Religious Freedom

Jan Murphy 04-12-2012
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 03-20-2012
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 03-02-2012

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 02-27-2012

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 02-14-2012
"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 02-12-2012
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 02-10-2012

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

Jack Palmer 12-09-2011

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Jack Palmer 11-08-2011

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Cathleen Falsani 10-04-2011

800px-Supreme_Court_US_2010

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing oral arguments this week in one of the most important church-state cases in decades. In Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the court will consider whether a Lutheran school in Michigan is subject to a federal law banning discrimination based on a disability.

Tripp Hudgins 10-02-2011
Part of a university education is learning how to navigate the complicated and often competing value systems of different social groups.
the Web Editors 09-30-2011
UPDATES: Earlier today (Friday, Sept. 30), the Iranian Embassy in the U.K. issued the following statement regarding Pastor Nadarkhani:
Lynne Hybels 08-01-2011

Around the world, religious freedom is under threat -- but people of faith continue to reach across divides.

Lydia A. Morton 07-29-2011

In the wake of the tragic bombing in Norway this past weekend, we are left with an unsettling picture of the state of anti-Islamic sentiments in the United States. There were broad attempts to blame the bombings on Islamic terrorism before all of the facts of the attack were out, and even after the attacker became known as Anders Behring Breivik, a self-proclaimed Christian extremist, the discussion focused on Breivik's statement that he was responding to the threat Muslims pose in Europe.

Julie Clawson 01-26-2011
I just recently became aware of a discussion that grew out of the Third Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelism in Cape Town this past October.
Allen Johnson 09-07-2010

"Yes, Muslims have the constitutional right to build a mosque near Ground Zero.

Joshua M.Z. Stanton 09-03-2010
Faith cannot exist without doubt. The lack of certainty enables us to engage in the holy, human endeavor of believing when we do not have empirical proof.

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