so quickly – when faced with what appears to be religious discrimination or government intrusion into their religious beliefs or operational functions.  Contact ADF if you think your church or ministry is being unfairly targeted based on your religious belief or mission.

At ADF, we watch the legal horizon so you can shepherd your flock. It’s pleasing to report a ray of light up ahead that will aid the Church in flourishing in America.  When the Church flourishes, society benefits immensely. But when the Church is silenced, society suffers and declines correspondingly.  Please contact ADF if we can ever be of assistance.

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A lot of national attention has been drawn to the Proposition 5 vote on Tuesday, particularly due to the recent TV ads. This has raised many questions concerning freedom of speech and religious freedom among pastors and churches in Anchorage, that we at the Alliance Defense Fund would like to address.

All Americans are guaranteed the right to the free exercise of their religion, as well as their conscience.  Unfortunately, Proposition 5 threatens to strip these rights from the citizens of Anchorage.  Christians should not be forced to render unto Caesar that which belongs to God and be forced out of participation in society or the marketplace because of their deeply held religious beliefs.  And when God created us “male and female,” He created the two complementary and wonderful halves of humanity.  We order our society around the fact that we are “male and female” and demonstrate reverence for God’s creation in all aspects of our lives.  Proposition 5 stands for ideas that run completely contrary to these founding principles of our country.

I write to assure you that the Alliance Defense Fund will make every effort to ensure that Christians may speak freely and forcefully in the battle for religious liberty and to uphold humanity as we were created.

You should expect that individuals and groups that favor Proposition 5 will threaten churches with the loss of tax-exempt status.  The comments on this blog from March 28 demonstrate that fact.  This is an old scare tactic, designed to silence Christians. The truth is that federal tax law will allow a church to spend from a minimum of 5% up to 20% of their total resources on direct political lobbying for legislation (often called “issue advocacy”).  If you require legal advice on specific issues, or desire counsel before undertaking a particular project, please contact us.

The effort to stop churches from expressing their faith will succeed only if pastors succumb to fear and stand mute in the face of those threats. But pastors can (and should) exercise their faith and their First Amendment rights by speaking directly and forcefully in defense of the moral virtues which are foundational to any civilization.

If you are contacted by any government official or private activist group on such issues, please call our legal intake department at 1-800-835-5233 or fill out the “get legal help” link on ADF website. The Alliance Defense Fund attorneys will promptly review your situation and make every effort to defend your church’s legal rights to speak freely about this profoundly important issue. This is not mere rhetoric: we have litigated such issues many times, and are well versed in defending churches and Christians in the exercise of their first freedom, religious liberty.

May God bless you in this crucial battle for religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

Watch the full presentation about Prop 5 to Alaskan pastors by ADF attorney Austin R. Nimocks:

 

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I recently explained the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision affirming a church’s right to control whom it employs as a teacher in its religious school in a post you can read here. Unfortunately, the vital protection this case provides for religious freedom has largely been lost on the mainstream media. Instead, they’ve often focused on how this decision may affect teachers at religious schools. One AP article went so far as to assert that a teacher of Jewish Studies at a Jewish school should be seen as a “teacher whose subject is religion, not a religious teacher.” In the context of a religious school, this is completely at odds with the concept of religious freedom.

The Court of Appeals in the Hosanna-Tabor case made a similar argument (which was thankfully rejected by the Supreme Court). It opined that the teacher who sued the religious school wasn’t a minister because she spent six hours a day teaching secular subjects like math, social studies, and music.  Only an hour or so was spent on exclusively religious instruction. The fact that the teacher also lead weekly chapel services, taught a 30-minute religion class four days per week, lead prayer three times per day, and taught a morning devotional was considered to be largely irrelevant.  So the school was prohibited from firing the teacher, even though she violated church teachings regarding mediation of disputes among believers.

The appeals court (and the Associated Press) failed to recognize something even Christians sometimes forget – our biblical worldview and Christian principles affect all aspects of our lives.  That certainly includes how we teach our children all subjects – even those that don’t appear to be “religious” – such as music and social studies.  It even includes math, as demonstrated by the great mathematicians Sir Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes. And it certainly includes religious classes like Jewish Studies at a religious school that has as its purpose inculcating the religious theology and values of a particular religion.

Saying the Hosanna-Tabor case undermines the rights of teachers is like saying the desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education wrongly ignored the rights of teachers who wanted to only teach certain kids. The larger, more important, principle of elimination of racism – or protection of religious freedom in this case – is being missed. Thankfully, all nine Justices of the Supreme Court aren’t influenced by the misguided opinions of the Associated Press.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Redmond, Washington, reportedly took a stand against the Washington governor’s recent efforts to legalize same-sex “marriage,” stating:  ”As long as the Bible says it’s wrong, I’m going to fight against it like it’s the last thing I can do. It’s no different than any other sin. If someone walked around and said ‘We want to be a minority because we are divorcees,’ I would fight that just as much.” He believes that if the proponents of the new law succeed, it will profoundly restrict religious freedom, and he’s right.

Proponents of same-sex “marriage” have the ultimate goal of sexual choices being treated the same as race. In other words, they think criticizing someone for engaging in homosexual behavior should be viewed the same as criticizing someone for being Black. The religious freedom implications for this change in the law would be striking. For instance, Title VII protects religious organizations by allowing them to discriminate based on religion when it comes to hiring staff. This exemption makes sense because no one would argue a Catholic school should hire an Atheist to teach religion. But that religious exemption doesn’t apply to discrimination based on race. If the proponents of same-sex marriage are successful in elevating sexual orientation discrimination to the same level as race discrimination, religious organizations that teach biblical truth about sexuality may be forced to hire individuals who engage in homosexual behavior  for some leadership positions like teachers. (You can read more about how the homosexual legal agenda could affect religious freedom here and here.)

Pastor Hutcherson is to be commended for being willing to take a stand that may be politically incorrect, and the foresight to understand the homosexual agenda’s negative implications for religious freedom. We need more religious leaders like him.

 

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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.

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ADF Senior Counsel - Church Project

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