Religious Freedom

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. 

Daniel Burke 3-02-2012

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., at a news conference Thursday in the Capitol. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.

The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.

Blunt and other Republicans had argued that the measure would protect the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic charities and hospitals that object to contraception on moral grounds.

"It's not just the Catholic Church," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the floor debate on Thursday. "It's a moral and religious issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government."

the Web Editors 2-27-2012

A federal court has struck down a Washington state rule that requires pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill even if it violates their religious beliefs.

Religious liberty advocates cheered the decision. They have decried the 2007 state regulation as a violation of pharmacists' First Amendment rights, which guarantee freedom of religion.

Melissa Rogers 2-14-2012
"Stop the Intersection of Church and State." Image via http://bit.ly/yAHnfE

"Stop the Intersection of Church and State." Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/yAHnfE

With its unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Church & School v. EEOC last month, the United States Supreme Court handed down one of its most important church-state decisions in decades. The First Amendment bars ministers from suing the religious communities they serve regarding the terms and conditions of their employment, it said.

The Court affirmed what lower courts had held for decades: Religious bodies, not the government, must have the power to decide which individuals will minister to the faithful. This doctrine is known as the “ministerial exception.” The Court also held that the former teacher in this case, Cheryl Perich, was a minister and thus her lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could not proceed.

An important aspect of the Hosanna-Tabor ruling is the Court’s recognition that there is simply is no good way for the state to police these matters – it inevitably ends up intruding on core religious decisions like who should speak to and for the church. When a minister is fired, the religious employer cites a religious reason for doing so, such as sermons that are inconsistent with Biblical teachings and a failure to challenge congregants to follow Jesus Christ. If the minister then sues the church for discrimination, he or she claims the religious reason wasn’t the “real” reason for the church’s actions; it was just a pretext for discrimination.

Annalisa Musarra 2-12-2012
U.S. Dept of the Air Force seal. Image via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/xAxyYH.

Seal of the U.S. Dept of the Air Force. Image via Wiki Commons, http://bit.ly/xAxyYH.

Dozens of members of Congress are upset that the Air Force has removed the Latin word for "God" from the logo of an Air Force acquisitions office.

Led by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, 36 lawmakers Monday (Feb. 6) sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz objecting to the removal of "God" from the logo of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO).

The logo was recently removed, according to Forbes, after objections by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. 

 

Facing growing furor from religious groups, President Obama on Friday unveiled an "accommodation" in which health insurance companies, rather than religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals and universities, will provide employees with contraception coverage.

Houses of worship remain exempt, and the new approach effectively removes all faith-based organizations from involvement in providing contraceptive coverage or even telling employees how to find such coverage. It also maintains Obama's pledge to ensure that almost all women with health insurance will not have to pay for it.

At issue was a mandate, part of Obama's 2009 health-care overhaul, that employers provide free birth-control coverage. The mandate was announced Jan. 20 by Health & Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Religious groups, particularly Catholic, fiercly objected, saying the federal government should not force institutions to violate the tenets of their faith. Womens' advocates argued that employees should have access to birth control regardless of where they work.

the Web Editors 2-10-2012

The Obama Administration announced earlier today a change to its policy regarding conscience exemptions and contraception coverage for faith based organizations.

Sojourners released the following statement:

We applaud the Obama Administration’s decision to respond to the concerns of many in the faith community around respecting religious liberty. This compromise respects the conscience concerns of those persons and institutions opposed to the use of contraception while still allowing greater access to those services for women who seek it. Expanded access to contraception is important for women’s health and is a key part of our country’s efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce abortions.

Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama listens at the National Prayer Breakfast 2/2/12. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

The White House has surprised observers and disappointed some liberal allies by signaling that it is willing to compromise and provide a broader religious exemption in its controversial regulations requiring all employers to provide free contraception coverage.

Given that birth control use is almost universal — even among Catholics — many wonder why the Obama administration could wind up retreating on its pledge.

Here are five reasons that may help explain the political dynamic the president is facing:

1. It's about religious freedom, not birth control

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