Religious Freedom

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 06-29-2016
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 05-16-2016

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 05-06-2016

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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.

Aysha Khan 05-03-2016

A Pakistani refugee cries as she leaves a detention center. Image via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/RNS

Religious freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” around the globe, according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve,” commission chairman Robert P. George said May 2.

“At worst, they have spiraled further downward.”

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Citing “religious liberty” as a reason for denying one class of citizens bathroom access, equal housing, or services is a human rights violation.

That’s the finding of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent, bipartisan agency that advises the president and Congress on civil rights matters. The commission issued a statement April 18 saying it “strongly condemns recent state laws passed, and proposals being considered, under the guise of so-called ‘religious liberty’ which target members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community for discrimination.”

The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Image via Head / Wikimedia Commons

A federal court has ruled that the Flying Spaghetti Monster, referred to as “His Flying Noodliness” by fans and followers, is not, alas, the object of a real religion. In a 16-page decision, the U.S. District Court of Nebraska ruled that Pastafarianism is satire, not sacred, and that anyone who thinks it is a religion has made an error “of basic reading comprehension.”

the Web Editors 04-13-2016

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In a rebuke to other southern state governments that have passed anti-discrimination laws in recent weeks, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order April 13 to protect LGBT rights in the workplace, reports The Hill. The executive order overturns former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s own executive order that permitted businesses and government agencies to refuse to serve gay and lesbian couples.

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