Tag Archives: Religious Liberty

Supreme Court: Christians taxpayers are allowed access to social programs

The Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States

Here is the latest Supreme Court decision news, and I’ll explain shortly why this is good news for a much more important religious liberty case.

David French posted this analysis in National Review:

While there are many threats to religious liberty, few are more consequential over the long term than the state’s ever-expanding role in private life. If the government is able to vacuum up tax dollars, create programs large and small for public benefit, and then exclude religious individuals or institutions from those programs, it has functionally created two tiers of citizenship. Secular individuals and institutions enjoy full access to the government they fund, while religious individuals and institutions find themselves funding a government that overtly discriminates against them.

That’s the issue the Supreme Court addressed today in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. By a 7–2 margin, the Court held that when a state creates a neutral program for public benefit — in this case, a program that uses scrap tires to provide rubberized safety flooring for playgrounds — it can’t exclude a church from that program, even if that means state benefits flow directly to a house of worship.

Social conservative Maggie Gallagher writes this in The Stream:

The good news is the Trinity Lutheran victory shows us the current Court is more supportive of religious liberty than many of us feared.

Justice Elana Kagan joined the majority opinion without any reserve. Justice Breyer wrote his own concurring opinion limiting his judgement to playground resurfacing programs and not all government benefits.

Only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginbsurg dissented. In Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, she warned of almost apocalyptic consequences:

This ruling, “weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both,” she wrote, “If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.”

If so, it’s a good thing.

You’ll remember that Sotomayor was the wise Latina nominated by Barack Obama, who many Christians-in-name-only voted for. And of course separation of church and state is nowhere in the Constitution. What Sotomayor and her ilk on the secular left want is for Christian taxpayers to channel their earnings into the coffers of their secular leftist overlords, who apparently know much better how to spend it than the fools who earned it.

This is good news, but it’s also a hopeful sign that the Supreme Court will come out in favor of religious liberty and conscience in another case, a case that pits powerful and wealthy gay rights activists and their government allies against Christian small business owners trying to follow Jesus in everything they do.

The other case is reported on in the Daily Signal:

By deciding to hear the appeal of a Colorado baker, the Supreme Court could make its first ruling next year on whether government may coerce some Christians, Jews, and Muslims to use their creative gifts to celebrate same-sex marriage.

The high court announced Monday that it would review the case of baker Jack Phillips, who cites his Christian faith in declining to make custom cakes for same-sex weddings.

The Supreme Court’s eventual ruling could be the first since its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage to say whether bakers, photographers, florists, and others must be part of such celebrations through their creative expression.

Phillips, whose Masterpiece Cakeshop is in Lakewood, Colorado, stopped making all wedding cakes in 2014 rather than be compelled by the state to design and bake them for same-sex marriages—or be fined for not obeying.

State agency and court decisions said Phillips must make such cakes after a gay couple complained about him in July 2012.

“There’s just certain events, certain cakes I don’t make,” Phillips told The Daily Signal in a phone interview in August 2015. “That was one of them.”

He also won’t make cakes depicting witchcraft, ghosts, and demons or sexually suggestive images, Phillips said in the interview.

The Supreme Court previously delayed nine times on deciding to hear Phillips’ appeal in the case, first filed last July. But with the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, settled into his seat to succeed the late Antonin Scalia, the high court announced Monday morning that it would do so in its next term, which begins in October.

You can find out more about the Masterpiece Cakes case by watching this short video from Alliance Defending Freedom:

Although today’s decision makes me more optimistic, David French is less optimistic, because of Justice Kennedy’s previous statements on the gay marriage decision.

He writes in National Review:

Third, if Justice Kennedy views this case primarily through the LGBT lens, then the First Amendment may well lose. Kennedy is obviously proud of his long line of LGBT-friendly precedents, and that pride has even led him to a relatively rare First Amendment misstep, so it will be critical to explain to him (and the other justices, of course) that this isn’t a case about “discrimination” but rather about forced speech. Framing matters, and the other side will wrongly frame the case as raising the specter of Jim Crow. The right framing is found in the First Amendment.

I’ll be watching this case closely.

Republican legislators getting things done for social conservatives in Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Texas is the most economically successful state in the union, but that’s not the only thing special about Texas. Texas governor Greg Abbott is a strong promoter of the free enterprise system. But he is also serious about defending Judeo-Christian values. Right now, he is my pick to be the next Republican nominee for President, even more than my previous favorite, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Abbott’s doing a lot for social conservatives, as well as fiscal conservatives.

This Texas Tribune story shows what achievements he will be able to run on in a Republican primary:

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law legislation shielding pastors’ sermons from government subpoena power.

Senate Bill 24 stemmed from the 2014 battle over Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance, when the city subpoenaed sermons of five pastors who opposed it. The legislation was a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who joined Abbott on Sunday for a bill-signing ceremony at the churches of one of those pastors.

[…]Authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, SB 24 says a government cannot “compel the production or disclosure of a written copy or audio or video recording of a sermon delivered by a religious leader during religious worship … or compel the religious leader to testify regarding the sermon.” It went into effect immediately when it was formally signed by Abbott on Friday in Austin.

You’ll remember that this law became necessary when Houston’s gay Democrat mayor decided to subpoena the sermons of Christian pastors to try to intimidate them into not talking about moral issues.

There’s another story from the Daily Signal about another bill that is headed to Governor Abbott’s desk:

The Texas Senate early Monday passed a bill to allow faith-based adoption and foster care providers to operate based on their religious beliefs.

By a final vote of 21-10, state senators agreed with their counterparts in the Texas House of Representatives that society should continue to make room for adoption and foster care services associated with a religious tradition, whether Christian or Muslim.

Only one Democrat joined the Senate’s 20 Republicans in voting for the bill. The remaining 10 voted against it.

In an interview Monday with The Daily Signal, state Rep. James Frank, a Republican who co-wrote the legislation, predicted that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would sign it.

“I am obviously very excited about it passing the Senate, and I fully expect … that Governor Abbott will sign it and it will be law,” Frank said, “and we’ll have, I hope, more people serving and free to serve children in the state of Texas.”

Not sure why Democrats would vote against a bill like this, but I notice a lot of Democrats are getting busted for underage sex and underage sexting lately. We already knew how Democrats felt about no-fault divorce and adultery: they’re all for it! Any sort of selfishness that adults can engage in is more important than providing kids with a mom and a dad. Democrats oppose prioritizing opposite sex couples, because it might offend gay couples or single parents.

Religious liberty defenders evaluate Trump’s new executive order

Trump holds up Bible he "received from his mother" to evangelicals
Trump holds up Bible he “received from his mother” to evangelicals

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a prominent defender of religious liberty. They fight out religious liberty cases at the highest level – the Supreme Court of the United States.

Here’s what they thought of Trump’s executive action on religious liberty:

“During his campaign, President Trump stated that the first priority of his administration would be to preserve and protect religious liberty. In speeches, he said the Little Sisters of the Poor and other people of faith will always have their religious liberty protected on his watch and will not have to face bullying from the government because of their religious beliefs. Religious voters took him at his word, giving the president a mandate to affirm and protect Americans’ first freedom.

“The current outline of the Religious Liberty Executive Order released by White House officials recalls those campaign promises but leaves them unfulfilled.

“First, no specific relief is offered to families like the Vander Boons in Michigan, who were threatened with the effective closure of their family-run business for simply expressing a religious point of view on marriage that differed from that of the federal government.

“Second, the outline directs the IRS ‘to exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment.’ But Americans cannot rely on the discretion of IRS agents, some of whom have abused that discretion for years to silence pastors and intrude into America’s pulpits. Nor does the outline do anything to prevent a future, hostile administration from wielding its power to penalize any church who dares exercise its constitutionally protected freedoms in a manner that displeases those in authority. A legislative problem like the Johnson Amendment demands a legislative solution like the Free Speech Fairness Act.

“Third, the outline indicates it will ‘provide regulatory relief for religious objectors to Obamacare’s burdensome preventive services mandate, a position supported by the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby.’ The president certainly should fulfill his promise to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor, a host of Christian colleges, and others from having to choose between violating their consciences and paying crippling fines to the IRS.

Here is an article by religious liberty hero David French of the ACLJ in National Review. He makes a key point that must be understood by pastors who want to know if the coast is clear to speak about policy from a Christian perspective.

Excerpt:

Next — and this is important to understand — an executive order cannot repeal a statute, and legal restrictions on political activity by churches are statutory. They’re part of the so-called Johnson Amendment, a rarely enforced provision of the tax code that prohibits 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from, as the IRS explains, “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

The Johnson Amendment is constitutionally problematic (to put it mildly). Lyndon Johnson rammed it through Congress for the noble purpose of stopping nonprofits from supporting his primary opponent and preserving his own political hide, and it’s been on the books ever since. Though it’s rarely enforced, it hangs like the Sword of Damocles over the heads not just of churches but of every 501(c)(3) in the United States. First Amendment lawyers are desperate to find a good test case to challenge it, but the IRS’s general lack of enforcement means that the right case is elusive. So the amendment remains.

The answer to the Johnson Amendment, however, is to either repeal the statute or overturn it in court. This order does neither. In fact, a lawyer will commit malpractice if he tells a pastor or director of a nonprofit that this order allows a church or nonprofit to use its resources to support or oppose a candidate. Even if the Trump administration chooses not to enforce the law, a later administration can tear up Trump’s order and begin vigorous enforcement based on actions undertaken during the Trump administration.

Imagine, for example, that churches rely on this order to mobilize support for Trump in his 2020 reelection campaign. Imagine he loses to Kamala Harris. Then, suddenly, churches across the land would be instantly vulnerable to IRS enforcement action. Thinking they were protected, churches would find themselves in the worst of predicaments, with their rights and possibly even existences dependent on the capricious mercies of the federal courts.

Although many evangelicals bet on Trump to do something to protect religious liberty, the President has not done anything with this executive action to solve the problems. I cannot help but think that we would have been better off with someone who was more aware of the challenges, and who had a track record of battling for religious liberty in his record.

Although Trump whiffed again on religious liberty, there are several pieces of legislation that Congress could take up to solve the problem.

Here are four of them:

Perhaps we can count on Trump to sign them – if the Republicans get them passed.

Before the rise of secularism, Americans believed in conscience

Dissent, disagreement, conscience and religious liberty
The importance of respecting the conscience of others

In the last 50 years, America exchanged religious liberty for hedonism. We used to believe that conscience was a good thing, and we respected individual differences rooted in religious convictions. But today, secular leftist politicians, lawyers and judges attack Christians using the courts. Pro-lifers, pro-marriage business owners, and people expressing Christian convictions in public have all felt what it is like to have conscience attacked by the secular leftist state.

Let’s take a look at what things were like in a different time when moral convictions had not been destroyed by secular leftism.

Consider this article in The Federalist about a new movie called “Hacksaw Ridge”.

Excerpt:

Over last weekend, I saw the new Mel Gibson flick “Hacksaw Ridge.” Gruesome and at times overshadowed by lead actor Andrew Garfield’s awkwardness, “Hacksaw Ridge” was an ode to the age-old American custom of protecting dissent by protecting the conscience.

In an age when attacks upon conscience and religious liberty grow more and more fiery, the true tale of World War II hero Desmond Doss’ conscientious objection to killing is a reminder of the difficult stakes involved in ensuring that individual liberty is the presumption that government takes toward individuals, even during war.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is the story of Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist whose religion prohibited taking the life of a fellow human being. Doss, obviously a patriot, felt obligated to serve in World War II as a medic. Where war is the business of taking life, Doss saw his role as helping save lives. That he does, as his heroism is on full display in his military record and receiving the Medal of Honor from President Truman.

The article has 6 sections.

The first one makes the point about how things have changed:

1. The Conscience Is Sacred

Doss arrived at his pacifism through religious conviction. It was an ethical precept he arrived at by religious devotion and piety, which means his pacifism was not something arbitrarily considered. Throughout the movie, the tattered Bible he carried with him everywhere he went symbolized the solemnity of his beliefs. Standing before a court martial, he was willing to go to jail for his convictions.

This is important today because so much hostility is based in rejecting religious motivation around contentious issues such as sexuality. Liberals are inclined to believe that any and all opposition to the ever-expanding lexicon of the sexual revolution is based in animus. That’s hogwash. Today’s dissenters from the sexual revolution have no use for animus. Rather, they believe the purposes of sexuality and human embodiment are different than what secular progressivism teaches.

Doss’ sincerity is a reminder that the convictions people arrive at by religious motivation are not designed to be capricious, but are ordered toward certain ends that people will naturally disagree about.

Part 3 was also good, because it explains efforts by Republicans to pass laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – laws that are opposed by atheists in the Democrat party:

3. It’s Good to Accommodate People’s Consciences

When almost court-martialed for insubordination, Doss insists that his desire all along was to be a medic. This request was eventually approved. In the movie, we see the U.S. government preserve a man’s conscience by assigning him a duty that did not violate it. The U.S. government was right to accommodate Doss where accommodations can be made. In this move, it recommitted itself to an important principle at the heart of our constitutional system: The presumption of liberty.

This means it is government’s burden to prove infringing upon a person’s liberty is absolutely necessary. In Doss’ case, it was deemed unessential for him to carry a weapon, so he served in a different capacity. This is at the heart of legislation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which puts the burden on the government to prove its case and make every last accommodation where possible.

The problem with people on the secular left today is that they have no empathy. For them, other people have no right to disagree because it makes them feel bad – but they don’t see how jail time and fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars makes the victim of their legal attacks feel bad:

5. Protecting Conscience Means Developing Empathy for Others’ Convictions

As the movie’s plot develops, Doss’ fellow soldiers come to understand that his motives aren’t sinister. They realize that, when freed to live faithfully, Doss is there to help save their lives. Throughout this, and when they learn of his sincerity, his enemies-turned-friends gained a greater understanding of Doss’ convictions. They came to understand the force of his resolve, which dampens their mockery.

In one visceral scene in particular, Doss and the most intense warrior in his battalion are in a foxhole together. There, in seeing Doss’ devotion to sacrifice and conscience, his enemy-turned-friend makes lighthearted gestures recognizing that Doss’ motives are pure. In the crucible of conflict, progress occurs.

As in the case of Doss, protecting conscience doesn’t mean you will agree with the conscience you’re protecting. In fact, disagreement underscores the very need for protection. If conscience and religious liberty are simply ideas our society supports when popular, such protections are easily undone.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible talks about conscience.

1 Corinthians 4:2:

1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

You can clearly see in today’s gay rights movement the problem with the government choosing to favor sinful behavior over religious liberty. People who are involved in sinful lifestyles don’t have the ability to do the right thing when it comes to respecting others. Engaging in a sinful lifestyle corrupts the ability to be respectful of the human rights of others. The desire to feel good and be approved of is seen as more important than respecting the right of others to disagree.

Who knows how far the secular left would go to punish dissenters from gay marriage? Although the media doesn’t cover it, there have been countless episodes of violence and vandalism, workplace persecution and job terminations, not to mention an armed attack by a domestic terrorist at the Family Research Council building. Because people in a sinful lifestyle don’t respect conscience rights of those who disagree. Conversely, when a person stands alone for a moral virtue (e.g. – chastity), there is no desire to compel others.

Hillary Clinton promotes taxpayer funding of abortion and opposes religious liberty

Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood
Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood

Where does Hillary Clinton stand on religious liberty? Here she is in a video explaining her view that religious liberty has to be changed by the force of government when it conflicts with abortion rights.

LIfe News explains:

In a speech last year, Hillary Clinton lamented that too many women are supposedly denied abortions. The Democratic presidential candidate came under fire for that pro-abortion comment, but she also drew widespread condemnation for another remark in the speech.

The comment had Clinton essentially saying that Christians must be forced to change their religious views to accommodate abortions.

“Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced,” Clinton said, using the euphemism for abortion.

“Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper,” Clinton argued. “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

It doesn’t matter if you want to be a faithful Christian and disagree with the killing of unborn children. Hillary’s going to force you to agree with her pro-abortion agenda, and make you pay for the abortions with your taxes.

And that was actually the pattern of her behavior when she was Secretary of State. She wasn’t concerned with national security, or foreign policy. She was concerned with promoting abortion abroad, using taxpayer dollars, including the taxpayer dollars of pro-life taxpayers.

CNS News explains:

[…]Clinton’s State Department… sends tens of millions of dollars to African countries each year for family planning and reproductive health services, including abortion.

The largest recipient is the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which received $50 million from the State Department in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available.

UNFPA has a history of supporting abortion services in Africa, most notably in 2005 through its Maputo Plan of Action.

The plan, adopted by the health ministers of the African Union, calls for the implementation of another UNFPA-drafted document known as the Continental Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, which calls on African countries to “[p]rovide safe abortion services to the fullest extent of national laws, and where appropriate provide legal framework for safe abortion services.”

In both the Continental Framework and the Maputo Plan, discussion of abortion is couched in terms of reducing “unsafe” abortions, providing “safe” abortions, and promoting access to family planning in Africa.

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department also sends millions of dollars to Africa to help with population control and family planning programs.

Clinton on Monday cited six countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Uganda – which had partnered with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s The Way Forward Project to increase care for children in their countries.

Combined, those six countries received a $90.5 million for “family planning” in 2010.

Meanwhile, in America, Hillary’s good friends at Planned Parenthood receive about $500  million from federal taxpayers each year. And Planned Parenthood returns the favor by donating millions to Democrats.

The Daily Signal explains:

In the past three election cycles, Planned Parenthood’s advocacy and political arms, employees, and their families have spent over $38 million to elect or defeat candidates for federal office who decide how much taxpayers subsidize the nation’s largest abortion provider.

[…]Planned Parenthood receives approximately $500 million from federal taxpayers each year for Medicaid and Title X Family Planning, both programs intended for low-income Americans.

“Planned Parenthood stands alone as a major recipient of taxpayer funding that is also a major participant in elections,” Mattox said.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, we should expect to see more taxpayer dollars being used to promote abortion abroad and here at home. This is something that Hillary Clinton is passionate about – eliminating children in the womb, and silencing Christians who disagree with aborting unborn children.