15 Jan

Why Religious Freedom Matters

As a New Year begins, America finds itself at a tipping point, with the stakes for religious freedom at an all-time high.  Many cases are working their way through the courts while some will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.  These cases involve prayer, military religious rights, faith-based business owners, and houses of worship.  Unfortunately, many cases don’t even make it to the court system since citizens will often capitulate to intimidation out of ignorance of their First Amendment protections, fear of job or societal repercussions, or legal costs  (though many law firms defend religious freedom pro-bono.)
 
       Examples of Student Religious Expression on trial:  
  At two different Long Island, NY, public schools students were made to turn their t-shirts inside out to hide the Bible verses on the shirts.
  A Florida agency banned two Christian schools from using a stadium speaker system to pray before a championship game, even though this was common practice. 
These 2 cases are each one step below the Supreme Court.
 
       Examples of Military Religious Rights on trial:
  A 33-year Air Force veteran, Oscar Rodriquez, was forcibly removed from a private retirement ceremony at a CA airbase because he planned to say the word “God” in his speech.
  Two high-ranking military officers, Col. Bohannon and Col. Madrid, are being punished for their religious views on marriage.
 
       Examples of Business Owners on trial:
  An OR family-owned bakery is being fined $135,000 for declining – on religious grounds – to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. The government says it also wants to “rehabilitate” their religious views.
  MN film makers, Angel & Carl Larsen, are facing large fines or 90 days in jail for declining to video a same-sex wedding.
 
       Examples of Houses of Worship on trial:
  A synagogue in Dallas, TX, is fighting for its existence against zoning regulations.
  An Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles, CA, was sued by animal rights activists trying to prevent a millennium-old religious ceremony (kosher chicken) from taking place in various synagogues.    
 
(CFFR, Students of Faith lessons, 2017; firstliberty.org, 12/28/17; ncregister.com, 6/22/12; thf_media, s3,amazonnews)
 
 “The liberty enjoyed by the People of these States, of worshiping Almighty God agreeable to their Consciences, is not only among the choicest of their Blessings, but also of their Rights.”  George Washington
08 Jan

Celebrate Religious Freedom Day – January 16, 2018

National Religious Freedom Day is observed on January 16 every year since 1993 to commemorate the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786.  This vital document became the basis for the Constitution’s First Amendment establishment clause, and led to the protection of freedom of religion for all Americans.  Every president writes an official Proclamation on this day.

 Why We Need Religious Freedom:
 “Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness,” said Founding Father, Samuel Adams in 1778.

An academic report from Princeton University argues that vigorously advancing religious freedom is in America’s national interests:
 ·         The basis for religious freedom is  awareness of the reality and dignity of the human person.  Since religion is a human impulse to know and relate to something bigger than one’s self and is a phenomenon found in all times and cultures, to interfere with living out religious experience, is to interfere with human fulfillment.
 ·         “When citizens are free to have an ultimate commitment to something more than human, something beyond the authorities of state and society, the power of the state is thereby limited.”
 ·         At the same time, religious freedom disciplines religious people to treat their non-coreligionists with respect.
 ·         Morally, religion is just not religion unless it is done freely.
 ·         Legally, democracies have recognized that – far from being a marginal special interest – religious freedom is a central human right.

 (ncregister.com, 2012; mormonnewsroom.org, 2/3/12; Dr. D. Dreisbach, 2/16/15)

 “I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world.  This is the end (purpose) of life.”       Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
01 Jan

Partial Victory for First Amendment Freedoms

A federal court judge ruled in mid-December that an Atlanta, GA, city policy requiring public employees to get permission to do other work outside their city employment, that led to the firing of Fire Chief Kevin Cochran in 2015, was unconstitutional.  The long-time fire chief had a distinguished career that included an appointment by Pres. Obama as the U.S. Fire Administrator.  Nevertheless, he was fired for authoring and self-publishing a book for his men’s Bible study that upholds the biblical view on sexuality.
 
“Atlanta can no longer require employees to get permission from the city for speech unrelated to work or punish them if they don’t,” said an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney.   “This win protects all city employees wanting to engage in ‘controversial’ speech – whether that be what the Bible has to say about marriage or what Charlie Brown and the Bible have to say about Christmas.”
 
However, the Atlanta city attorney is also declaring victory.  “We are pleased that Judge May ruled that the mayor acted lawfully and appropriately in terminating Mr. Cochran’s employment. … (This lawsuit) is an employment matter involving an executive  in charge of more than 1,100 firefighters and tasked to lead by example.”
 
For now, Cochran’s case will continue through the courts to determine if the chief gets his job back and receives some compensation.
 
Chief Cochran said, “It’s still unthinkable to me that the very faith and patriotism that inspired my professional achievements and drove me to treat all people with love and equity is what the government ultimately used to bring my dream career to an end.  All Americans are guaranteed the freedom of actually believing and thinking in such a way that does not cost them the consequences that I’ve experienced in this termination.”

(frc.org, 12/21/17; wabe.org, 12/20/17; christianpost.com, 12/21/17)
 
“We have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it.”  Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York
25 Dec

The True Meaning of “Separation of Church and State”

Our forefathers would have never accepted or permitted the restrictions on religion or conscience that are enacted today under the banner “Separation of Church and State,” since these restrictions are the exact opposite of the intent of Thomas Jefferson’s “separation …” phrase.  The intent of the founders was not to establish the government as a God-free zone, but to ensure that matters of religious conscience and practice was a government-free zone.
 
Yet, frequently today, crosses are ripped down in parks, prayer has been banished from schools, and there are lawsuits trying to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.  
 
How did this happen?  It seems that over the past half-century, when we weren’t paying close attention, atheist and freedom-from-religion groups challenged America’s founding principles in the public square, in schools and in the courts, thus succeeding in mutating Jefferson’s reassurance to the Danbury Baptist Church that government couldn’t interfere in their First Amendment Freedom of Religion rights.  President Jefferson wrote that the “free exercise” clause “built a wall of separation between Church and State.”
 
Our founders fought for a nation where, in the words of Pastor John Leland, all would be “equally free – Jews, Turks, Pagans, and Christians.”  They knew from history that an attack on anyone’s religious liberty would be destructive to everyone’s religious liberty; for where government, through power, can dictate, there is no liberty.
 
                 (christiananswers.netforbes.com, 7/9/11; wnd.com; KrisAnneHall, 6/26/13)
 
“God governs in the affairs of men … And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”       Benjamin Franklin
18 Dec

Taking “Christ” Out of “Christmas” on College Campuses

Under the guise of inclusivity, many colleges across the nation are promoting non-religious decorations, displays and celebrations when issuing their annual guidelines for Christmas.  They contend that public religious displays are inappropriate for Christmas – a holiday so-named because it celebrates the birth of Christ.  In their efforts “striving to make campuses as inclusive as possible in 2017” by banning Christmas displays and celebrations, these colleges are telling Christians their traditions are offensive.
 
*  The University of California, Irvine, encouraged a “focus on celebrating a special occasion, instead of a specific holiday” such as a “year-end celebration” or celebrate “seasonal themes such as fall, winter, or spring.”
 
*  The State University of New York at Brockport issued decorating guidelines.  “Keep decorations general and non-specific to any religion.  Create a winter theme with lights and color rather than religious icons …”  Brockport advised employees to “consider a grab bag instead of a ‘Secret Santa’ gift exchange.
 
*  Missouri State University barred “religious icons”  and recommended displaying snowmen, bells, flowers, and other nondescript items.
 
*  Life University in Georgia, Eastern Connecticut State University, and others, are  holding a holiday decorating contest that considers “inclusiveness, or how the decorations are respectful of all religious winter holidays.”
 
*  Many colleges are leaving off the word “Christmas” to describe annual tree lighting ceremonies.
 
       (nynews.com, 12/10/17; leadershipinstitute.org, 12/6/17; campusreform.org, 12/11/17)
 
“There were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem.  The ox and the donkey understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem.  And it is the same today.”    Thomas Merton, Catholic monk and author
11 Dec

The 12 Myths of Christmas (Part 2)

Myth:  Students cannot talk about their faith and the religious origins of Christmas in class assignments.
Fact:  Schools can’t refuse to allow, punish, or give a lower grade to a student who includes a religious viewpoint in a class assignment.  Far from “establishing religion,” that would be displaying an anti-religious bias, which is unconstitutional and infringing on the free speech of students.
 
Myth:  Teachers cannot display a “Christmas tree”  in the classroom.
Fact:   No court has ruled that “Christmas” is unconstitutional.  In fact, The Supreme Court has acknowledged the governments long-standing recognition of holidays with religious significance, such as Christmas. 
 
Myth:  School choirs and bands cannot use churches as venues, because of the “separation of church and state.”
Fact:   Voluntary performances at a church do not promote religion.  “Courts have unanimously allowed students to sing Christmas carols in school.  Nothing changes when they sing the same Christmas songs at a community festival instead,” said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
 
Myth:  Students cannot give their classmates gifts that reference the Christian origins of the holiday.
Fact:  The Supreme Court has never ruled that public schools must prohibit the distribution of religious Christmas messages.  For example, a H.S. that forbade a student from giving out candy canes to friends with a note that described the Christian legend, later granted the student permission when ADF informed the principal of this fact.    
 

 

“Our first real Christmas as a nation was the dark and freezing Christmas of 1776, when George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware.  They and Providence gave our nation its first Christmas gift – a victory that brought us closer to liberty, the condition in which God meant man to flourish.”  President Ronald Reagan,  1984
04 Dec

The 12 Myths of Christmas (Part 1)

Myth:  Public school students aren’t allowed to sing or play Christmas carols.
Fact: Students can sing and perform religious carols along with secular ones.  The purpose is to teach about our society’s cultural and religious heritage and allow students to perform a full range of music, poetry and drama.
 
Myth:  Teachers and students are banned from saying “Merry Christmas.”
Fact:  The Supreme  Court stated that teachers and students do not shed their right of free speech at the schoolhouse gate.  Saying a simple greeting does not violate the First Amendment Establishment Clause.
 
Myth:  Public schools cannot display religious Christmas symbols.
Fact:  A public school is free to display a Nativity scene among other forms of religious and secular seasonal expression with the purpose of depicting the origins of the holiday.
 
Myth:  Students cannot hand out invitations to a Christmas party held at their church.
Fact:  When students are allowed to pass out invitations to birthday parties and other events, the courts have ruled that First Amendment free speech rights are guaranteed to even young students.
 
 
News Alert:
The Little Sisters of the Poor are returning to court to defend themselves against lawsuits from Pennsylvania and California that seek to take away the nuns’  recently received conscience exemption from the Health and Human Services (HHS) rule.  In October, HHS had rolled back the Affordable Care Act’s federal mandate that employers must provide abortion-inducing drugs and contraception in their health insurance plans.               
 
 
27 Nov

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Pro-Life Free Speech Case

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a critical First Amendment challenge to a California law that forces life-affirming pregnancy centers to advertise/promote abortions.  Under threat of ruinous fines, the CA law requires pro-life pregnancy resource centers to post signs notifying patients where and how they can receive state taxpayer-funded abortions.  The law applies to hundreds of privately funded pregnancy centers and medical clinics.
 
“California’s threat … counts among the most flagrant violations of constitutional religious and free speech rights in the nation,” said pro-life NIFLA founder.
 
“Forcing anyone to provide free advertising for the abortion industry is unthinkable – especially when the government is doing the forcing,” said Alliance Defending Freedom.  “The state should protect freedom of speech and freedom from coerced speech.  Information about abortion is just about everywhere, so the government doesn’t need to punish pro-life centers for declining to advertise for the very act they can’t promote.”
 
“If you can’t force the American Lung Associate to promote cigarettes and tell people to buy them, you certainly can’t force pro-life organizations to direct people to taxpayer-subsidized abortions,” wrote Melanie Israel in the Daily Signal.
 
(dailysignal.com, 11/13/17; lifesitenews.com, 11/13/17; usatoday.com, 11/14/17)
 
 “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”   George Washington
20 Nov

Conscience Rights One Step Closer

ALERT!   Watch EWTN’s “Pro-Life Weekly”  coverage of Catholics for Freedom of Religion

http://bit.ly/2jsvyCe  the final 4 minutes of the show

 
The Departments of HHS, Treasury, and Labor, on Oct. 6, announced a Rule Protecting the Conscience Rights of All Americans that provides conscience protections to Americans who have a religious or moral objection to paying for health insurance that covers contraception/abortion services.   The government appears to admit that it violated the law when it tried to force religious ministries, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, to violate their faith.  Under the new rule, the objectionable Health & Human Services (HHS) mandate will remain in place for most employers and will now include an exemption for religious ministries.
 
However, the Little Sisters still need permanent court protection to finally end their years-long lawsuit and go back to serving the elderly poor.  Their case has been on hold ever since May, 2016, when the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower courts ruling against the Little Sisters, said the Little Sisters couldn’t be fined ($100/day per employee) and ordered the lower courts to find an accommodation acceptable to both parties. “Clearly, the Supreme Court understood the Sisters’ concern that the governments current scheme forces them to violate their religion,” said the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
 

In a related case, after years of litigation, on Oct. 11, the Department of Justice reached a settlement that marks relief for two similar ministries in relation to the HHS mandate.

“The last 3 years of litigation could have been avoided entirely if … administration had simply recognized that the First Amendment protects the rights of conscience of these religious ministries against an administration intent on coercing their obedience,” said First Liberty Institute.
 
 
13 Nov

Thanksgiving: The Religious Freedom Holiday

The Pilgrims who established the first Thanksgiving Day were in search of the freedom to practice their faith after being persecuted, arrested and fined for their form of Christianity.  After fleeing England, their beloved mother country, and a ten-year sojourn in Holland, these so-called “separatists” prayerfully decided to depart for America to find what the governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, called “freedom of religion for all men.”
 
There were 102 Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower who suffered the 67 days of rough sailing before they finally landed at Plymouth Bay in November, 1620.
 
After indescribable hardships, by March, 1621, less than a year after arriving, only 51 of the original 102 remained alive.  Fortunately, some Native Americans taught the Pilgrims  survival skills in this new land, and at the end of their first harvest, they decided to hold a feast of celebration and thanksgiving to God for their harvest, newfound friends, and freedom to worship as their hearts desired.
 
Now, almost 400 years later, let us reflect on the sacrifice of these brave souls who valued their freedom of religion above all security and comfort and have bequeathed to us this gift.  
 
Proclamation:  Thanksgiving Day 1789
“I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be … our sincere and humble thanks.”  President George Washington