Religious Freedom

new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are at risk in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Catholics seem to be warming to President Obama, even as the bishops lambaste his administration in their fight to roll back a federal mandate that requires employers — with some exceptions — to cover birth control in their health plans.

The poll, released on Aug. 1 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as the contraception mandate took effect, found that among Catholics who are aware of the bishops' protests, 56 percent say they agree with the bishops’ concerns, as opposed to 36 percent who disagree.

Jack Palmer 8-01-2012
Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.

Today Wheaton College, a leading evangelical Christian school and the alma mater of the Rev. Billy Graham in Illinois, sought an injunction for "emergency relief," as it seeks to remain exempt from the Health and Human Services (HHS) insurance mandate which comes into effect today.

Filed on Wheaton's behalf by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the preliminary injunction would, the college hopes, temporarily keep at bay the fines which would be levied on them under the mandate, should they fail to comply with the provisions.

The provisions, which are part of the Affordable Care Act, would require “most employer health insurance plans to provide birthday control coverage,” as was reported on God’s Politics last month. Many Catholic institutions and groups have already filed lawsuits again the mandate, and Wheaton is one of a growing number of evangelical institutions joining in the legal challenge.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators protest the contraception mandate on the National Mall in March. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration’s policy requiring most employers to provide free birth control coverage in their health insurance policies takes effect on Aug. 1 — a deadline that has sparked apocalyptic warnings from conservative activists and some faith groups.

“August 1st is a day that will live in infamy for the First Amendment and the fundamental freedoms and rights we as a people have enjoyed since the founding of our nation,” said Brent Bozell, head of ForAmerica. “With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration has shredded the First Amendment and the Constitution right before our eyes.”

“August 1st will be remembered as the day our most cherished liberty was thrown in a government dumpster and hauled away,” echoed Matt Smith, head of Catholic Advocate. And that’s just a sampling of the outrage.

Are the claims legitimate? As with most federal regulations, it’s complicated, and the supercharged politics of the issue, in the midst of a presidential campaign, don’t help.

Moreover, religious freedom is by its nature a topic that prompts heated debates — without always providing a clear answer.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

Hillary Clinton delivers remarks on the 'State of International Religious Freedom.' PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

Religious minorities continue to suffer loss of their rights across the globe, the State Department reported on Monday, with a rise in blasphemy laws and restrictions on faith practices.

Almost half of the world's governments "either abuse religious minorities or did not intervene in cases of societal abuse," said Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook at a State Department briefing on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report.

"It takes all of us — governments, faith communities, civil society working together to ensure that all people have the right to believe or not to believe," she said.

Christians in Egypt, Tibetan Buddhists in China and Baha'is in Iran are among those without religious rights, the report states.

In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, people have been killed, imprisoned or detained because they violated or criticized blasphemy laws. In Indonesia, a Christian was sentenced to prison for five years for distributing books that were considered “offensive to Islam.”

These statutes, the U.S. government says, silence people in countries that claim to be “protecting religion.”

Sandi Villarreal 7-30-2012
Bible and flag, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

Bible and flag, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

Right now, it’s difficult to voice a call for civility surrounding religious debates without backlash that you’re stomping on rights or stifling someone’s voice. But here’s hoping.

Religious freedom. What does it mean, and what were we promised? In Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat — columnist and author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics — points out that we have a guaranteed right not only to religious belief, but to religious exercise. That right to religious exercise, he argues, is violated in cases like the HHS mandate and the Chick-fil-A debacle. 

From Douthat’s piece:

“If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.”

From here, people tend to go to extremes. On one side: boycott everything whose owner you have a philosophical or religious disagreement with on a personal level. But really do it. Sure it’s easy enough to shun fast food, but enough research will likely prove that our American dream to be comfortable far outweighs our attention span. (Please excuse my cynicism, and please let me know if any of you are successful in this endeavor. I’ll tip my hat to you.) 

Of course, it cuts both ways. Extremism comes in a variety of political preferences, so I’ll throw this out there as well: No, there is not a “war on religion” in the United States.

Tim Townsend 7-26-2012
RNS photo by Johnny Andrews/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Joseph Haegele receives communion at St. Gertrude parish in Grantfork, Ill. RNS photo by Johnny Andrews/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

MARINE, Ill. — Joseph Haegele remembers going to the church across the road from his grandparents' house on Windmill Street in this farm town in 1956, when he was 5 years old.

Haegele has attended other Catholic churches in the area. But St. Elizabeth's remains special to the former General Chemical employee and his wife, Lynn. The annual church picnic has been part of family tradition for decades. And after their 25-year-old son died of a brain tumor 15 years ago, Haegele said, the couple adopted a priest's flower garden behind St. Elizabeth's rectory as a memorial.

But a Madison County Circuit Judge Duane Bailey has ruled that Haegele can worship at St. Elizabeth's only on the last weekend of each month. 

Legal experts say the judge's order illustrates the conflict between orders of protection and religious liberty. And prior cases have affirmed the rights of courts to issue restraining orders on individuals even if it affects their ability to attend a house of worship.

Bailey's order is extraordinary in that it imposes not only distances of separation, but specifically bars access to a church on particular days.

 

Charles C. Haynes 7-23-2012

Louisiana State Rep. Valarie Hodges used to be a big fan of school vouchers.

“I liked the idea,” she explained, “of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”

Hodges got a First Amendment reality check when she discovered that Christian schools wouldn’t be the only religious schools getting tax dollars.

“Unfortunately, it (vouchers) will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” she said in June. “We need to ensure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Although Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher plan passed last month without her support, Hodges vowed to keep looking for alternative ways to “support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools.”

Beyond the fact that some of the Founders were not Christian, Hodges appears confused – to put it mildly – about the implications of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom for all, including American Muslims.

Eric Veronikis 7-19-2012

HARRISBURG, Pa. --- The director of the Pennsylvania chapter of American Atheists says he will desecrate the Quran if the state House of Representatives doesn't drop a "Year of Religious Diversity" resolution.

Ernest Perce, of Harrisburg, Pa., said he plans to flog the Quran in the state Capitol Rotunda on Sept. 24 should the House not agree to nullify the resolution before it reconvenes from summer recess that day.

Like the "Year of the Bible" resolution adopted in January, the "Year of Religious Diversity" resolution illegally intertwines religion and state, Perce said.

"The Year of the Bible" resolution is being challenged in federal court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Kent Faulk 7-16-2012
Door-to-door solicitor photo, EdBockStock / Shutterstock.com

Door-to-door solicitor photo, EdBockStock / Shutterstock.com

Seventh-day Adventists have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of two ordinances in an Alabama city that the church says bars it and other religious groups from door-to-door solicitations unless they first register and pay license fees.

The lawsuit was filed after a member of the church's Summer Student Missionary Program was ticketed in June by a police officer for selling books door-to-door without a City of Alabaster permit, the lawsuit states. After the citation, the group suspended its program in Alabaster, which is about 20 miles south of Birmingham.

"The City of Alabaster has enacted two sweeping ordinances that unconstitutionally restrict the exchange of beliefs and religious principles within the Alabaster city limits," the lawsuit states. The ordinances were enacted in 1994.

The lawsuit seeks a court order that declares the ordinances unconstitutional and bars the city from enforcing them.

Tim Townsend 6-21-2012

On June 21, Catholics across the country will amplify what is an already loud outcry from the hierarchy over the federal government's so-called contraception mandate.

With rallies, marches, lectures and special publications, the U.S. Catholic Bishop's Fortnight for Freedom campaign will seek to galvanize Catholic opposition to President Obama's proposed mandate to require employers — including religious institutions — to provide free contraception insurance coverage to employees.

But while Catholic leaders frame the events as a fight for religious liberty, critics see signs of political partisanship and electioneering. Questions over the financing of the bishops' campaign have caused those suspicions to multiply.

"The activities around the Fortnight for Freedom cost money," said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. "What groups are paying for this, and what's the accountability for that money?"

QR Blog Editor 6-13-2012

BosNewsLife.com reports:

TEHRAN, IRAN — Iran has released Pastor Mehdi “Petros” Foroutan who served about one year in prison following a police crackdown on his and other house churches,  a spokesman told BosNewsLife late Tuesday.

Jason DeMars, who helped the 27-year-old pastor with advocacy, explained that Forouton was released on June 10. He added that the pastor "In total served about one year in prison for 'crimes against national security' because of his Christian faith."

At least two other Christian clergymen — Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and another Christian leader, Behnam Irani — remain imprisoned. Nadarkhani faces the death penalty for refusing to abandon his Christian  faith and return to Islam. He remains in Lakan Prison in the city of Rasht where he is still awaiting an official response from the local court about his future, DeMars said. Irani is held in Ghezal Hezar prison in Karaj city, despite his poor health.  Prison officials reportedly refuse to allow him to visit a doctor.

Read more HERE.

 

 

 

 

Wood coffin image, _Lonely_ / Shutterstock.com

Wood coffin image, _Lonely_ / Shutterstock.com

A group of Catholic monks who sued for the right to sell handmade caskets will head back to court this week, fending off an appeal from the state funeral industry after a federal judge last year struck down a state law that permitted only licensed funeral directors to sell coffins.

Three members of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments June 7 n the case of the monks of St. Joseph Abbey versus Louisiana funeral homes.

The monks wanted to sell handmade cypress caskets that are made at their wood shop without paying the expensive fees and meeting the stringent requirements to obtain certification from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. The abbey has said it counts on the casket sales to help finance medical and educational needs for more than 30 monks.

Last July, U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval ruled that the state statute unfairly shielded a funeral industry monopoly to the detriment of consumers.

Melissa Rogers 5-31-2012

In the wake of President Obama's declaration of his personal support for the right of same-sex couples to marry under civil law, the nation is understandably focused on debating the merits of this position. Three related points from President Obama's announcement, however, deserve our attention as well.

First, President Obama noted that there is an important difference between civil marriage and religious marriage. The state defines civil marriage, which serves as the gateway for a wide variety of government benefits, rights and privileges. Religious marriage, on the other hand, is defined solely by religious communities.

These categories may be fuzzy in our minds because current law not only respects the ability of clergy and religious communities to define and bless religious marriage, it also allows clergy to solemnize civil marriage. That's why one often hears a minister conclude a wedding by saying, "By the authority vested in me by the state of X, I now pronounce you husband and wife."

Setting aside the oddity of a minister claiming the authority of the state rather than a higher power, the fact that the state allows clergy to bring a civil marriage into being does not mean it can require clergy to bless or recognize any relationship the state defines as civil marriage.

Judy Keen 5-31-2012
Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Mohammed Labadi had a lot at stake when the DeKalb City Council voted on May 29 on a request from the Islamic Society of Northern Illinois University to build a two-story mosque.

Labadi, a businessman and Islamic Society board member, said a bigger mosque is needed to replace the small house where local Muslims now worship. He also was hoping for affirmation that his neighbors and city officials have no fear of the Muslim community.

"Don't look at me just as a Muslim, look at me as an American," Labadi said. It's time, he says, "to take the unfortunate stereotypes about Muslims out of the picture." The City Council unanimously approved the plan.

In the decade since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, animosity toward Muslims sometimes has taken the form of opposition to construction of mosques and other Islamic facilities. National debate erupted over plans for an Islamic community center that became known as the "Ground Zero mosque" in Lower Manhattan.

The film shows a burning crucifix, gun-toting priests and the torture of a young boy. And the Roman Catholic hierarchy is loving it.

The film, “For Greater Glory,” hits theaters on June 1 and tells a little known chapter of Mexican history -- the Cristero War of 1926 to 1929, which pitted an army of devout Catholic rebels (led in the movie by Andy Garcia) against the government of Mexican President Plutarco Calles (played by Ruben Blades).

For Catholics enraged by the Obama administration’s proposed contraception mandate, the film about the Mexican church's fight in 1920s is a heartening and timely cinematic boost in the American church's battle to preserve "religious freedom" in 2012.

RNS photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Students protest on the Vanderbuilt campus. RNS photo courtesy InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

When the Supreme Court ruled that a Christian student group could only be recognized at a small public law school if it accepted non-Christians and gays as potential leaders, some lawyers and campus advocates grew nervous.

While the 5-4 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez was primarily aimed at public colleges and universities, some conservatives say the decision has upended university religious life, with both public and private schools reconsidering nondiscrimination rules.

Now, nearly two years after the decision involving the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, the case is causing strife across U.S. college campuses.

A senior Vatican official on Tuesday (April 17) called for stronger protection for conscientious objection for both the Catholic Church and individual Catholics when they are faced with laws that conflict with their “moral norms.”

Speaking at Italy's Catholic University in Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, former governor of the Vatican City State, waded into the fight between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Obama administration over mandatory insurance coverage for contraception, saying the mandate raises "serious problems of conscience” for Catholic institutions and citizens.

Jan Murphy 4-12-2012
Amish buggies, Weldon Schloneger/Shutterstock.com

Amish buggies, Weldon Schloneger/Shutterstock.com

HARRISBURG, Pa.—Nothing is sacred about your religion when it comes to getting a state identification card without a photo.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation offers ID cards for those with religious objections to being photographed, including the Amish and certain Mennonite groups. But in order to get a nonphoto ID for religious reasons, applicants must answer a series of 18 questions that delve deeply into their faiths and other personal information.

Now that Pennsylvania has passed one of the nation's toughest voter ID laws to prevent voter fraud, the scope of the questions is drawing criticism.

RNS photo courtesy US State Dept

Hillary Clinton meets with Suzan Johnson in 2011.RNS photo courtesy US State Dept

Nearly a year into her stint as the State Department's point person on religious freedom, the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook has traveled to eight countries and seems to have moved beyond questions about her lack of diplomatic experience.

 

From her top-floor corner office in the State Department, the first African-American woman to hold the post works with a 16-person team, who kept the office running during a long vacancy and Johnson Cook's own on-again off-again confirmation process.
 
"I got to believe that she will be a quick study, but still you've got a very complicated culture and not a whole lot of time," said Robert Seiple, the first ambassador to hold the post, who has met with Johnson Cook a couple of times.
Joshua Witchger 3-20-2012
Bald eagle via shutterstock.com

Bald eagle via shutterstock.com

We often hear that there’s a “war on religion,” that certain expressions of Christianity are under attack by secularists seeking a new age of post-God. And while things may or may not be easy for Christians, our rituals are not prohibited by law, like some of our Native American neighbors.

Until recently, it was illegal for Native Americans to acquire bald eagle feathers and parts – relics used for a variety of tribal rituals and ceremonies – by any means other than family or the National Eagle Repository in Denver. 

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