Religious Freedom

Image via RNS/AU

After a quarter-century, the Rev. Barry Lynn is retiring as head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In court, in congressional hearings, and on cable television, Lynn has led the fight against school-sponsored prayer, religious symbols on public property, and any law that allows government to privilege people of faith.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Evan Vucci/Pool

Vice President Mike Pence — a onetime altar boy who became an evangelical Protestant — proclaimed President Donald Trump a faithful supporter of Catholic values at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, an event that sought to set aside any friction between the president and the pope.

“Let me promise all of you, this administration hears you. This president stands with you,” Pence said to the 1,300 gathered.

Ed Spivey Jr. 6-05-2017

SUPREME COURT Justice Samuel Alito recently gave a speech predicting challenging days ahead for people of the Christian faith, although he didn’t seem too concerned about people of other faiths, you know, the godless ones. “It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom,” he told a gathering of the Advocati Christi, a group of Catholic lawyers and judges which—and they will deny this—you just know is the secret society that chased Tom Hanks all over Rome in The Da Vinci Code. (They never caught him because he couldn’t be late to the set of his next movie. Secret Vatican sects may be powerful and nefarious, but they’re no match for Hollywood’s more unforgiving God of Staying on Schedule.)

Alito was referring to the current “onslaught” against the freedom of American Christians to practice bigotry and discrimination (italics mine; actually, so are the words), such as refusing to do business with gay people or provide comprehensive health care to women. As you may recall, giving employees access to contraception offended the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, one of the nation’s largest purveyors of arts and craft items—mainly high-end pipe cleaners and crepe paper that the Dollar Store doesn’t carry. (I’ve never shopped at Hobby Lobby, although I’m a frequent patron of the Dollar Store, mainly for food items past their freshness date. But with Twinkies it doesn’t matter.)

Image via RNS/Reuters/Carlo Allegri

The centerpiece of President Trump’s religious freedom agenda, and the carrot he often dangled in front of Christian leaders as he sought their support during the campaign, was a pledge to overturn a 1954 law that says houses of worship can lose their tax-exempt status if they engage in partisan campaigning.

But a new survey of evangelical leaders — mainly pastors whose flocks were crucial to Trump’s victory in November — shows that close to 90 percent of those asked opposed the idea of clergy endorsing politicians from the pulpit.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Religious leaders, including some who spoke at President Trump’s inauguration, are calling on Congress to protect foreign aid that helps the needy across the globe.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal calls for $25.6 billion in funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. That’s a decrease of $10.1 billion, or 28 percent, from the 2017 budget.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool

A day after his first speech to Congress, President Trump was still basking in unexpected praise from the public and some pundits, who saw in his delivery a man who finally came across as measured in tone and downright “presidential,” as some put it, even if his few policy prescriptions reiterated the hard line, nationalist agenda that propelled him to office.

But there is one key constituency that might not be as enamored with the address: social conservatives, whose support was arguably most critical to Trump’s election.

Image via RNS/Adelle M. Banks

The former U.S. religious freedom ambassador told a congressional subcommittee that leaked language of a proposed presidential executive order on religious liberty could cause “constitutional problems.”

“I think it raises very serious equal protection issues,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who recently ended his tenure at the U.S. State Department.

Image via RNS/U.S. State Department

Conservative Christians in particular cheered [Trump's] nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and his promised “fix” for the Johnson Amendment, which restricts pastors' ability to politick in the pulpit.

But, for the second time since his inauguration, Trump has decided to retain an Obama-era initiative to protect sexual minorities.

Image via RNS/Sally Morrow

Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, is known for his commitment to religious freedom and preventing government from discriminating against religious organizations and individuals.

If confirmed, the new justice could help sway a case that could be a landmark in American education, paving the way for public funds to go to private schools.

Outside the National Prayer Breakfast. Image via Sharon Stanley-Rea.

“Religious freedom has never been unfettered. It has always been the case that you are free to exercise your religion — as long as it’s not hurting anyone else,” Bishop Gene Robinson said. 

Image via Creative Commons/Dragan Tatic

As the only female Yazidi in the Iraqi Parliament, Dakhil fought tirelessly for international assistance to stop the violence, including sexual slavery, targeting her beleaguered people.

Now she has been awarded the Lantos Human Rights Prize in Washington, D.C. But she is unlikely to make the ceremony on Feb. 8, since President Donald Trump banned all travelers from Iraq.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Enrique De La Osa

Pwint Phyu Latt is a Muslim peace activist in Burma who sought to promote interfaith relations with Buddhists, the nation’s religious majority. She was sentenced this year to two years in prison and two more years of hard labor.

Gulmira Imin is a Uighur Muslim in China who led the 2009 Uighur protests against its communist government. She has been in prison ever since.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Mike Segar

As it is, white evangelicals made up a little more than a quarter of those who turned out to cast their ballots. And by winning 81 percent of their vote, Trump was assured the presidency.

Now, evangelicals are expecting much in return from a president-elect who did not mention God in his victory speech, who was “strongly” in favor of abortion rights until he was against them, who has said he does not believe in repentance, who has made lewd comments admitting to sexual assault.

Image via REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/RNS

Several American-based religious denominations remain defiant in the face of new laws that would ban them from proselytizing in Russia.

The so-called “Yarovaya laws” make it illegal to preach, proselytize, or hand out religious materials outside of specially designated places. The laws also give the Russian government wide scope to monitor and record electronic messages and phone calls.

Barry Hudock 6-29-2016
Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock

Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock

PROVIDING A definition of religious freedom is fairly easy: Every human person has a right to believe, to pray, to worship in community, and to practice her faith according to her conscience. And it’s just as easy to get Americans to agree that religious freedom is an important, even crucial, element of a healthy society. But ask what it means to respect this human right and where it’s being violated, and you quickly find yourself in the weeds of rancorous debate.

On the one hand, conservative Christians have raised religious freedom alarms in the U.S. Television personalities David and Jason Benham, for instance, cite such concerns in their objections to ordinances allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with the gender with which they identify; a National Review columnist wrote that such policies “would render religious liberty permanently subordinate to the interests and demands of LGBT activists.”

Does sharing a bathroom with a transgendered person infringe upon the consciences of those who consider transgender identity a threat? And even if it does, does the state’s role in protecting the rights and dignity of all citizens sharply relativize this concern? Are the questions perhaps more complex than our binary culture wars suggest?

Or consider: For five years, critics of the mandate of contraceptive coverage by employer health plans under the Affordable Care Act have insisted that the policy violates religious freedom. Several businesses and organizations—Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and more—have sued the federal government on the point. And despite its decades-long advocacy of universal health coverage, the U.S. bishops’ conference initiated an annual “Fortnight for Freedom” observance that even some allies find inappropriately partisan.

Some who gnash their teeth over these issues seem unconcerned about other offenses to religious freedom. They said little, for example, about state government efforts to interfere with Christian ministry to migrants and refugees. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence not only withdrew his state’s help to Syrian refugees trying to escape a historic humanitarian crisis, he also tried to convince the archdiocese of Indianapolis to cease its ministry to them.

Gerald Harris. Image via RNS

Religious freedom is a foundational tenet for Southern Baptists, but apparently one church official in Georgia didn’t get the memo, at least as it applies to Islam.

Now Gerald Harris is facing sharp criticism, but also the prospect of a Ramadan meal with local Muslims who have invited him so he can get to know them better.

the Web Editors 5-16-2016

The Supreme Court decided on May 16 to defer to lower courts any decision regarding the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate.

“A Muslim mosque cannot be subjected to a different land-use approval process than a Christian church simply because local protesters oppose the mosque,” reads the brief from almost 20 religious and civil rights groups.

Akhtar Ali 5-06-2016

Image via REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/RNS

India is rejecting a U.S. panel’s charges that the religious freedom of minorities in the world’s largest democracy is being violated with tacit support from elements in the ruling party.

By contrast, leaders of the country’s Christian and Muslim minorities welcomed the findings of the report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, released on May 2 in Washington.

Pages

Subscribe