Blog

16 Oct

Conscience Rights Protected with HHS Mandate Roll-back

On Oct. 6, the president issued a new rule replacing the coercive HHS (Health & Human Services) mandate that had required all employers, including religious charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor, to provide contraceptives, abortion inducing drugs and sterilization, which clearly denied their deeply held religious beliefs.

In 2012 when this mandate (not a law) was issued by the HHS secretary, over 100 leaders of many different religions were critical of the mandate. They understood that such an imposition by government was destructive of religious liberty for all. They stated that, “The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining – or casting aside – religious doctrine. This should trouble every American.”

The new ruling states, “entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing such services (contraception, abortion drugs, sterilization) would no longer be required to do so.” These same protections apply to “organizations and small businesses that have objections on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief.” With this action, Americans no longer have to prove that they deserve their religious liberty. Now, any action by the federal government that would “substantially burden religious freedom” is held to an “exceptionally demanding standard.”

(hhs.gov, 10/6/17; Attorney General’s Memorandum on Religious Liberty)

Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 “does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.”
09 Oct

Court Rules Against Football Coach Silent Prayer

In August, a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, struck down the appeal of Washington State H.S. football coach, Joe Kennedy, who was fired for taking-a-knee on the 50-yard line after a game, bowing his head to silently thank God for a good game, and 30 seconds later – leave.
 
Judge Milan Smith wrote, “By kneeling and praying on the 50-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, Kennedy was sending a message about what he values as a coach, what the District considers appropriate behavior, and what students should believe, or how they should behave.”
 
Even though students were not required to pray with him, in 2015 the Bremerton School District issued a directive that forbade Kennedy from exercising his faith in any way that would be visible to students.  The directive included anything from praying to wearing a religious icon.
 
“Think about where that leads,” said First Liberty counsel, Jeremy Dys.  “That means the Muslim teacher could not wear her hijab, the Jewish teacher couldn’t wear his yarmulka, and the Catholic teacher couldn’t wear her crucifix.”
 
“Banning all coaches from praying individually in public just because they can be seen is wrong,” said First Liberty President Shackelford. “This is not the America contemplated by our Constitution.”

 (dailycaller.com,8/23/17; latimes.com, 8/23/17; breakingchristiannews.com, 8/24/17)
 
“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.”     Marcus Cicero, circa 100 BC 
02 Oct

Churches Denied FEMA Disaster Relief in Texas

Three TX churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for access to disaster relief money that churches are denied but nonreligious nonprofits are able to get.  FEMA “categorically excludes houses of worship from equal access to disaster relief grants because of their religious status,” said the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty who is asking the court to declare FEMA’s church exclusion policy unconstitutional.
 
FEMA used hundreds of churches as shelters, medical centers and distribution centers after the Hurricane.  “But their policy has made those same churches ineligible for assistance because their primary use is, by nature, religious,” Becket counsel wrote.  “Excluding churches and houses of worship from FEMA disaster relief … risks the federal government violating the constitutional rights of those who are playing an instrumental role in getting Texas back on their feet.”  “This is a time of crisis for Houston,” Becket said.  “Churches are some of the helpers. Yet they are denied the same relief other nonprofits are getting from FEMA.”
 
Museums and Zoos are eligible for relief but churches are not.  “If the Churches were to cease all religious activity in their houses of worship, those buildings would become assistance-eligible,” the lawsuit read.  “The Churches are not seeking special treatment; they are seeking a fair shake.”
 
 
In a June, 2017 Supreme Court decision that a church in Missouri could get government money to resurface its playground,  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote,
 
“The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.”
25 Sep

Supreme Court to Hear Baker’s Religious Freedom Case

The Supreme Court will rule next year on whether government may coerce Christians, Jews, and Muslims to use their creative gifts to celebrate same-sex marriage.   It will  review the case of baker, Jack Phillips, of Masterpiece Bakeshop, CO, who cites his Christian faith in declining to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding.

“I will serve anyone who comes in,” Phillips said.  However, designing a same-sex wedding cake would cross a line for him.  “I shouldn’t be forced to create a cake that goes against my faith.”

Alliance Defending Freedom are asking the justices to rule on whether Colorado’s public accommodations law, forcing Phillips to use his artistic skills in a way that violates his conscience and sincere Christian beliefs about marriage, violates the free speech or free exercise of religion clauses of the Constitution’s First Amendment.

“Tolerance should be a two-way street,” said an ADF attorney.  “The First Amendment protects Jack’s right to create artistic expression that is consistent with his core convictions.”

In a totally opposite ruling than for the Phillip’s case, in 2015 the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled that another CO baker did not discriminate against a Christian by refusing to make two cakes in the shape of a bible with scripture passages and imagery that the baker interpreted to be anti-gay.   

(latimes.com, 6/26/17, 9/12/17 ; dailysignal.com, 6/26/17; thedenverchannel.com, 4/3/15;

nationalreview.com, 8/14/15)

“The spirit of our age is profoundly secular.  And secularism accepts religion – if it accepts it at all – only on its own terms.  Under this view, religion is subordinated to the political interests of the secular state and it is precisely this subordination of religion to the state that the First Amendment seeks to prevent.”  Pope Benedict XVI