Focus on the Family

Religious Freedom in Danger?

by Bruce Hausknecht, Esq.

The United States was founded on the principle that God, not government, is the source of our fundamental rights. Our Founders, including the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, understood this clearly: 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men. ..."  

The other widely held understanding during the founding era was that religion and morality formed the foundational basis upon which both our society and our form of government rested:

"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens."President George Washington's Farewell Address, 1796 

"Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."President John Adams, 1798 

Given the religious roots of our founding, and the universal acknowledgment of Christianity's role in this nation's continued success, the alarming erosion of religious freedom we're now witnessing should serve as a wake-up call to us all.  

Consider these few troubling examples: 

These are just a few examples of the over 600 documented instances of local, state and federal encroachments into religious freedom in recent years. Justice has prevailed at the court level for a few of the defendants; however, for others the courts are the problem. 

It's clear from many of these cases the goal of those who are infringing our rights is not a compromise between secular and sacred; rather, it's the complete stamping out of conscience and rejection of our nation's spiritual heritage. 

As Christians and as Americans, we must stay aware of these battles, pray for our nation and its leaders, and join in the defense of the rights and freedoms of all people of faith — in their communities, as well as in the public square of ideas. It's been said many times, our religious freedom is the lynchpin upon which all of our other rights depend. If that is, indeed, the case, then these current battles to protect religious freedom will determine America’s destiny. 

We cannot afford to stay silent. Here are a few things every Christian can do to fight the loss of religious freedom: 

"It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn." — George Washington, 1789 


Founding Faith: Christians in America

The Founding Fathers counted on the active engagement of Christians in the country they were forming -- because they understood that morals and religion were necessary for the new form of government they were establishing.

by Focus on the Family Issue Analysts

America’s Founders would have no argument with that.

In fact, they were counting on Christian citizens as the backbone of the republic.Founding Fathers

"There was a consensus among the Founders that religion was indispensable to a system of republican self-government," says Daniel Dreisbach, professor of law, justice and American society at American University. In order to have self-government, "the Founders looked to religion (and morality informed by religious faith) to provide the internal moral compass that would prompt citizens to behave in a disciplined manner and thereby promote social order and political stability."1

  The Founders themselves said this often, in their own inimitable words:

There’s a myth in some circles that the Founders weren’t primarily Christians but Deists — believers in a God who wound up the universe like a watch, then left it to run on its own. But while that describes a handful of them, it doesn’t fit the vast majority.

Of the 55 Framers of the Constitution, "with no more than five exceptions, they were orthodox members of one of the established congregations," wrote the late University of Dallas historian M.E. Bradford.3 "References made by the Framers to Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Son of God … are commonplace in their private papers, correspondence and public remarks — and in the early records of their lives."4

And they did a lot more than talk about their faith.

"The variety of surviving Christian witness in the papers and sayings of the Framers is indeed astonishing. Elias Boudinot of New Jersey was heavily involved in Christian missions and was the founder of the American Bible Society. Roger Sherman … was a ruling elder of his church. Richard Bassett rode joyfully with his former slaves to share in the enthusiasm of their singing on the way to Methodist camp meetings…. John Dickinson of Delaware wrote persuasive letters to youthful friends conserving the authority of Scripture and the soundness of Christian evidences. … both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton regularly led their households in the observance of family prayers."5

We still have so much to learn from our forefathers and their thriving faith and values!


1 Dreisbach, Daniel L., "Origins and Dangers of the 'Wall of Separation' Between Church and State," Imprimis (a publication of Hillsdale College), October 2006.

2 Washington, George, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789.

3 Bradford, M.E., Founding Fathers: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution (University of Kansas Press, 1994), p. xvi.

4 Bradford, M.E., Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution (The University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. 89.

5 Bradford, Original Intentions, p. 91.

 


The Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed at the federal level and by several states to restore lost protections of the First Amendment.

by Bruce Hausknecht, Esq.

Most people believe the First Amendment prevents threats against our religious freedom. However, a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Employment Division v. Smith reduced the level of protection historically afforded religious liberty. In 1993, The U.S. Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to restore a higher threshold of federal protection.

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The measure had bipartisan support, passing the Senate by a vote of 97-3, and the House on a voice vote with no opposition.

Thanks to this new law, Americans were once again protected against infringements of religious liberty arising from what the Supreme Court called "neutral laws of general applicability."

What are some examples of "neutral laws of general applicability?" In addition to the country's drug laws that played such a prominent role in the Smith case, there are, for example, several such laws currently impacting, or on a collision course with, religious freedom: The HHS mandate, which forces employers to violate their religious conscience, numerous state and federal "non-discrimination" laws, and state and federal licensing laws for various professions. Think of pharmacists being told they must provide "all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs," including possible abortion-causing drugs. Think of state hospitals that require all nursing staff to assist in all medical procedures — including abortions.

You get the picture.

It's easy to see how a government entity's actions, although draped in neutral, non-religious terms, can quickly create an unconscionable religious burden. RFRA was designed to make sure that there was a remedy in individual cases where religious conscience was threatened.

However, in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that RFRA did not apply to actions by state governments because Congress had mistakenly relied on the wrong constitutional provision to justify it. While still binding against the federal government, RFRA could no longer protect citizens from their own state's religious infringements caused by state-level "neutral laws of general applicability."

Congress attempted to fix the drafting problem; however, by 1999, socially liberal groups became concerned that RFRA might negatively impact some of their favored issues, such as government-compelled normalization of homosexual behavior, as well as the expansion of abortion-on-demand. The original bipartisan coalition splintered, the political parties in Congress chose sides, and the final product was a scaled-down religious freedom law aimed only at zoning laws and prisoner rights.

But citizens were not left without recourse due to Congress' failure to "fix" RFRA's inapplicability to state government actions. To date, about half the states have protected their citizens with their own RFRA laws or through state court decisions that reject the applicability of the federal Smith ruling to their own state.

RFRA is, according to the country's leading religious liberty experts, "the most important congressional action with respect to religion since the First Congress proposed the First Amendment." Its ultimate effectiveness is being tested at the moment in various venues. Although religious freedom in New Mexico — and a state version of RFRA — were recently dealt a blow at the hands of that state's supreme court, the federal law is possibly heading for the U.S. Supreme Court in early 2014, as it relates to the HHS mandate cases, for an important ruling on the scope of its protections for religious-minded employers.

For the sake of the future of religious freedom in America, let’s pray for success in those cases.


The Religious Freedom 'Firestorm'

by Bruce Hausknecht, Esq.

 

Should the government require people of faith to violate their religious beliefs?

This question is at the center of ongoing legal and cultural debate, and the answer will set the stage for future generations and religious freedom.

One of the latest points of conflict centers on a bill that was introduced in the Kansas Legislature to protect the religious rights of citizens in that state. While the bill is now dead, debate spilled over into the national press recently as commentators, including well-known political pundit and FOX News contributor Kirsten Powers, weighed in on the bill and the larger question of Christians' roles in the marketplace of ideas.

  Gavel on Cross

Powers penned a strongly worded USA Today column suggesting Christians should abandon, rather than assert, their religious right not to participate in facilitate or participate in same-sex unions. She disagrees that Kansas (and other states where court challenges to marriage laws are in play or expected (See our "State(s) of Marriage" graph) should provide legal protection to individuals and businesses, including wedding photographers, bakers, florists, bed and breakfast inns and faith-based adoption agencies, who have found themselves prosecuted and/or penalized for taking the Bible's commands about marriage and children seriously.

Powers even accused her fellow Christians who support such religious freedom protections as "arguing for homosexual ‘Jim Crow' laws." She cites a couple of pastors who agree with her, one being Andy Stanley, a well-known evangelical and senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.

Her argument is dangerously wrong on three key levels:

  1. Theologically Inaccurate: It seems her view of following Jesus' model requires Christians to lend their creativity and talents to a celebration of something that is anathema to God (not to mention tremendously harmful to the individuals themselves). God very clearly defined marriage in Genesis 2:24, and Jesus affirmed it in Matthew 19:5. The Apostle Paul echoed the definition of marriage again in Ephesians 5:31.

    Powers' query (and affirmative answer) as to whether Jesus would have baked a cake for a same sex wedding, misses the theological point by a wide margin. Yes, of course Jesus interacted with, loved and served "sinners," and so should we. But, He never did so by aiding, abetting, encouraging or celebrating their sinful behavior. In fact, He said, "Go, and sin no more."
  2. Undermines Conscience Rights: Powers' failure to recognize that in the wedding-related legal cases around the country where Christian vendors have drawn a line in the sand (and have been sued), they provided those same services to homosexuals in a non-wedding context. "Bigots" don't follow this pattern. Christians attempting to follow Jesus Christ's model of ministry do, however. Jesus calls His followers to be "salt and light" in the world around them. Laws in many states require Christians to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs in areas like same-sex ceremonies and placing children for adoption in same-sex homes. State legislators – like those in Kansas – are merely attempting to establish a line of religious protection for these citizens. 
  3. Misrepresents Widespread Support: Religious exemptions similar to those contained in the Kansas bill have the support of several top constitutional religious liberty experts across the nation, some of whom, surprisingly, even support same-sex marriage. These experts have been proposing model legislation, similar in many respects to the Kansas bill, to all of the legislatures that have considered and passed same-sex marriage laws in the past few years. Each of the twelve "bluer-than-blue" states that have passed same-sex marriage statutes have included one or more of the religious exemptions that Powers mistakenly attributes to Christian "bigotry."

Let's face it. The moral compass needles of those on either side of the same-sex marriage issue will never align. Fining or forcing Christians out of business or sending them to jail is not the solution; it is the beginning of the end.

Can't we do better?

 


'English Lessons'

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Citizen magazine.

by Paul Diamond

Download, read and share this FREE article, compliments of Focus on the Family Citizen magazine!

Paul Diamond, a barrister in the United Kingdom and counselor to the Christian Legal Centre, sends a warning to Christians in the U.S. to speak up for religious freedom — before it's too late.

english-lessons-citizen-mag-sept13 


Media Clips: Public Policy Expert on Religious Freedom

by Catherine O. Snow

Bruce Hausknecht, Focus on the Family's judicial analyst, speaks with media outlets to provide clarity about current religious freedom legislation introduced around the country:  

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 Wall Street Journal logo 2

'Arizona Vetoes Religious Bill Critized as Anti-Gay'
Bill Would Have Allowed Business Owners Legal Defense to Deny Service on Religious Grounds
Feb. 27, 2014, by Tamara Audi, WSJ.com  
  

"... Supporters of the proposed legislation said the veto wasn't surprising, considering the enormous public opposition and what they contend was the miscasting of it as a discrimination issue. They argued it simply would have strengthened existing law to better protect the religious from violating their beliefs.

"Bruce Hausknecht of Focus on the Family, a conservative group in favor of the bill, said Ms. Brewer was 'intimidated by threats of economic retaliation against the state.'

"The governor's veto came after days of intense pressure from gay-rights groups, corporate leaders and high-profile politicians urging her to veto the measure, including former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Secretary of State John Kerry, Apple Inc., and the National Football League, whose Super Bowl is scheduled to be played in the state in 2015.

"The bill sought to expand an existing law that says the government cannot 'substantially burden' the practice of religion without 'compelling interest.' The bill would have added churches and businesses to a list of protected entities and would have allowed businesses and individuals to assert religious freedom as a defense even when the government isn't a party in a legal case.

"As similar religious protection bills failed or were tabled in other states, Arizona became the focal point in a national debate over when religious freedom becomes discrimination. Backers of similar legislation in Ohio scrapped their bill Wednesday after outcry from civil rights groups. ..."

Read entire article here.

  

AZ Republic logo

'National Firestorem Around Legislation Surprising to Some'
Feb. 27, 2014, by Mary Jo Pitzl and Yvonne WIngett Sanchez, AZcentral.com   

"... SB 1062 would have offered a legal defense for individuals and businesses facing discrimination lawsuits if they could prove they acted upon a 'sincerely held religious belief.'

"But a number of forces helped transform last year’s relatively obscure bill into this year’s national, and even international, controversy: swiftly evolving acceptance of gay rights, a more intense nationwide push by religious conservatives for such legislation, a loud outcry from legislative Democrats and fewer distractions at the Statehouse.

"Both attempts to enact legislation that proponents said was driven by a desire to protect religious liberties and that opponents said targeted gays for discrimination ended in a veto. But this year's version met its end in a crescendo of public outcry.

"In contrast, last year’s bill had a fairly quiet passage, eclipsed by the hot-button issues of Medicaid expansion and a fight over the state budget.

...

"Developments outside Arizona also influenced the response, said observers inside and outside the state. SB 1062 was introduced against a backdrop of opposing social forces.

"Tracey Stewart, assistant regional director for the ADL, said her group worked against the bill last year and this year. This time, current events helped shape how the public viewed the bill, she said.

" 'On a national perspective, many other states are going through the same thing, and are choosing to pull back on their bills,' she said, citing efforts to pass similar legislation in other states that have stalled.

"On Wednesday, the sponsors of an Ohio bill that mirrored SB 1062 withdrew their legislation. Earlier this month, measures in Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee that were touted by supporters as protecting religious liberties were withdrawn or rejected.

"At Focus on the Family, a religious conservative group, judicial analyst Bruce Hausknecht said lawmakers nationwide are taking up the bills in response to the expansion of gay rights, including marriage equality.

" 'That’s prompted a rise in state legislatures passing religious-freedom legislation, trying to beef up their own protections, because they're seeing how vulnerable they are,' he said."

"The New Mexico court ruling that upheld a gay couple’s discrimination lawsuit against a photographer who refused to take pictures of their commitment ceremony helped highlight the battle between religious-freedom and gay rights, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA.

Read entire article here.