Religious Freedom

Julie Wolfe 09-02-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

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.

Photo via Heather Adams / RNS

Citizens rally at the Supreme Court after it sided with the owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Photo via Heather Adams / RNS

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on April 28 that could wind up legalizing gay marriage nationwide, dozens of Christian leaders have issued a call to civil authorities to preserve “the unique meaning of marriage in the law” — but also to “protect the rights of those with differing views of marriage.”

The open letter “to all in positions of public service,” released April 23, seems to reflect a growing recognition by same-sex marriage foes that they may be on the losing side of the legal battle to bar gay marriage and need to broaden their focus to securing protections for believers.

Gay marriage opponents are also losing the battle for the hearts and minds of their own flocks: Polls show that American believers, like the rest of the public, are growing much more accepting of same-sex relationships, or at least much less inclined to invest time or resources into waging the fight against legalizing gay marriage.

This week’s statement, “The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared Witness,” was signed by 35 religious leaders representing Catholic, evangelical, Pentecostal, Orthodox, and Mormon churches. The only non-Christian signatory was Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of Washington Area.

The leaders forcefully reiterate their shared belief that marriage is “the union of one man and one woman” and argue that apart from religious doctrines, the state “has a compelling interest in maintaining marriage” for the good of society and the “well-being of children.”

Ron Csillag 04-16-2015
Photo via Peregrine981 /  Wikimedia Commons / RNS

The Supreme Court of Canada building. Photo via Peregrine981 / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.

In a unanimous ruling April 15, Canada’s highest court ruled that the town of Saguenay can no longer publicly recite a Catholic prayer because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.

The case dates back to 2007, when a resident of Saguenay complained about public prayer at City Hall.

Just last year, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that legislative bodies such as city councils could begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion.

But the Canadian high court ruled that the country’s social mores have “given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.”

The court said a nondenominational prayer is still religious in nature and would exclude nonbelievers.

Greg Horton 04-15-2015
Photo courtesy of Adam Daniels / RNS

“Ahrimani Enlightenment,” by Adam Daniels, the church’s leader. Photo courtesy of Adam Daniels / RNS

Less than two weeks after a third-grade teacher in Duncan, Okla., distributed Gideon Bibles to her students, the Church of Ahriman, a Satanist church in Oklahoma City, has asked permission to distribute Satanist literature at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.

Adam Daniels, the church’s leader, said he wanted to give students a copy of Ahrimani Enlightenment, a primer and workbook normally given to new members of the church.

In a letter to the Duncan school district, some 80 miles south of Oklahoma City, Daniels assured administrators that his book is “no where (sic) near as graphic as the Christian Bible.”

Daniels said he has yet to hear back, but he believes equal access laws mean that his church has the right to distribute literature if other religious organizations are permitted to do so.

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

A sign is placed in the window of Bernadette’s Barbershop in Lafayette, Ind. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

The limiting of religious freedom is a perpetually contested question in American public life. Most recently, as states consider new laws and the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on same-sex marriage, gay rights supporters and traditionalist Christians appear to be on a collision course.

To make matters worse, whenever disputes between gay couples and conservative Christian wedding vendors arise, a well-funded professional grievance industry sends lawyers and media handlers out to convince the public that this is the great civil rights issue of our time.

As a new prevailing cultural consensus on homosexuality displaces a former one, it remains to be seen how the winners will treat the losers. From laws that impose punitive fines to rhetoric that places “religious liberty” in quotation marks so as to diminish it, the culture war’s apparent victors have not accorded religious freedom its due place of prominence in our public life.

The present tension between religious liberty and LGBT rights is unsustainable, but it is not insurmountable. Activists on both sides have been short on empathy for each other. Leaders have every incentive to portray their opponents as evil retrogrades hellbent on destroying society.

Photo via REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS

President Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former President George W. Bush. Photo via REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS

From Ava DuVernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grass-roots leaders, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history.

Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem of laws that purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate other people’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle from which the 14th Amendment was born — a struggle that played out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s statehouses today.

We cannot understand the new religious freedom law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

Rev. Dr. Guy Nave 04-08-2015
Deymos.HR / Shutterstock.com

Deymos.HR / Shutterstock.com

While reflecting upon and celebrating Easter, I did quite a bit of thinking about the controversies surrounding so-called “religious freedom” bills that have been popping up recently, most notably Indiana and Arkansas. In a recent interview on the Family Research Council radio program, “ Washington Watch with Tony Perkins," former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee discussed the backlash against these two pieces of legislation.

Huckabee asserted that gay-rights activists are seeking the eradication of Christian churches. According to Huckabee, “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel.”

Christianity has been and continues to be the dominant form of religious practice and expression in America. Often the rhetoric used by members of dominant groups insinuates that when people outside of their dominant group ask for equal rights and the opportunity to participate fully in American life, they are actually seeking to eradicate the existence of that dominant group.

Photo via REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

Business owner Elizabeth Ladd holds a sticker she plans to display outside her store. Photo via REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

A host of governors, CEOs, and church leaders call Indiana’s new religious freedom law a backdoor opening to anti-gay discrimination, but Americans appear more divided on whether a wedding-related business should have the right to turn away a gay customer.

The law, which critics say would allow owners of small businesses to invoke their faith to refuse service to LGBT customers, applies most apparently to wedding vendors — bakers, photographers, and florists, for example — who cite their faith in opposing same-sex marriage.

Where is the American public on this debate? It depends on how the question is asked.

A February Associated Press poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe a wedding-related business should have the right to refuse service to a gay couple on religious grounds, as opposed to nearly 4 in 10 Americans (39 percent) who said that religious exemption — which Indiana’s new law explicitly allows — is wrong.

the Web Editors 04-02-2015

1. At Least 10 Religious Groups Have Come Out Against Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Laws
"While substantial attention has been paid to the lawmakers, athletes, businesses, and celebrities who have challenged the new laws, less has been said about the steady flow of criticism from the exact group these RFRAs are ostensibly designed to protect: people of faith."

2. Stress and Hope in Tehran
On Thursday, the U.S. and Iran along with five world powers reached a preliminary deal that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and address sanctions imposed upon the country. The New York Times offers this glimpse into what those sanctions mean for ordinary Iranians.

3. Outcry Over RFRA Might Be a Fear of Christians
"The outcry isn’t about the law, it’s about us. It’s a fear that we will discriminate. And it is a fear based on a history that, whether we like it or not, is ours. We have, in no shortage of ways, broken relationships with the LGBTQ community. We have expelled our sons and daughters. We have protested them. We blamed them for the ills of society like a scapegoat. And no matter what we believe about same-sex marriage, that is wrong. Because of that, restoring relationship and trust with the LGBTQ community is on us."

4. Why I Won't Wear White on My Wedding Day
"As far as we have come, and as removed from these traditions’ origins as we may be, we are still attached to these remnants of a woman’s worth and identity being grounded in her sexual activity, importantly solely for the purposes of her pleasing a man."

Photo via REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

Organizers fire up a crowd to protest the law in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Nate Chute / RNS

Indiana Republican legislative leaders, under growing pressure from inside and outside the state, said April 2 that lawmakers had reached agreement to amend Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law to ensure it does not discriminate against gay and lesbian customers of Indiana businesses.

 

The proposal, rolled out at the Statehouse, would grant new protections for LGBT customers, employees and tenants.

“What was intended as a message of inclusion was interpreted as a message of exclusion, especially for the LGBT community,” Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma told reporters at the Statehouse.

“Nothing could have been further from the truth, but it was clear the perception had to be addressed.”

“Hoosiers value gays, straights, blacks, whites, religious and nonreligious,” Bosma said.

“We value each and every Hoosier.”

 

 

 

Nate Pyle 04-02-2015
by Cary Bass-Deschenes / Flickr.com

by Cary Bass-Deschenes / Flickr.com

Editor's Note: Since original publication of this piece, Indiana lawmakers have announced changes to the Indiana RFRA legislation that includes anti-discrimination language.  

Last week Indiana found itself at the center of the news cycle for all the wrong reasons. With Gov. Pence’s signing of the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, our nation once again found itself taking sides in the debate over LGBTQ rights.

Honestly, I’m torn over this issue. I understand that the Indiana bill was fashioned after the 1993 bill that was signed into federal law by Bill Clinton. I know that 19 other states have RFRA legislation. And, as a pastor, I support religious freedom, not just for Christians, but for Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and yes, even Westboro Baptists. I think most Americans support protecting individuals' rights to conscientiously practice their faith. Freedom of religion is one of the things that makes this country great, and that freedom is worth protecting. But this bill, supposedly enacted to protect those freedoms, has caused quite the stir. Even more interesting to me are the people I follow on social media who are much more interested and knowledgeable than me in politics who say Indiana’s RFRA won’t amount to significant change. This raises the very simple question, “Then why pass the bill?”

Jim Wallis 04-01-2015
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

For the past several days, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has found himself at the center of a political firestorm over his state’s adoption of a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
 
Many believe that Indiana’s law went too far, including many in the faith community, because it could have opened the door for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Pence has repeatedly denied this was the intent — and early Thursday morning, Indiana's Republican leaders announced a deal that they say would make it clear no one will "be able to discriminate against anyone at any time." Read the changes here. The new anti-discrimination language has already drawn a positive response from some of the original law’s critics.
 
Of course, the debate continues, as those on one side say the clarification doesn’t go far enough and those on the other that it was an unnecessary concession. We see the RFRA debate extending to other states, like Arkansas, where amid concerns from Wal-Mart and his own son, Gov. Asa Hutchinson last night said he wouldn’t sign the pending religious freedom legislation until it mirrors the federal law — taking a note from the Indiana dust-up.
 
The dangerous part of the original Indiana law was that by including businesses in RFRA protections, it went further than other state RFRA laws and could even give permission for discrimination.
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Jim Urquhart / RNS

Reflection of Salt Lake temple. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Jim Urquhart / RNS

Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called Jan. 27 for passage of laws granting statewide protections against housing and employment discrimination for gay and lesbian Utahns — as long as those measures safeguard religious freedom.

The move, one LGBT advocates have been pushing for years, provides a major boost for the prospects of of a state nondiscrimination statute. Such proposals have been bottled up in the legislature for years — despite the church’s historic endorsement of similar protections in Salt Lake City ordinances in 2009.

Utah’s predominant faith issued the plea for such measures at all levels of government during a rare news conference.

“We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches, and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment, and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants, and transportation — protections which are not available in many parts of the country,” said church apostle Dallin H. Oaks.

John Chalmers 01-27-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Ahmad Masood / RNS

U.S. President Barack Obama folds his hands in a traditional Indian greeting. Photo via REUTERS / Ahmad Masood / RNS

U.S. President Barack Obama weighed in on one of India’s most sensitive topics as he wound up a visit on Jan 27, making a plea for freedom of religion to be upheld in a country with a history of strife between Hindus and minorities.

Hours before boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia, Obama warned India not to stray from its constitutional commitment to allow people to freely “profess, practice, and propagate” religion.

“India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, as long as it is not splintered along any lines, and it is unified as one nation,” he said in a townhall address to mostly young Indians.

Obama’s speech, after three days in New Delhi aimed at cementing a strategic partnership, was widely interpreted as a message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose rise to power emboldened activists to declare India a nation of Hindus.

Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS

Pastor Clyde Reed of Good News Community Church, center, with his wife Ann. Photo via Lauren Markoe / RNS

The Supreme Court on Jan. 12 considered a tiny church’s curbside sign in a case that could raise the bar on government regulation of speech, and make it easier for houses of worship to advertise their services.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit advocacy group that represents Pastor Clyde Reed and his Good News Community Church, bills the case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, as a religious rights case. But their attorney mostly argued it on free speech grounds.

“The town code discriminates on its face by treating certain signs differently based solely on what they said,” attorney David A. Cortman told the justices. “The treatment we’re seeking is merely equal treatment under the First Amendment.”

The town of Gilbert, Ariz., outside Phoenix, allows political signs to be much larger and permits them to stay up much longer, Cortman said.

Photo via RNS

Rabbi David Saperstein preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002. Photo via RNS

The Senate has confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first non-Christian to hold the job.

Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement’s Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Obama in July and confirmed by a 62-35 vote on Dec. 12.

Saperstein takes a liberal bent on domestic issues, and all but one of the votes against him came from a Republican.

“Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”

Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where he will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

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