Religious Freedom

Critics: State Department is ‘AWOL’ on Iran’s Religious Freedom

Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned Iranian-American minister Saeed Abedini. Photo courtesy RNS.

Religious freedom activists scolded the U.S. State Department for not appearing at a hearing Friday on Iran’s treatment of religious minorities, and called for greater government action to secure the release of people imprisoned there for their faith.

“The State Department is AWOL — they are absent without leave,” complained Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative law firm that represents the wife of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American minister in Tehran’s Evin prison. “They act as if they are embarrassed about Mr. Abedini’s faith.”

White House Expands Religious Exemptions to Contraception Mandate

Birth control pack, Melissa King / Shutterstock.com

Birth control pack, Melissa King / Shutterstock.com

The Obama administration on Friday sought to placate religious groups by broadening religious exemptions and giving faith-based organizations more room to maneuver around its controversial contraception mandate, but the new rules offer no loopholes for privately owned businesses.

The contraception mandate, part of Obama’s health care overhaul, had set off an explosive church-state dispute and soured relations between the White House and some Christian groups, including the Catholic bishops’ conference.

The new rules, issued by the Health and Human Services Department, seek to address religious freedom concerns in two ways: First, they broaden the definition of “religious employers” so that all houses of worship and dioceses and affiliated organizations will be clearly exempt. Second, for other faith-based employers, the rules would transfer the costs and administrative tasks of the birth control insurance policies to insurance companies.

Poll Shows A Double Standard on Religious Liberty

RNS photo courtesy Barna Group, OmniPoll.

A poll released Wednesday by the Barna Group. RNS photo courtesy Barna Group, OmniPoll.

WASHINGTON — Half of Americans worry that religious freedom in the U.S. is at risk, and many say activist groups — particularly gays and lesbians — are trying to remove “traditional Christian values” from the public square.

The findings of a poll published Wednesday reveal a “double standard” among a significant portion of evangelicals on the question of religious liberty, said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a California think tank that studies American religion and culture.

While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,” said Kinnamon.

“They cannot have it both ways,” he said. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.”

Something to Celebrate on Religious Freedom Day

RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Matthew Harris Jouett. RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia

Today is Religious Freedom Day — a day to celebrate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. Why celebrate it?

Celebrate because our government does not use our tax dollars to propagate religion, something Jefferson found “sinful and tyrannical.” This does not mean that you have a right to stop any government action that you happen to think violates your religious beliefs — a ridiculous claim repeated during last year’s battle over insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Obama at the U.N.: A New Religion Doctrine

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

President Obama on Tuesday gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world's assumptions about free speech and religion.

Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we've seen:

1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable

The idea that the U.S. protects even vile speech, so ingrained in American culture, seems counterintuitive to much of the world. It’s an especially tough concept when speech targets a religion, but Obama argued that restrictions on speech too often become weapons to suppress religion – especially the rights of religious minorities.

Professor to Atheists: 'Stop Whining'

Professor Berlinerblau

Professor Berlinerblau

Jacques Berlinerblau wastes no ink in his new book trying to flatter his fellow nonbelievers.

"American atheist movements, though fancying themselves a lion, are more like the gimpy little zebra crossing the river full of crocs," he writes in How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.    

Ouch.    

"In terms of both political gains and popular appeal, nonbelievers in the United States have little to show. They are encircled by cunning, swarming [religious] Revivalist adversaries who know how to play the atheist card."    

Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University biblical scholar who teaches a course on secularism, wants to rescue that little zebra. But his plan may be a hard-sell with some atheists — he wants atheist groups to drop their black-and-white opposition to religion and its adherents in order to preserve the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.    

"The gimpy zebra remark was a little goofing on this over-the-top chest-thumping that emerges from Movement Atheists," he said in an interview, referring to atheist organizations with political goals, like American Atheists. "They wildly overestimate their numbers. They tend to overestimate the efficacy of their activism. They underestimate how disciplined and organized their adversaries in the religious right are, too."  

BREAKING NEWS: Pastor Nadarkhani Acquitted of Apostasy Charges in Iran, Released from Prison

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

According to a report late Friday from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an international organization devoted to issues of religious freedom, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a Muslim convert to Christianity who has been imprisoned by the Iranian government since 2009 on apostasy charges, has been acquitted and released from prison.

Nadarkhani, 35, previously had faced a possible death sentence for the charges against him, a result of his prostelytizing Muslims to convert to Christianity. He also refused to deny his Christian faith to save himself from execution.

Since his detainment three years ago, the U.S. State Department, the British government, the Vatican, Amnesty International, and a host of Christian organizations and leaders — including South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu — have called on the Iranian government to release the young pastor.

Conservative Law Firm Fights Atheists’ Suit Over Cross at 9/11 Museum

Photo: Steel cross at the 9/11 site. Shawn Kashou / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Steel cross at the 9/11 site. Shawn Kashou / Shutterstock.com

A lawsuit that was filed by the group American Atheists to keep a revered cross out of the National September 11 Museum is being challenged by a conservative law firm that defends the public display of religious symbols.

The American Center for Law and Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Monday on behalf of the suit’s two defendants, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.

“The legal arguments of the atheist organization are both offensive and absurd,” the center’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement. He said 190,000 people had signed a petition opposing the lawsuit.

Missouri 'Right to Pray' Amendment Passes By Wide Margin

Prayer photo, Antonov Roman / Shutterstock.com

Prayer photo, Antonov Roman / Shutterstock.com

Voters in Missouri overwhelmingly approved a "right to pray" amendment to the state's constitution on Tuesday, despite concerns about the measure's necessity and legality. 

Amendment 2, which supporters said would protect the freedom of religious expression in public schools and other public spaces, received nearly 80 percent of the vote.  

The language on Tuesday's ballot stressed the rights of citizens to express their religious beliefs and the rights of children to pray and acknowledge God in schools. It also stated that students could be exempted from classroom activities that violate their religious beliefs.

State Rep. Mike McGhee, a Republican who sponsored the amendment, said it would remind people about their religious freedoms, such as reading religious books at school. "It's OK to bring your Bible to study hall," he said.

Missouri to Vote on Prayer Amendment as Critics Warn of Legal Nightmares

Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. J. Norman Reid / Shutters

Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Mo. J. Norman Reid / Shutterstock.com

Missourians will vote on Tuesday on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that supporters say would protect residents' right to pray in public. If a recent poll is any indication, it could pass by a mammoth margin.

Supporters say the so-called "right to pray" ballot measure — known as Amendment 2 — better defines Missourians' First Amendment rights and will help to protect the state's Christians, about 80 percent of the population, who they say are under siege in the public square.

Opponents, meanwhile, say that the religious protections Amendment 2 would offer are already guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, and that it will open the door to all manner of unintended and costly consequences including endless taxpayer-funded lawsuits.

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