freedom of religion

Image via RNS/Joel Kramer/Flickr, Creative Commons

All eyes should be on Justice Anthony Kennedy. At 81, Kennedy is the longest-serving, second oldest justice on the court and is a conservative — except when he’s not.

Kennedy has sided with the court’s more liberal justices on several landmark cases, as he did in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision that made same-sex marriage the law of the land. But he also sided with the conservative judges in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a ruling that the Christian-owned chain of craft stores could deny contraception coverage.

Image via RNS/Whitehouse.gov

More than half of Americans surveyed — 53 percent — believe undocumented persons have no constitutional rights when, in actuality, they do.

Image via stockfotoart/Shutterstock.com

Germany has no plans to introduce an "Islam law'"codifying the rights and obligations of Muslims, a government spokesman said on April 3, dismissing an idea floated by allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of federal elections in September.

Merkel, who will seek a fourth term in what is expected to be a close-fought ballot, has come under fire for opening Germany's doors to refugees, more than one million of whom — mostly Muslims — have entered the country over the past two years.

Sandi Villarreal 2-22-2017

ONE SPACE WHERE I find rest, amid the noise of living and working in Washington, D.C., sits directly in the heart of the hustle: the Newseum, dedicated to the defense of Amendment 1 to the U.S. Constitution.

It may be an odd choice, since it exhibits the front page of 60 newspapers each morning, each listing the harrowing headlines I’m trying to escape. But in this space, dedicated to education on our First Amendment freedoms, I find special solace.

Etched on a large window overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol are these words: “Freedom of Press Speech Religion.”

There is not much breathing room between those freedoms inherent to all Americans, nor between those listed separately: freedom of assembly and petition.

It’s a well-placed reminder about freedoms many Americans take for granted. In 2016, 39 percent of Americans could not name a single one of them. Fifty-four percent could name freedom of speech, but only 17 percent and 11 percent could name freedom of religion and freedom of the press, respectively.

When freedoms don’t “feel” threatened, it’s easy to take them for granted.

Enter 2017. Already this year, we’ve experienced attacks on the freedom of religion as evidenced by the surge in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks and the Trump administration’s failure to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement (a stark departure from the previous six administrations). We’ve seen lawyers spill pro bono hours in airports defending the freedom of religion by enforcing legal protections for international travelers in the face of what appeared to be a “religious test” for entering the country.

People of faith across the U.S. and across party lines rightly have been outraged at potential infringement of religious liberty under the Trump administration.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Kate Munsch

Despite President Trump’s threat of a “Muslim ban” during the 2016 campaign, Hadil Mansoor Al-Mowafak, a 20-year-old international affairs student at Stanford University, was taken aback when he banned travel from seven Muslim countries, including Yemen, where her husband lives.

“I didn’t think it was even possible,” Al-Mowafak said. “I thought he just used the Muslim ban during his campaign, and once he took power he’d face reality.”

Image via RNS/Reuters/Carlos Barria

President Donald Trump vowed to make good on a campaign promise to repeal the law that restricts political speech from the pulpit, speaking at his first National Prayer Breakfast as president.

“I will get rid of, totally destroy, the Johnson Amendment, and allow representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear,” he said on Feb. 2 to a gathering of 3,500 faith leaders, politicians, and other dignitaries from around the world, including King Abdullah of Jordan.

Photo via REUTERS / Edgar Su / RNS

Amos Yee waves as he leaves the State Courts after his trial in Singapore May 12, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Edgar Su / RNS

A teenage blogger from Singapore has been found guilty of insulting Christians and of distributing an obscene image of the country’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Amos Yee, 16, had faced three years in prison, but will be put on probation instead, the Associated Press reported.

He was released on a bail of 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,400).

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops was sued by a tenant of their Waumini Building in Nairobi. Via RNS.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops is facing a lawsuit over the cancellation of a rental contract for a restaurant operated by a Somali Muslim.

Al-Yusra Restaurant Ltd. had signed a six-year lease starting in 2013 to operate a restaurant in a section of Waumini House where the bishops’ conference is based. Baakai Maalim, a Somali Muslim, is a director for the company.

A lawyer for the bishops said the lease was signed without written consent and knowledge of the bishops.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, at the Reason Rally on March 24, 2012. RNS photo by Tyrone Turner.

This week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing sectarian prayers at public meetings dealt a body blow to atheist organizations.

That was the assessment of David Silverman, president of American Atheists, speaking Tuesday to a group of nonbelievers at Stanford University. He then described a scenario that may raise eyebrows among some atheists: working with religious groups to fight against the ruling.

“That’s what we have to do, not only organize the atheists, but the Satanists, the Scientologists,” he said. In a conversation before his talk, he added Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. “We as atheists have the responsibility to urge them and push them and get them in there to get their prayers” said at public meetings.

That’s a change for a man who has famously described religion as a “poison.” And it is emblematic, observers say, of the change that may result from the majority opinion in Greece v. Galloway, which found that prayers citing “the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ” are permissible before government business.

Other secularists are likewise convinced that now is the time for atheists to join forces with members of minority faiths.

Qasim Rashid 2-03-2014

Qasim Rashid is the author of "The Wrong Kind of Muslim." Photo courtesy of Qasim Rashid. Via RNS

Sentenced for professing his atheism, Alexander Aan was recently released after 18 months in an Indonesian prison.

Masood Ahmad has already served over two months in a Pakistani prison for reading the Quran as an Ahmadi Muslim.

Pastor Saeed Abedini languishes in an Iranian prison for preaching Christianity.

They are but a sliver of the ongoing persecution, including murders, of Ahmadi Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and atheists at the hands of extremists claiming Islam requires death for apostasy and blasphemy.

Dawn Cherie Araujo 8-02-2013

Photo by Dawn Araujo

Khaipi, a peace studies professor in Thailand and a Chin religious freedom activist

Tim Townsend 8-06-2012
Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. J. Norman Reid / Shutters

Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. J. Norman Reid / Shutterstock.com

Missourians will vote on Tuesday on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that supporters say would protect residents' right to pray in public. If a recent poll is any indication, it could pass by a mammoth margin.

Supporters say the so-called "right to pray" ballot measure — known as Amendment 2 — better defines Missourians' First Amendment rights and will help to protect the state's Christians, about 80 percent of the population, who they say are under siege in the public square.

Opponents, meanwhile, say that the religious protections Amendment 2 would offer are already guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, and that it will open the door to all manner of unintended and costly consequences including endless taxpayer-funded lawsuits.

the Web Editors 7-02-2012

Editor's Note: In celebration of July 4th, and with the hope that this item will be useful to religious communities and candidates during the election season, the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School has re-released this joint statement of current law on religious expression in American public life today (see below). It’s the perfect resource for kicking off informed and civil discussions of religion’s role in public life during this election season. 

As candidates and campaigns reach out to people of faith, and religious organizations join the fray over hot topics like the recognition of same-sex marriage in civil law and federal requirements regarding contraception coverage, Americans are once again asking questions about the rules governing religious expression in public life.

To provide Americans with some answers to these questions, a group of national Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian leaders from the evangelical, mainline and Catholic traditions joined with civil liberties leaders to draft “Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law.” The Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity coordinated the project.

“As the campaign cycle moves toward November elections, the statement provides helpful guidance for tax-exempt organizations about the IRS rules that apply to their political activities,” said Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs.  “It also helps voters understand how the First Amendment applies to the political activities of religious individuals and institutions,” Rogers explained. “The role of religion in public life has long been a source of controversy and litigation. We brought together a diverse group of experts on law and religion to clarify what current law has to say about these matters.”

QR Blog Editor 6-29-2012

Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today reports:

More than 60 churches that faced possible eviction Sunday from New York City public schools should have more room to breathe. The churches will be allowed to continue to meet in public schools, thanks to a permanent injunction issued today from a district court judge.

An ongoing conflict between religious organizations and the Department of Education kept churches in limbo over the right to keep using public school buildings for worship services. New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn blocked a vote to allow houses of worship access to school property. The resolution saw support from 31 of 51 council members, but the state legislative session ended this week, the Queens Chronicle reported.

Read the full report HERE.

Duane Shank 3-27-2012
Photo by Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Photo by Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

While I believe in the principle of church-state separation, there are times when it is taken too far. Today’s example is a food pantry in Seymour, IN.

the Web Editors 2-16-2012

LONDON — A British High Court justice has triggered dismay and anger across England and Wales with a recent decision that declares prayers at town hall meetings are against the law.

Justice Duncan Ouseley ruled late last week that local government councils were violating a 40-year-old law if they conducted prayers "as part of a formal local government meeting."

But the judge added that prayers could be allowed if they were held before the town hall meeting officially began, and if councilors were "not formally summoned to attend."

Timothy King 2-13-2012
War on religion? Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/yxkUUg.

War on religion? Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/yxkUUg.

I’m not a fan of calling things wars that aren’t really wars. As soon as something is labeled a “war”, whether it be the “culture wars” or now the “war on religion,” we severely limit the ways we can move forward and solutions available to us. EJ Dionne in his column today at the Washington Post puts it this way:  

Politicized culture wars are debilitating because they almost always require partisans to denigrate the moral legitimacy of their opponents, and sometimes to deny their very humanity. It’s often not enough to defeat a foe. Satisfaction only comes from an adversary’s humiliation.

One other thing about culture wars: One side typically has absolutely no understanding of what the other is trying to say.

Duane Shank 1-30-2012
Conscientious objectors rally in Germany. Image via Getty Images.

Peace activists support Iraq war veteran and now conscientious objector Agustin Aguayo. Photo by Getty Images.

One of the U.S. Constitution's difficult balances is found in the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

What happens when those two values conflict?

That is the issue with the controversy over whether religiously-affiliated organizations should be required to offer free coverage for contraception in health insurance plans made available to employees. Those opposed — most notably Catholic organizations — claim that this requirement would violate their freedom of conscience. Those who support it claim that exempting religiously-affiliated organizations would establish a religion over the rights of individuals.

Ashley Baxstrom 12-13-2011
Still from Rick Perry's ad "Strong."

Still from Rick Perry's ad "Strong."

Here’s the thing. There is no war on Christmas – one has never been declared, except by those proclaiming themselves its victims. There is no liberal attack on “our religious heritage” – whatever people like Perry and O’Reilly might subjectively perceive that to be. It’s history, so it’s not like it can be challenged to a duel. What we do have are instances where individuals and organizations – yes, including bastions of godless progressivism like the ACLU or, you know, atheists – protest against violations of the first amendment in cases where the government or publicly funded programs act in a way that appears to endorse one particular religion over another. What we do have are new perspectives on the role religion (and not just Christianity, because other religions exist in America too, along with not-religion) played in the history of our nation. That’s not an attack. That’s coming to an understanding, that’s developing the course forward for our nation, together. And even then, guess what, it’s still a focus ON RELIGION, as opposed to say the democratic principles that might be something else the country was built upon.

Rick Perry doesn’t need to tell us he’s not ashamed to be Christian. We know he’s Christian. It’s part of who he is and fine, Rick, whatever – be Christian. What we want to know is what will that mean for the rest of us if you happen to receive the GOP nomination or (self-disclosing wince) win the presidential election? Does it mean that you will declare yourself victor over the war on Christmas, institute nation-wide days of prayer and thanks to Lord Baby Jesus or mandate the building of popsicle-stick nativities in every public school cafeteria? Probably not. But does it mean that you’re going to favor Christianity, over Judaism or Islam or Atheism (doesn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion as well)?

Subscribe