freedom of religion

ACLJ: Blasphemy Laws For Me, But Not For Thee?

Yesterday, Miranda reported on the seemingly contradictory views of the American Center for Law and Justice’s European and Slavic affiliates when it comes to blasphemy laws. The ECLJ has been vocal in opposing blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, but the SCLJ supported passage of a new anti-blasphemy law in Russia. The law provides for fines, “correctional labor” and up to three years behind bars for “public actions expressing obvious disrespect toward society and committed to abuse the religious feelings of believers.” SCLJ’s co-chairman Vladimir Rehyakovsky expressed some reservations about the final form of the law, but said it was “very important” to have such a law in place.

So, where does the ACLJ stand on blasphemy laws?  On one hand, it is proud of its opposition in international forums like the United Nations to blasphemy laws that are used by Islamist governments to restrict religious expression.  In 2011, the ACLJ said the UN’s Human Rights Committee endorsed an ECLJ-backed position that “no right exists to protect the reputation of an ideology, rather human rights belongs to individuals.”

But more than a decade ago, in response to an “Ask Jay” question posted on the ACLJ’s website, the group’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said it was “an unfortunate situation” that states no longer have laws against blasphemy, something he blamed on “the ACLU and those who trumpet the First Amendment as a license to really degrade people.”  Sekulow bemoaned the fact that “religion lacks protection in the law.”

Joe from Rhode Island asks: In Black’s classic law dictionary, blasphemy is illegal. When did it become legal to mock a person’s faith in God?

Jay answers: Black’s is the standard of legal definitions that law students are given around the country and Black’s is still cited in Supreme Court decisions. Not only in English common law but also in most states in the USA, blasphemy was prohibited speech. Clearly, the ACLU and those who trumpet the First Amendment as a license to really degrade people have changed that and that’s an unfortunate situation. But you’re absolutely correct, Black’s Law Dictionary is right. There are many definitions like that in Black’s, but religion lacks protection in the law. Not only is religion seen as irrelevant, but religion is trivialized and even mocked. This behavior has become an accepted part of who we are as a people and in some cases the Supreme Court hasn’t been particularly helpful in that context. The composition of the Supreme Court is obviously something we’re always watching because we know that with the more conservative court obviously some of our values will be more protected. Things have changed drastically if you look at our history, and it’s not even old history. Our country is still very young, but things are very different since our founding. We’re continuing to hope here at the American Center for Law and Justice that history will continue to change in a way that protects the rights of religious people across America. This is what we’re working toward. Selection of Supreme Court Justices is critical in the interpretation of these kinds of cases.

So it appears that the ACLJ is ready to champion free speech when it comes to opposing blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, but supports restrictions on blasphemy in place where Christians are in the majority.  Perhaps that double standard is not much of a surprise, given that the ACLJ, which portrays itself as a champion of religious liberty, helped lead opposition to the construction of a Muslim community center in New York that critics inaccurately called the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

The ACLJ is a legal group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson and run by Jay Sekulow and his son Jordan in a manner that is very lucrative for the Sekulow family.

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12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics – A People For the American Way Foundation Report with a Foreword by Bill Moyers

Washington, DC – The proper role of religion in American politics has been the subject of vigorous – and sometimes toxic – debate for over two centuries. Today, in the midst of campaign-season claims about America’s founding as a “Christian nation” and hyperbolic rhetoric about religious persecution, People For the American Way Foundation calls for a more constructive conversation with a new report, 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, authored by PFAW Foundation senior fellow Peter Montgomery with a foreword by journalist Bill Moyers.

"12 Rules" takes on a number of current debates, including those over required contraception insurance coverage, marriage equality, and the role of religion in the 2012 presidential campaign. This edition builds on earlier releases of "12 Rules" in 1984 and 1994.

The full report can be found online here. 

“Religious liberty is at the heart of what it means to be an American, but it is also at the center of some of our fiercest debates,” said Peter Montgomery. “How do we balance the constitutional principles of free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state when they come into tension with each other? And how can people of faith bring their religious values into the public arena without turning religion into a political club? As our religious landscape becomes increasingly diverse, it is important that we grapple with these issues in ways that are more constructive than divisive. We hope these Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics will launch many constructive conversations around these topics.”

“Our political climate is being poisoned by inflammatory charges of anti-religious and anti-Christian persecution,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “We can look around the world to see what religious persecution looks like, and we think it’s wrong to cry wolf over political and policy disputes. We are strong advocates for First Amendment freedoms. But something can be legal without being wise. The principles in this report should be embraced by people of all religious and political beliefswho long for a more respectful and responsible debate in the public arena.”

This new edition of "12 Rules" will be launched at an event in Washington, DC featuring a discussion with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim American elected to Congress.

Read the full report, 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, here.  

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PFAW Foundation Invites Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to Debate Arts Censorship and Religious Freedom

People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan has invited Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to a public debate on arts censorship and religious liberty in light of the controversy over a new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

America as a 'Christian Nation' -- A Conversation with Experts on Religion, History, Law and the Constitution

One year before the 2012 election, the role of religion in our public life is already a hot topic in the presidential race. The idea that America is, or should be, a "Christian nation" is taught by Religious Right figures such as "historian" David Barton. What do "Christian Nation" advocates get wrong about American history and the role of religion in public life, and what are the implications of their policy demands? Join us for a conversation with scholars on religion, history and the Constitution.

PFAW Statement on Muslim Community Center Near Ground Zero

In response to controversy about whether to allow a Muslim community center to be built near Ground Zero in Manhattan, People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan said, "of course a Muslim community center should be allowed in lower Manhattan. This is not a close question."
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