Religious Freedom

the Web Editors 4-13-2016

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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.

Ryan Hammill 4-13-2016

Image via Victoria Pickering / flickr.com

In the case, various religious groups are suing the federal government over the HHS mandate, the requirement to provide contraception coverage in employees’ health insurance plans. There is currently an opt-out option, but the Little Sisters of the Poor, the co-plaintiffs, and their supporters do not believe that the opt-out is strong enough and thus that they are still complicit in providing contraception. They say, therefore, that the HHS mandate is a violation of their religious freedom.

Image via REUTERS/Chris Tilley/RNS

What does the Bible have in common with Fifty Shades of Grey or one of John Green’s best-selling young adult novels? For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bible made the list of the American Library Association’s 10 most frequently challenged books last year.

the Web Editors 4-05-2016

Gov. Phil Bryant. Image via U.S. Department of Agriculture / Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB 1523 — the so-called “religious freedom” bill — on April 5, reports WREG Memphis.

The new law prevents legal action being taken against individuals and organizations that deny service based on their religious beliefs.

Image via U.S. Army Capt. Simratpal Singh / The Sikh Coalition / RNS

A decorated veteran Sikh officer is the first to win an approval from the U.S. Army to continue on active duty while maintaining his religiously mandated beard and turban. The Army issued a decision March 31, concluding that to allow beards for medical reasons but ban them for religious reasons is a discriminatory bar to service for Sikh Americans, according to a statement from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, one of the law offices that argued his case.

Image via LifeWay Research

Most U.S. adults say religious liberty is declining in America and Christians face more intolerance than ever. But nearly 4 in 10 also say Christians “complain too much about how they are treated,” according to a new LifeWay Research survey.

Richard Wolf 3-30-2016

Image via Victoria Pickering / flickr.com

The Supreme Court is seeking a compromise that would let religious nonprofit groups avoid any involvement in offering insurance coverage for contraceptives while also ensuring that employees get the coverage.

Image via Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

More than 50 conservative Catholic activists and political leaders have come out in support of Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz in an effort to shore up Catholic backing for Cruz as an alternative to Donald Trump. Among them is a priest from South Carolina who may be skirting the edges of his own church’s policies against clerics becoming involved in politics.

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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 2-25-2016

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 2-09-2016

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 2-06-2016
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.

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