Religious Freedom

Phyllis Schlafly's Ludicrous Lie

Most RWW readers probably had little intention of reading Phyllis Schlafly’s latest column, entitled “Obama’s War on the First Amendment.” But just in case you were interested, we can spare you the time. Its ridiculous nature is encapsulated in one paragraph:

Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t want any expression of religious faith in any public place, including buildings or schools or events. He wants to redefine the First Amendment from “free exercise” to “freedom of worship,” which means you would only be able to go inside your church, shut and perhaps lock the doors, and say a prayer where no one else can hear you.

Actually that transparently false first sentence is enough. No expression of religious faith in any public space? Has Phyllis Schlafly ever listened to an Obama speech? Did she watch either of his inauguration ceremonies? His National Prayer Breakfast addresses?

It’s one thing to disagree with the Obama administration’s position requiring insurance coverage of contraception, and to take a position that private corporations have the right to exempt themselves from laws that company owners say violate their religious beliefs. It’s another to make the ludicrous leap that the administration is out to force all religious expression behind closed doors.

In her column, Schlafly says “Make no mistake; we are in a war for religious liberty.” Clearly, in Schlafly’s war, truth is already a casualty.

Right-Wing 'Religious Freedom' Narrative Taken To Its Logical Extreme With Anti-Gay, Anti-Evolution Push

During the controversy over Hobby Lobby’s refusal to provide its employees with contraception insurance coverage and the outrage over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s being denied his supposed constitutional right to appear on television, we witnessed conservative activists stretch the limits of the meaning of religious freedom.

As Justice Scalia put it in Employment Division v. Smith, such an exaggerated view of religious freedom serves “to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

The Religious Right has increasingly brought this religious freedom argument into debates over gay rights and the teaching of evolution.

In Missouri, Republican lawmakers contend that public school students should get an exemption from any class on evolution — the bedrock of modern biology — if they think learning about science amounts to an “infringement on people’s beliefs”:

Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, said forcing students to study the natural selection theories developed by Charles Darwin a century and a half ago can violate their religious faith.

“It’s an absolute infringement on people’s beliefs,” Brattin said.



“Even though what’s being taught is just as much faith and, you know, just as much pulled out of the air as, say, any religion,” he said.

“The bill is one of several anti-evolution proposals that have already appeared in statehouses across the country,” TPM notes. “The proposals would allow for a range of approaches to evolution, from presenting a ‘debate’ over evolution versus creationism to requiring that local school boards allow intelligent design to be included in biology courses.”

And GOP lawmakers in at least three states are now citing religious freedom to claim that anti-gay discrimination that violates civil rights laws should not face any legal consequences.

Of course, many proponents of Jim Crow cited religious reasons to support segregation.

Now there is a push in states including Tennessee, Idaho and Kansas to allow for legally protected discrimination. Mark Joseph Stern writes of the Kansas bill:

When passed, the new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations—movie theaters, restaurants—can turn away gay couples at the door. And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees. As I’ve noted before, anti-gay businesses might as well put out signs alerting gay people that their business isn’t welcome.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to barring all anti-discrimination lawsuits against private employers, the new law permits government employees to deny service to gays in the name of “religious liberty.” This is nothing new, but the sweep of Kansas’ statute is breathtaking. Any government employee is given explicit permission to discriminate against gay couples—not just county clerks and DMV employees, but literally anyone who works for the state of Kansas. If a gay couple calls the police, an officer may refuse to help them if interacting with a gay couple violates his religious principles. State hospitals can turn away gay couples at the door and deny them treatment with impunity. Gay couples can be banned from public parks, public pools, anything that operates under the aegis of the Kansas state government.

It gets worse. The law’s advocates claim that it applies only to gay couples—but there’s no clear limiting principle in the text of the bill that would keep it from applying to gay individuals as well. A catch-all clause allows businesses and bureaucrats to discriminate against gay people so long as this discrimination is somehow “related to, orrelated to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.” (Emphases mine.) This subtle loophole is really just a blank check to discriminate: As long as an individual believes that his service is somehow linked to a gay union of any form, he can legally refuse his services. And since anyone who denies gays service is completely shielded from any charges, no one will ever have to prove that their particular form of discrimination fell within the four corners of the law.

Rep. Southerland 'Shocked' And 'Insulted' By Obama Speech Supporting Religious Freedom

President Obama can do nothing right in the eyes of the GOP, it seems: Even the president’s National Prayer Breakfast speech defending religious freedom has stoked the ire of one Republican congressman.

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) told Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on Washington Watch last week that he was “stunned” and “shocked” by the president’s speech and was angry that Obama would “insult those who really believe” in the freedom of religion — like him.

Southerland argued that Obama is trying to “trivialize our deeply held beliefs by making statements that are so contrary to his actions and those of his administration.” “It’s the ultimate disrespect,” he said.

Celebrating Religious Freedom

January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s approval of Thomas Jefferson’s historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor to the religious liberty protections in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In this year’s Religious Freedom Day proclamation, President Barack Obama writes,

Today, America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric and reminds us that what binds us as one is not the tenets of our faiths, the colors of our skin, or the origins of our names. What makes us American is our adherence to shared ideals -- freedom, equality, justice, and our right as a people to set our own course.

America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose. In the years to come, my Administration will remain committed to promoting religious freedom, both at home and across the globe. We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.

As we observe this day, let us celebrate America's legacy of religious liberty, embrace diversity in our own communities, and resolve once more to advance religious freedom in our time.

Melissa Rogers, a widely respected advocate for religious liberty who currently serves as special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also published a reflection on Religious Freedom Day.

Rogers celebrates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which passed Congress by unanimous consent in 2000 with backing from a politically and religiously diverse coalition. RLUIPA (pronounced R-loopa) has helped Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, people who practice Native American traditional religions and others protect their ability to meet and worship, and has helped people in prisons, jails, mental institutions, and state-run nursing homes preserve their religious freedom.

The values embodied in RLUIPA are universal ideals.  Department of Justice attorneys have provided technical assistance on issues involving construction of places of worship to government officials in Spain, Indonesia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other countries wrestling with these same issues.  In 2012, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee won the right to move into its new mosque with the help of a RLUIPA suit brought by the Department of Justice. On the day of the court decision, the mosque’s Imam, Sheikh Ossama Bahloul, remarked that America’s dedication to religious freedom can serve as a model for others around the world, and added:   “I think this is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the freedom and liberty that, in fact, exist in America and to teach our young people to believe even more in the U.S. Constitution.”

People For the American Way and PFAW Foundation celebrate religious freedom by working to uphold the First Amendment’s twin pillars of religious liberty: the Establishment Clause, which mandates the separation of church and state and prevents government from playing religious favorites, and the Free Exercise Clause, which protects individuals’ right to worship and exercise their faith free from government interference.

Religious liberty is central to the American Way, but it has also become a rallying cry for Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who all too often portray criticism as persecution, and policy disagreement as tyranny. That poisons our political climate.

Like other constitutional guarantees, religious liberty is fundamental but not absolute, particularly when it comes into tension with other principles like equality under the law or protecting public health. Advocates for religious freedom frequently disagree about how to apply religious liberty principles in specific cases, and where courts should draw the lines in cases balancing competing interests.  These are complex and often very contentious issues. People For the American Way Foundation’s “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics” set out principles for bringing religion and religious values into the public arena in ways that are constructive rather than divisive. 

PFAW

AFA Lunch at VVS: Call for 'Aggressive' and 'Offensive' Church in Culture War

The American Family Association hosted a luncheon on Friday at the Values Voter Summit. The featured speaker, Rep. Randy Forbes, was a no-show, though the audience was assured his non-appearance had nothing to do with ads being run in his district urging him to stay away.  Whatever was keeping Forbes so busy that he couldn’t break away didn’t prevent Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) from making it to the VVS hotel to give some opening remarks. Aderholt praised the activists, saying that the only way for America to be saved is for the country not to forget its founding values.  In Forbes’ absence we also heard from Jerry Boykin, the retired general who is now a VP at the Family Research Council, and Lea Carawan, the director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.

Boykin was his blunt self, asserting, “we are in a culture war today like America has never been” and complaining that the problem was with the church in general and with “Christians in name only” in particular.  “The majority of the Christians in America today are dead, asleep,” he groused. “They are not involved in what’s going on in our culture. They’re not engaged in this culture war. They are not putting their faith into action.”  He said it was the church that brought about the Revolutionary War and the abolition of slavery through the Civil War.  When he looks at America today, he said, “There is no other solution to our ills than for the church to wake up, get off your dead behinds and get in this culture war that we’re involved in.”

Carawan picked up on Boykin’s message, saying that members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and affiliated members in state legislatures are disappointed that they aren’t getting more backup from churches.  For example, she said, members of the Maine legislature have had to do the organizing to get pastors involved in a push for a “religious liberty” bill.  Carawan said the caucus was committed to an “offensive strategy” – one example she gave was Pennsylvania legislation requiring the display of “In God We Trust” in all the state’s public schools. 

Carawan said the prayer caucus favors a neutral public square and religious liberty for all Americans, but in the next breath said “we are equally committed to advocate, aggressively engage the public for advocating that Judeo-Christian values be reflected in our laws and policy, because somebody’s values are going to be reflected in laws and policies.” The founding fathers, she said, fought “so that we could have Judeo-Christian values reflected in our government, laws, and policy.” The founders understood, she said, “that it is only Christianity, Judeo-Christian principles, that provides the only valid moral basis that will secure freedom for all Americans.”

Carawan warned that “the strategy of the secular progressive agenda is simple and dangerous:  use the limitless financial resources at their disposal and the power of government to overwhelm and bury religious freedom in the ash heap of history. And that’s their plan. Not on our watch. Not on our watch. We’ve relied on defending our freedom in the courts. But this isn’t sufficient. We have to go on the offensive. We have to be aggressive. We have to stand up. We have to be intentional and strategic.”

North Carolina Drops Official Religion Bill

After vocal opposition from People For the American Way and others, Speaker Thom Tillis of the North Carolina House announced yesterday that a resolution stating that North Carolina has the power to declare an official religion would not be brought to a vote.  In effect, this means that the resolution has been dropped. 

The bill claimed that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment does not apply to states.  But as People For the American Way President Michael Keegan noted in a statement on Wednesday,

“There’s no question that any attempt to establish an official state religion is blatantly unconstitutional. That’s true whether it’s North Carolina or the federal government.”

The proposal highlighted the extremes that Tea Party Republican lawmakers are willing to go to in order to push their dangerous ideology – even when it means ignoring core principles on which our nation was founded, such as religious liberty and the separation of church and state.  

UPDATE (4/8/13): North Carolina Representative Harry Warren, one of the sponsors of the resolution, has now publicly stated that he “regret[s] any embarrassment or concern that it has caused the citizens of Rowan County and North Carolina,” calling the resolution “poorly written.”  Warren’s explanation is, however, still problematic.  He says he wanted a resolution that county officials have the right, despite the Establishment Clause, to open their proceedings with specifically Christian prayers.  That, of course, flies against the Constitution. 
 

 

PFAW

PFAW: North Carolina Bill to Establish State Religion Threatens Bedrock American Values

Bill makes clear how radical tea party Republican lawmakers are when it comes to pushing their ideology on the rest of us.

Challenging the Right's Religious Liberty Claims

The ongoing campaign by the Religious Right and its conservative Catholic allies to redefine religious liberty in America – which has been covered extensively by PFAW and Right Wing Watch – is the focus of a new report released on Monday by Political Research Associates, a think tank that also monitors right-wing organizations. “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights,” was written by Jay Michaelson, who published a condensed version in the Daily Beast.

Michaelson’s report reviews the organizational players and the strategies they employ, among them: mixing fact and fiction; claiming that there is a war on religious liberty; and reversing the roles of victim and oppressor to portray as religious liberty “victims” people who claim a right to discriminate against others. He notes that Religious Right disinformation has had some success in shaping public opinion: in Minnesota last year a large plurality of marriage equality opponents believed that if marriage equality became the law, churches would be forced to solemnize same-sex marriages, even though there is universal agreement that the First Amendment guarantees that churches are free to choose which relationships to bless or not to bless.

The PRA report includes the following recommendations for social justice advocates:

1. Define and publicize the campaign to redefine religious liberty

2. Organize a unified response

3. Counter misinformation

4. Reclaim the religious liberty frame

5. Develop academic responses

6. Leverage religious communities

7. Ongoing research and monitoring

Religious liberty was also the topic of a forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., cosponsored by the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Education Project, Moment Magazine, and the Committee on Religious Liberty of the National Council of Churches. Moment, an independent Jewish Magazine, has also published a special Religious Freedom issue for March/April 2013.  At the conference, two large panels brought together a range of religious and secular voices to discuss and debate the meaning of religious liberty and the claims that liberty is under attack in the U.S. today.

Charles Haynes, the First Amendment expert who heads Newseum’s religious liberty committee, noted that the broad coalition that came together to back the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the 1990s is no longer.  Michael Lieberman, director of the Civil Rights Policy Planning Center for the Anti-Defamation League, suggested a reason: that the coalition had intended RFRA to be a shield against government restrictions on the free exercise of religion, but that conservative groups had turned RFRA into a spear used to attack anti-discrimination laws.

One central principle of PFAW’s Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics became clear: while people can agree on the broad principle that religious liberty protects the freedom to live in accord with one’s religious beliefs, that consensus breaks down quickly when deciding how law and policy should react when religious liberty comes into tension with other constitutional principles like equality under the law. Indeed, panelists strongly (but civilly) disagreed on to what extent organizations – whether religiously affiliated institutions or business corporations – should be able to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws or the HHS requirement for insurance coverage of contraception. 

Richard Foltin of the American Jewish Committee argued for a shades-of-gray, rather than a black-and-white approach, saying organizations should be viewed on a spectrum, with churches and sectarian institutions on one end and corporations at the other. Foltin said the AJC has submitted amicus briefs in favor of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, but also believes that there are significant religious liberty questions that courts will have to deal with as marriage equality is implemented.  (As noted at another point during the day, the states that now recognize marriage equality all have somewhat different religious exemptions.)

Michaelson proposes five tiers of organizations with differing levels of claims to religious liberty: churches/denominations; religious organizations; religiously affiliated organizations; religiously owned business, and religious individuals. The right-wing, he says, keeps trying to “move the sticks” from the first three groups to the latter two.  He notes that the Mormon Church owns extensive business interests, including shopping malls, and says that if business owners are allowed to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws and other regulations based on religious belief, many employees will have their rights and interests restricted. 

Author Wendy Kaminer argued that the religious liberty of institutions is over-protected rather than threatened, saying that she believes some claims for religious liberty are actually demands for religious power to impose their beliefs on others.  If business owners are allowed to claim a religious exemption from generally applicable civil rights laws, she asked, what would be the limiting principle to such claims? Could business owners cite religious beliefs to ignore child labor laws, or to refuse to hire married women?  Kaminer challenged what she called an emerging legal double standard: when it comes to taking government funds, advocates say religious organizations need a level playing field and should be treated like every other organization. But when it comes to free exercise claims, and groups like Catholic Charities say they shouldn’t be subject to generally applicable laws, they don’t want a level playing field but special privileges.

Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said that overblown rhetoric about threats to religious freedom is damaging to public understanding of religious liberty. She suggests that the first response to someone who talks about threats to religious liberty should be to ask them what specifically they are talking about.  For example, while people may be concerned when they hear about “an assault on religious liberty,” most Americans do not see a problem with requiring religiously affiliated institutions to abide by anti-discrimination laws or meet contraception requirements.

Legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen suggested that on church-state issues, the Supreme Court justices could be divided into three camps: religious supremacists, advocates of “religious neutrality,” and strict church-state separationists.  The separationists, he said, had their heyday in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that the courts have been moving more toward a “religious neutrality” approach, which he said in some cases is really a cover for the religious supremacists yearning for an openly religious state.  He said a landmark of the triumph of “neutrality” over separation was the 1995 Rosenberger case, in which the court said a public university could not deny funding from a religious publication because of its religious nature.  In the future, he said, Justices Breyer and Kagan may be willing to embrace a “religious neutrality” approach in hopes of winning votes to try to keep Robert and Kennedy from joining the Scalia-Thomas religious supremacists.

Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate and which has urged the Supreme Court to uphold Prop 8 and DOMA, portrayed religious liberty issues not as part of a culture war but as the necessity in a pluralistic society of recognizing that differences exist and allowing everyone the maximum ability to live according to their beliefs. He suggested that most church-state conflicts are blown out of proportion and can be resolved relatively easy with a willingness to work around individual religious liberty claims. Kim Colby of the Christian Legal Society endorsed that view, and noted that the Supreme Court will likely be deciding cases in the near future about what constitutes a “substantial burden” on a person’s religious beliefs and what might qualify as a “compelling state interest” that would justify that burden.

Michaelson challenged Rienzi’s portrayal, saying that “religious liberty” itself has become a code word for a new tactic in the culture war against LGBT equality and reproductive rights, and that it was wrong to pretend there would be no victim if a business owner were granted the right, for example, to ignore laws against anti-gay discrimination.  Pharmacies, he said, used to have lunch counters that were segregated. Would it have been OK to justify that discrimination by saying there was another lunch counter down the street, the argument used by advocates for allowing pharmacists to refuse to provide some drugs based on their religious beliefs?

The ADL’s Lieberman said that from his perspective as an advocate for minority religions these do not seem like small or easily resolved issues, and said there was a clear prospect that individual rights would not be safeguarded if, for example, majoritarian school prayer were permitted.  Hoda Elshishtawy, legislative and policy analyst at the Muslim Public Affairs Council also noted the reality of a major power differential between members of majority and minority religions.  Dan Mach, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, noted that there are widespread abuses in public schools, citing an example of a South Carolina public school that set aside a day explicitly intended to try to convert as many students as possible to Christianity.

Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance, who moderated the first panel, noted that even on the day the First Amendment was passed, not everyone agreed with it or agreed with what it meant. We’ve been working it out ever since then and can’t quit, he said.  Charles Haynes made a similar point in his closing remarks, noting that in spite of all the differences evident in how we apply First Amendment principles, the ability to continue having the conversation is a reminder of how well those principles have worked to protect religious liberty in an increasingly diverse nation.

Advocate for Church-State Separation to Lead White House Faith Office

Good news out of the White House today for advocates of religious liberty and church-state separation: President Obama has selected Melissa Rogers as the new director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She will also serve as a Special Assistant to the President.

Rogers is a widely respected scholar on religious freedom and an exceptionally thoughtful advocate for the position that the separation of church and state is a cornerstone of religious liberty. People For the American Way and PFAW Foundation have frequently worked in coalition with Rogers, particularly during her tenure as general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.  She is also a former director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School.

Rogers was the first chair of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and in 2011 she was appointed to a subgroup of the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group. Rogers steps into her new position at a time when the definition and scope of “religious liberty” are being strongly contested in the public arena, with conservative religious and legal groups using the term to challenge health care reform and push for broad exceptions to anti-discrimination laws.

In addition, Rogers will face ongoing questions about an issue left unaddressed during President Obama’s first term: the president’s campaign pledge to ensure that organizations using federal funds to carry out social services cannot discriminate with those funds in hiring staff.

“It’s hard to imagine anyone who could do a better job than Melissa Rogers at dealing with these challenges,” says People For’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker. “The American people need a thoughtful and convincing voice like Melissa’s to help us sort through the real religious liberty issues as well as the phony ones.”

PFAW

12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics

Religious liberty is at the heart of the American Way. In America, one’s standing as a citizen, member of the community, or candidate does not depend on a profession of faith.

Bilge from the In-box

Here’s a Friday treat: highlights from recent right-wing direct mail. In the past week or so, in addition to an invitation to this September’s Values Voter Summit:

Jerome Corsi, a rabidly Obama-hating birther and crazy-theory-promoter extraordinaire sent a VERY CONFIDENTIAL emergency request for money for his Freedom’s Defense Fund. Although Corsi told me that it’s “imperative that the media not know what Freedom’s Defense Fund has planned,” I’m going to let you in on the secret. Corsi says he’s going to “saturate the television with attacks aimed directly at Obama.” Corsi’s letter accuses Obama of “race-baiting” and “class warfare,” which isn’t surprising given that the president is, in Corsi’s words, “nothing more than a Socialist agitator in the mold of Sol Alinsky.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, Freedom’s Defense Fund raised and spent nearly $3 million in the 2010 election cycle. 

From the prolific folks at the American Family Association, a “declaration of spiritual emergency.” According to the AFA’s Tim Wildmon, the nation’s problems, including “the Obama administration’s blatant attempt to destroy religious freedom in this country” are evidence of what’s wrong with our nation: “As a people, we have divorced ourselves from God.”  Wildmon warns that “the ‘internal invader’ that threatens to destroy our nation is, in a word, secularism!” Wildmon’s letter is evidence of the increasingly close political alliance between the Religious Right and the Catholic Right in their joint effort to portray Obama as an enemy of religious liberty: it includes a quote from the pope himself complaining about new “cultural currents” in America “which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council contributes yet another screed warning that President Obama’s “war on religion” could “irreversibly transform America.” Perkins says of Obama: “His vision is to plant a dense forest of secularism (a non-Christian America) and socialism (a government-run America) that can never, ever be cut down or uprooted.”

Co-opting King: Why the Right Tries to Claim MLK

Today’s conservatives are claiming Dr. Martin Luther King’s moral authority as their own, positioning themselves as inheritors of his righteous struggle.

FRC Slams Obama 'Sin Requirement'

“Stop Obama’s Sin Requirement” screams the envelope of the latest direct mail letter from the Family Research Council. The letter inside takes the Religious Right’s attacks on the Obama to new depths of rhetorical ridiculousness: 
 
President Obama has decreed:
Christians must violate their consciences and sin…or else.
 
The letter is of course a continuation of the Religious Right’s campaign to portray rules requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives as an apocalyptic attack on religious freedom in America. And, the letter warns, that’s just the start. 
Washington is aggressively moving to silence the influence and freedom of Christians in every sphere of society. Churches and ministries, charities, Christian bookstores, radio and television stations, Christian businesses will face coercion—censorship—silencing—denial of licenses—even being shut down.
 
Why? Because the Obama Left has made it clear they have a goal: marginalize Christianity, make it irrelevant and powerless to influence morality, the role of the family, and the course of our nation. And as the role of the Church is diminished—expand the federal bureaucracy.
 
They want to replace the effective work of churches and charities and essentially replace them with government programs—more constly, less effective programs.
 
They want to get religion out of the equation and make America utterly unrecognizable as a nation founded upon Christian principles. There is an unprecedented ideology of hostility toward the Christian religion in Washington today.
 
….
One prominent church leader has said, “what war and disease cannot do to the congregation, the government of the United States will. It will shut them down.”
The call to arms over religious liberty is signed by Tony Perkins – the same Tony Perkins who recently stood with Rick Santorum and applauded his pastor who screamed that America was founded to be a Christian nation and anyone who doesn’t like it should “get out!”

Issa Stacks Hearing to Attack Contraception Compromise

Rep. Darrell Issa, who has followed through on his threat to turn his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform into an attack dog on the Obama administration, today held a one-sided hearing attacking as a threat to religious liberty the administration’s recent compromise on health care regulations requiring insurers to cover contraception.

Not present at the hearing was a representative of the Catholic Health Association, which has embraced the administration’s compromise. When asked about the CHA’s position, Bishop William Lori, head of the Catholic bishops’ new “religious liberty” task force, said archly that the CHA doesn’t speak for the church as a whole – the bishops do. But polls show that the bishops actually speak for a small minority of American Catholics on these issues.
 
Issa – who had no concerns about separation of church and state when he was pushing for federal funding for religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia – labeled his stacked hearing “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” It was striking for some of us who are accustomed to hearing conservative politicians and Religious Right figures denouncing the separation of church and state, and dismissing the letter in which Thomas Jefferson used the phrase, to hear Issa and his colleagues vigorously endorsing the concept – or at least the rhetoric – and invoking Jefferson.
 
Issa and fellow Republicans used the “religious liberty” frame as an excuse to prevent testimony from women affected by the lack of insurance coverage of contraceptives, which also serve as treatment for a variety of medical conditions.  Rep. Rosa DeLauro (one of several Catholic Democrats who attended the heargin) and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, forcefully raised the issue of women’s health, only to be told that access to health care was not the topic of the hearing. DeLauro drew a distinction between religious organizations as service providers – Catholic hospitals are not required to perform abortions, for example – and as employers. Nothing in the First Amendment, she said, says that religiously affiliated employers aren’t subject to same rules as every other employer. Republicans on the committee embraced the goalpost-moving standard staked out recently by the bishops, which is that not only should religiously affiliated organizations be exempt, but that any business owner should be able to cite religious beliefs as reason not to provide his employees with coverage.
 
The hearing made it clear that the GOP has decided to aggressively pursue their election year strategy of portraying Obama as an enemy of religious liberty.  There was no rhetorical “bridge too far” at this hearing – it was suggested that the Obama administration was a few keystrokes away from completely eliminating religious freedom, and that it was using government coercion to force churches to change their religious doctrine. Even Joseph Stalin was invoked. GOP members of Congress encouraged panelists to portray themselves as willing martyrs to religious liberty – and panelists complied, with some saying they would be willing to go to jail rather than side with government over God. 
 
It’s worth remembering with all the rhetoric about the end of freedom in America that the compromise plan would not require religious groups to provide or pay for coverage: insurance companies would contact employees directly, offer coverage to those who want it, and pick up the tab.
 
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, also Catholic, said he had had concerns with the original rules and believes the compromise addressed religious liberty concerns. He denounced Issa’s hearing as a “sham” and a “shameful exercise.”  He scoffed at the going-to-jail rhetoric and told panelists they were being used, wittingly or not, as part of an anti-Obama political agenda.  

Issa Stacks Hearing to Attack Contraception Compromise

Rep. Darrell Issa, who has followed through on his threat to turn his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform into an attack dog on the Obama administration, today held a one-sided hearing attacking as a threat to religious liberty the administration’s recent compromise on health care regulations requiring insurers to cover contraception.

Not present at the hearing was a representative of the Catholic Health Association, which has embraced the administration’s compromise. When asked about the CHA’s position, Bishop William Lori, head of the Catholic bishops’ new “religious liberty” task force, said archly that the CHA doesn’t speak for the church as a whole – the bishops do. But polls show that the bishops actually speak for a small minority of American Catholics on these issues.
 
Issa – who had no concerns about separation of church and state when he was pushing for federal funding for religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia – labeled his stacked hearing “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” It was striking for some of us who are accustomed to hearing conservative politicians and Religious Right figures denouncing the separation of church and state, and dismissing the letter in which Thomas Jefferson used the phrase, to hear Issa and his colleagues vigorously endorsing the concept – or at least the rhetoric – and invoking Jefferson.
 
Issa and fellow Republicans used the “religious liberty” frame as an excuse to prevent testimony from women affected by the lack of insurance coverage of contraceptives, which also serve as treatment for a variety of medical conditions.  Rep. Rosa DeLauro (one of several Catholic Democrats who attended the heargin) and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, forcefully raised the issue of women’s health, only to be told that access to health care was not the topic of the hearing. DeLauro drew a distinction between religious organizations as service providers – Catholic hospitals are not required to perform abortions, for example – and as employers. Nothing in the First Amendment, she said, says that religiously affiliated employers aren’t subject to same rules as every other employer. Republicans on the committee embraced the goalpost-moving standard staked out recently by the bishops, which is that not only should religiously affiliated organizations be exempt, but that any business owner should be able to cite religious beliefs as reason not to provide his employees with coverage.
 
The hearing made it clear that the GOP has decided to aggressively pursue their election year strategy of portraying Obama as an enemy of religious liberty.  There was no rhetorical “bridge too far” at this hearing – it was suggested that the Obama administration was a few keystrokes away from completely eliminating religious freedom, and that it was using government coercion to force churches to change their religious doctrine. Even Joseph Stalin was invoked. GOP members of Congress encouraged panelists to portray themselves as willing martyrs to religious liberty – and panelists complied, with some saying they would be willing to go to jail rather than side with government over God. 
 
It’s worth remembering with all the rhetoric about the end of freedom in America that the compromise plan would not require religious groups to provide or pay for coverage: insurance companies would contact employees directly, offer coverage to those who want it, and pick up the tab.
 
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, also Catholic, said he had had concerns with the original rules and believes the compromise addressed religious liberty concerns. He denounced Issa’s hearing as a “sham” and a “shameful exercise.”  He scoffed at the going-to-jail rhetoric and told panelists they were being used, wittingly or not, as part of an anti-Obama political agenda.  

FRC: Obama Out to 'Destroy' Religious Liberty, America Itself

Religious Right leaders have long relied on bogus claims of anti-Christian persecution to energize their supporters – and they’ve cranked up the volume on those claims since Barack Obama’s election. But even by those amped-up standards, the latest direct mail piece from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is a roid-rage rant against the godless "forces of darkness" -- that would be the Obama administration -- who "seek to destroy" the country."
This year promises to be one of challenges for Christians as the Obama administration continues to destroy religious freedom in America.
The “substance” of the letter focuses on a recent episode in which a poorly worded Navy memo – meant to protect wounded servicemembers from unwanted proselytizing while recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center – seemed to ban even friends and family members from bringing a Bible to a visiting soldier. When controversy predictably erupted, the Department of the Navy withdrew the memo for re-writing so that its language would better match its intent. 
 
FRC, of course, did not see this as a problem of lousy editing, but as evidence of a “blatant attack on religion” by part of “President Obama’s secular army.”  During the December brouhaha, Perkins said the episode “speaks to the effectiveness of the President's three-year war on Christianity. Apparently, this administration will do whatever it takes to wipe faith off the military's map.” 
 
It’s not just the military, of course. FRC's new letter says the sinister Bible-ban plan was “part of a broader agenda to push God out of American life in favor of a godless, secular worldview and global community.”
The first step in the fulfillment of this radical utopian dream is silencing Christians like you. After all, it is we Christians who are at the heart of the resistance to the Obama agenda.
Perkins is just warming up. He warns that the Obama administration is counting on the excitement of the election year to distract people from its “radical anti-Christian agenda.”  Perkins says “I am certain that the attack on religious freedom, primarily Christianity, is only going to intensify this year.” 
 
But don’t worry. “Despite the forces of darkness mounted against us, I am confident we can reclaim our country from those who seek to destroy it.” Of course, that’s only if you, dear FRC contributor, aren’t too comfortable and lazy to open your wallets: 
I know for a fact that those who want America to be a godless nation are counting on Christians to retreat to the safety of our own communities and surrender the broader culture to them.
 
They are confident that Christians won’t have the courage, or motivation, to defend their faith. They think we are too comfortable and lazy.
 
Don’t play into their hands….As you contemplate the new year that lies before us, please join with FRC to help reclaim our culture for Christ.

Chuck Colson's Latest Pathetic Claim that LGBT Rights is Undermining Religious Freedom

Today on his radio bulletin Breakpoint, Manhattan Declaration co-author Chuck Colson claimed that the Obama administration has abandoned freedom of religion in order to advance LGBT rights. While attacking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on LGBT rights abroad as “disastrous foreign policy,” Colson claimed that “in one fell swoop, she changed our God-given right to freedom of religion, a public act, to a much more restricted ‘freedom of worship,’ a private act, which any Chinese official could go along with,” while placing the “‘right to love in the way they choose’ as a fundamental human right.”

Of course, this argument that the mere use of the phrase “freedom of worship” has negated the freedom of religion ignores Secretary Clinton’s speeches on the freedom of religion, and as Kyle pointed out earlier, even former President George W. Bush frequently talked about the “freedom of worship.” Bush used the phrase four times in a 2008 proclamation, which if issued by Clinton or President Obama would surely have created uproar from the Religious Right.

But never mind all that, because for Colson, whipping-up anti-gay paranoia is far more important than the facts:

It started as a drip, drip, drip. Then the flow increased, and now it’s a gusher: The Obama administration has decided to promote and emphasize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered rights—and it is doing so at the expense of everyone’s God-given freedom of religion. Those are tough words, but regrettably, true words.

In December 9, 2009 in a major address entitled, “Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century,” Secretary of State Clinton said people “must be free to worship, associate, and to love in the way that they choose.” Did you catch that? In one sentence, little noticed at the time, Mrs. Clinton showed the Administration’s true priorities. In one fell swoop, she changed our God-given right to freedom of religion, a public act, to a much more restricted “freedom of worship,” a private act, which any Chinese official could go along with. And at the same time, Mrs. Clinton, speaking for the administration, elevated the quote “right to love in the way they choose” as a fundamental human right.

Lest you think I’m overreacting to an isolated statement, the intervening years have amply borne out my concerns. Freedom of worship has been substituted for freedom of religion in speech after speech by administration officials. Just last month, the Secretary told a gathering of diplomats that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” She also said the “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.” As I mentioned before on BreakPoint, this is a disastrous foreign policy. African nations are already up in arms, and it certainly isn’t going to help us with Muslim nations, who view U.S. advocacy for homosexuality as proof of Western decadence.

Not to be outdone, President Obama told a pro-gay-rights group, “Every single American—gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—every single American deserves to be treated equally before the law.” Does that include marriage? Well, the President’s secretary for Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, has just said that he “absolutely” supports same-sex marriage. The Administration has already refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. And before the EEOC, officials have said in a contest “between religious liberty and sexual liberty,” sexual liberty triumphs.

Can you see where all this is headed?

In New Ad, Perry Attacks Gays, “Obama’s War on Religion"

Rick Perry is out with a new TV spot that uses a seasonal “War on Christmas” theme to attack gays serving openly in the military and accuse President Obama of waging a “war on religion.”

Just last week, Perry released an ad assuring us that he’s “not ashamed of his faith” even though, he claims, “some liberals say that faith is a sign of weakness.” Oddly, we had never assumed that Perry was at all ashamed of his faith.

Openly attacking gay people seems to be something of a new strategy for Perry. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Obama administration would be using foreign aid to work toward LGBT rights around the world, noting that in many countries people are routinely beaten, jailed and even killed just for being gay. In response, Perry lashed out with a statement accusing the administration of “promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable.”
 

Wendy Gonaver's Fight for Free Speech and Religious Liberty

When Wendy Gonaver was fired for standing up for her religious beliefs, she took action.

People For Delivers 11,000 Petitions To Cal State Chancellor

People For the American Way Foundation delivered more than 11,000 petitions to California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed. The petitions call for the university system to adopt a policy that accommodates employees who have religious or other objections to the state's "loyalty oath" by allowing them to sign the oath and attach an explanatory statement, the very same policy of the University of California.

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