Religious Freedom

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A Louisiana judge has ruled that a state law requiring clergy to report child abuse or other crimes learned in the confessional is unconstitutional because it infringes on religious liberty. At issue is a long-running case involving Rebecca Mayeaux, a 22-year-old who claims that when she was 14 she told the Rev. Jeff Bayhi, a Catholic priest, during confession that a church member was abusing her. Mayeaux claims Bayhi told her to “sweep it under the rug.”

Oliver Thomas 02-25-2016

Image via REUTERS/Carlos Barria/RNS

Some Christians are starting to clamor for President Obama to refrain from appointing a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Evangelical Ted Cruz has gone so far as to suggest that the next Supreme Court justice should be nominated by the next president (who he hopes will be (a) himself, or (b) at least a Republican). The senator has also extolled Justice Scalia as a champion of religious freedom and a model for the type of justice the Senate should confirm. That’s what scares me. They have it backwards, President Obama should act now and nominate someone with a deeper appreciation of religious freedom than Scalia showed in important cases.

Most Americans oppose religious exemptions to LGBT non-discrimination laws, according to a new survey. The report comes as a raft of bills before state legislatures would allow people to refuse service or accommodations to gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people based on their religious beliefs.

Image via Fredrick Nzwili/RNS

Led by charismatic preachers and self-proclaimed prophets, African churches are swelling with promises of miracle healings, signs, and wonders. But in recent months, governments across the continent are trying to rein in these churches.

Ryan Hammill 02-09-2016

Image via Joseph Olvera/Eliel Cruz

Students at Biola University and Oklahoma Baptist University assembled Feb. 9 in order to protest their colleges’ requests to be exempt from Title IX requirements that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  As many as 60 Christian schools have submitted similar requests since 2014, when the Justice Department announced that Title IX protections extended to transgender students.

Barack Obama 02-06-2016
President Obama visits the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque

President Barack Obama at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque on Feb. 3. Photo courtesy of the White House/Pete Souza
 

Our Founders knew that religious liberty is essential not only to protect religion, but because religion helps strengthen our nation. From our Revolution to the abolition of slavery, from women’s rights to civil rights, men and women of faith have often helped move our nation closer to our founding ideals. This progress is part of what makes us a beacon to the world.

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In an about-face that has surprised many of his allies, a prominent gay rights campaigner has criticized a court’s decision in Northern Ireland to charge a bakery with discrimination for refusing to ice a cake with a slogan in support of same-sex marriage. Peter Tatchell of Great Britain, a leading voice on LGBT issues, came to the defense of the Ashers Bakery in Belfast with a column published on Feb. 1 in the Guardian.

Saeed Abedini with his family. Image via American Center for Law and Justice/RNS

An Iranian-American pastor released by Iran last weekend is expected back in the U.S. after more than three years in prison there. Saeed Abedini, who since has been at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, is scheduled to arrive on American soil Jan. 21 evening, according to a Facebook post made Jan. 20 by his wife, Naghmeh Abedini. She described him in “very good condition.”

Image via thierry ehrmann/flickr.com

On Jan. 16, our nation will observe National Religious Freedom Day. This day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom back in 1786. As Jefferson’s statute proclaimed, religious freedom is among the “natural rights of mankind.” Yet to this day, billions of people abroad routinely are denied this liberty.

Ed Stetzer 12-30-2015

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Mike Huckabee, after her release from Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Ky., Sept. 8. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Chris Tilley

According to a recent poll by The Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, 82 percent said religious liberty protections were important for Christians, compared with around 60 percent who said the same for Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated.

Yet, religious freedom is not merely an important issue — it is our “first freedom.” What Americans, especially Christian Americans, must understand is this: Religious freedom for some is not religious freedom for long.

the Web Editors 11-19-2015

Indiana State Capitol. Image via Jimmy Emerson, DVM / flickr.com

In the legislation, the state’s schools and businesses would be allowed to write their own policies on the use of bathrooms or showers based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. They also could decide for themselves what dress code to impose on students and workers.

Under the bill, those rules wouldn’t count as discriminatory.

House and Senate Democrats have called for simpler solution, saying a fix could be had by adding four words and a comma: “sexual orientation, gender identity” to the Indiana’s civil rights law.

Street march protesting the killings in Bangladesh. Image via Ashikur Rahman / REUTERS / RNS

Right now, a contentious debate over religious freedom is tearing at the social fabric of a nation, and partisans seeking to take advantage of the uproar are fueling the fires of mistrust and division.

But I’m not talking about the U.S. and arguments over contraceptive mandates and same-sex marriage. (And I’m certainly not talking about red coffee cups!) This struggle for religious freedom is taking place in Bangladesh, and the “debate” is being waged not with words and laws, but with machetes and terror.

In the past eight months, five people have been hacked to death by Islamic extremists associated with terror groups such as Ansar Bangla and al-Qaida. Each victim was targeted for writing or publishing works that advocate for secular democracy and criticize religion and fundamentalism. Many other writers have been injured in these attacks.

Pastor Bob Roberts at the National Cathedral. Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

A majority of evangelical pastors consider Islam to be “spiritually evil,” according to one just-released poll, but on Oct. 23 an evangelical pastor and an imam took turns talking about their friendship and mutual respect.

Texas Pastor Bob Roberts and Virginia Imam Mohamed Magid joined dozens of other religious leaders in prayer at the Washington National Cathedral before signing a pledge to denounce religious bigotry and asking elected officials and presidential candidates to join them.

“I love Muslims as much as I love Christians,” said Pastor Bob Roberts, of Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, before leading a prayer at the “Beyond Tolerance” event.

“Jesus, when you get hold of us, there’s nobody we don’t love.”

Doug Stanglin 09-09-2015

Image via Carter County Detention Center, Ky./RNS

Kim Davis, the embattled Kentucky county clerk at the center of a dispute over gay marriage and religious liberty, is out of jail but “needs time to rest” and won’t return to work until Sept. 11 or Sept. 14, her lawyers said Sept. 9.

Liberty Counsel, the legal group representing Davis, said she plans to spend time with family after the six-day ordeal in the Carter County Detention Center.

The Rowan County clerk was jailed on Thursday for refusing to comply with a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While she was being held, her deputies complied with the order, which satisfied the court.

09-03-2015
Alex Staroseltsev / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Alex Staroseltsev / Shutterstock.com

A federal judge ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis into the custody of federal marshals Sept. 3 until she is ready to resume issuing marriage licenses.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning said fines were not enough to force her to comply with a previous order to provide the paperwork to all couples. Bunning said allowing her to defy the order would create a “ripple effect.”

“Her good-faith belief is simply not a viable defense,” he said.

“Oaths mean things.”

Julie Wolfe 09-02-2015

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A Georgia school district is investigating after video of a mass baptism was posted on YouTube.

The video, posted by First Baptist Villa Rica, was shot on school grounds just before football practice.

“We had the privilege of baptizing a bunch of football players and a coach on the field of Villa Rica High School! We did this right before practice! Take a look and see how God is STILL in our schools!” the caption with the video reads.

Chris Seiple 07-08-2015
REUTERS / Omar Sanadiki / RNS

An Assyrian woman attends a Mass on March 1, 2015, inside Ibrahim al-Khalil church in Jaramana, eastern Damascus, in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria. Photo via REUTERS / Omar Sanadiki / RNS

It would be nice to consider emigration as a realistic option. But it is not. I would suggest pundits spend that same time and money fighting for a clear and concrete objective, declaring and defending a safe haven on the Nineveh Plain for Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis.

Yes, there are some high-risk situations that demand emigration. But, in general, Western Christians should think hard about how not to be an accomplice to ISIS.

Photo via REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / RNS

People from South Sudan stand near a tent in Khartoum. Photo via REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / RNS

The Rev. Michael Yat and the Rev. Peter Yein Reith, both from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, have been charged with undermining the constitutional system and spying, offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment.

The clerics are charged with waging a war against the state and assault on religious belief.

Nate Pyle 05-13-2015
Furtseff / Shutterstock.com

Furtseff / Shutterstock.com

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount we find the famous words of Jesus telling his followers that they are the salt of the earth. But then he gives a warning. “If salt loses its saltiness it is good for nothing and will be thrown out and trampled by men.” Paul reiterates this idea 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that if we have the truth and are uber-spiritual but we don’t have love we will be like a clanging gong. An annoying, loud, obnoxious noise that no one wants to listen to.

This begs the question: Persecution or clanging gong? What if Christians aren’t being persecuted? What if our loss of influence in culture is because we lost our saltiness? What if people are trying to get us to be quiet because we have become a loud, obnoxious, noisy gong? What if the pushback, marginalization, and ridicule we experience is brought about because we have failed to love and, instead, we’ve treated the world with arrogance, insensitivity, and self-righteousness? What if we are reaping what we sowed?

Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

A man in the Central African Republic shows a bandaged arm after an attack in the violence. Photo via Nestor Aziagbia / RNS

Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.

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