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USA News

The final religious freedom moves President Trump could make

Deseret News

“Americans of faith play an essential role in providing health care and human services to so many vulnerable people and communities, and President Trump is dedicated to removing every unfair barrier that stands in the way of this important work,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a January statement explaining proposed adjustments.
Like Azar, [president and CEO of First Liberty Institute] Shackelford believes the policy updates would ensure that faith-based organizations aren’t asked to jump through more hoops than their secular counterparts. Currently, some religious groups decline to participate in government programs out of a fear that they’ll be required to refer people to organizations they find morally objectionable, he said.

Justice Alito: Worried about religious liberty? Follow news in higher education

Times Record News

"Today, it would be easy to create a new list entitled, 'Things you can't say if you are a student or a professor at a college of university or an employee of many big corporations.' And there wouldn't be just seven items on that list – 70 times seven would be closer to the mark," said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, via Zoom, addressing the recent Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention. Discussing religious beliefs, he argued, has become especially dangerous.
"You can't say that marriage is the union between one man and one woman," he noted. "Until very recently, that's what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it's considered bigotry."

For Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty

The Hill by Andrew McCarthy

What a difference a one-justice swing in the Supreme Court makes. Late Wednesday, the high court, in a 5-4 ruling, granted two religious organizations an injunction, relieving them from the suffocating restrictions that New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, had imposed on community worship.

Catholic bishop vows to fight NY court's upholding of abortion-coverage rule


New York's highest court this week upheld a state regulation requiring that workplace health insurance cover "medically necessary abortion services." The ruling ended a four-year effort by Catholic organizations and other religious groups to overturn the regulation based on religious and moral objections. In response to the state Court of Appeals' decision, Albany Diocese Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said Wednesday he will press the issue with the United States Supreme Court on constitutional grounds.
"There is far too much at stake in terms of religious liberty and freedom of conscience to allow this to stand," Scharfenberger said. "It is an issue that affects people of all faiths, not just one faith … the freedom to choose to protect life is being violated by unconstitutional regulations forcing the insured to pay for its destruction."

Justice Alito and warning signs

Telegraph Herald by Cal Thomas

On the erosion of religious liberty, he said: “It pains me to say this, but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored, right.” As evidence he mentioned how we have moved from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993 to the recent persecution by the Obama administration of The Little Sisters of the Poor for their refusal to include contraceptives in their health insurance. The Catholic nuns prevailed in a 7-2 court ruling, but Alito believes the threat to the free exercise of religion remains all too real.

Social conservatives prepare to battle Biden

Washington Examiner

“At this point, the Senate is the firewall against wholesale structural change in the United States,” said Timothy Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “It can hardly be overstated how important it is to retain a Republican majority in the Senate.”
When Biden takes office, Trump executive orders on abortion and religious liberty will surely be scrapped. “Most of us expect to see the Mexico City policy reversed,” said Head, referring to an executive action banning federal funding to international family planning organizations that perform or advocate for abortions overseas. The policy changes every time control of the White House shifts from one party to the other. There are other bills social conservatives would need to organize against. There is the Freedom of Choice Act, which seeks to codify Roe v. Wade, and the Equality Act, which would similarly write protections for sexual orientation and gender identity into federal civil rights law.

Americans View Religion as an ‘Identity,’ Not a ‘Hobby.’ Policymakers Should Take Note.

Daily Signal by Nicole Russell

There are many interesting insights to come out of Becket’s Religious Freedom Index, as well as a couple of surprising truths. Namely, it appears that the pandemic has forced society to realize an ugly truth: People think state officials view their religion as a “hobby,” rather than as an identity.
One of the key findings is that Americans believe “religious identity cannot be quarantined.” In other words, “Religion is part of who Americans are, not just something they do. Respondents support protections that reflect the reality of religious identity.”

Appellate ruling scraps conversion therapy bans in Miami Beach, cities across Florida

Miami Herald

The ruling stems from a 2018 lawsuit filed against Palm Beach and Boca Raton by two therapists, Roberto Otto and Julie Hamilton, who said they practice speech-based conversion therapy to minors in the county. They argue the laws, passed in 2017, infringe upon their right to free speech and religious liberty. The Orlando-based nonprofit law firm Liberty Counsel, which advocates for Christian values, filed the lawsuit on their behalf. Matthew Staver, the firm’s senior pastor and chief counsel in the case, said he objected to the use of the term “conversion therapy” to describe the practice.
“The counselor is like a GPS and the client has the right to choose the goal of counseling,” he wrote in an email. “Like a GPS, the counselors do not impose their predetermined course on the client.”

Will The Supreme Court Finally Defend Religious Liberty From Pandemic Tyrants?

The Federalist by Jonathan Tobin

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and its ultra-Orthodox Jewish clients beat New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October. Can they make it two in a row? The rights not just of one faith community but all people of faith, who believe the First Amendment wasn’t somehow repealed during the coronavirus outbreak, are at stake in its advocacy in the case of Agudath Israel of America v. Cuomo.
The lawsuit challenges the right of Cuomo to enforce a discriminatory “cluster initiative,” which singles out predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn for lockdown closures of synagogues, religious schools, and holiday gatherings even though only blocks away restaurants and schools were allowed to remain open.

Christians in the Middle East need us

Daily Journal by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The most shocking and yet unsurprising thing that Archbishop Warda said at the conference, which was dedicated to Walther, was to share with us his fear as he watches the growing hostility to religion in the United States. He knows how that story ends. He's living it. These things are the calling card of tyranny, he said. We must learn from him and be lovingly defiant in the face of it.

What Christians can Expect From Joe Biden And Kamala Harris

First Things by Kenneth Craycraft

In addition to these policies that violate the religious moral sensibilities of most Christians, a Biden-Harris administration will also directly assault religious liberty. Harris has been a strong supporter of the Do No Harm Act in the Senate, and she will almost certainly make it a priority in the new administration. The purpose of the Act is to subvert, if not practically eliminate, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and similar legislation in many states.
Among other things, [RFRA laws] protect Catholic hospitals from being forced to perform abortions or transgender surgeries, or religious schools from hiring teachers and other employees who take public moral positions that are contrary to the tenets of those religions.

Supreme Court blocks strict COVID-19 restrictions on New York houses of worship

USA Today

"Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten," the court's unsigned majority opinion said. "The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty." It was a reversal from earlier actions taken by the high court in response to state restrictions on organized religion during the coronavirus pandemic.

LGBTQ-Rights Group Wants Biden to Restrict Religious Liberty

Caffeinated Thoughts

So if a Christian school requires students and faculty to abide by biblical standards for marriage and sexuality, the Human Rights Campaign believes those institutions of higher learning should be denied accreditation. If the school contradicts “science-based” curriculum standards (whatever that means and whoever sets those), they could also lose accreditation.
They also want to use Title IX to force colleges to include transgender “women” to utilize housing, facilities, and athletic programs designated for biological women. For Christian universities, this contradicts the truth that God creates human beings as male and female. (It also neuters the purpose of Title IX.)

Former Air Force chaplain claims he was discriminated against for preaching sermon against sexual immorality

FOX News

"I preached a sermon, according to my constitutionally-protected religious beliefs, on 'do not commit adultery,'" Cizek told Fox News, insisting that the Scripture passage that he read was straightforward and that he further depicted it to mean "if you are having sex with someone with whom you are not married then you need to stop." The sermon came at an especially sensitive time when the base was still reeling from the fallout of a widescale sex scandal.

Is Receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Ethical?

Public Discourse by Jonathan Imbody and Jeff Barrows

So, with millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on the verge of distribution to American citizens and people worldwide—immediately following FDA emergency approval—what do we know of the vaccine’s ethical considerations, given controversies with some vaccines over the use of cell lines from aborted babies? In brief, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was not developed or produced using any tissue from an aborted child, though it did make use of a biological assessment tool that relies on a cell line (HEK-293) derived from an aborted baby in 1972. Ethical considerations including loving our neighbor, the unavailability of ethical alternatives, and distance in participation and time from the original unethical act make this vaccine a candidate for morally licit use.

2020 religious freedom index published


Across dimensions, three themes emerge in this year’s Index:
1. Americans weather storms anchored by faith. Americans are anchored in their opinions on religious freedom, just as religion sustains them through difficult times.
2. Religious identity cannot be quarantined. Religion is part of who Americans are, not just something they do. Respondents support protections that reflect the reality of religious identity.
3. Leadership gaps in defending racial justice and religious freedom. In two areas–religious communities advocating for racial justice and elected officials prioritizing religious freedom–the Index reveals a significant leadership gap.

The Faithful Voters Who Helped Put Biden Over the Top

New York Times by Michael Wear

While exit poll data will continue to adjust as the final votes are tallied, we already know that Mr. Biden’s outreach has been vindicated. Nationally, he won 23 percent of white evangelicals, closing the gap from 2016 by 11 percentage points (from 64 to 53). This amounts to a swing of well over four million votes nationally, which accounts for much of Mr. Biden’s lead in the popular vote. While there has been significant discussion of Mr. Trump’s gains among Black and especially Hispanic voters, Mr. Biden more than made up for those losses with his increased share of white evangelical support.

Equality Act hangs in the balance as Democrats falter in Senate races

USA Today

Biden has vowed to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office, an unexpected commitment as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. To do that, however, he will need the backing of a sharply partisan Senate. The bill easily cleared the Democrat-dominated House last year. Its chances of surviving the Senate, where it looks like Republicans will maintain control, is questionable.

The Impact of Psychological Man—and How to Respond

Public Discourse by Carl Trueman

Words are, to use the hyperbolic jargon of our cultural moment, instruments of violence because injury is conceptualized in psychological terms. This is why speech codes are now so important. Even the accidental use of an inappropriate pronoun can be seen as an assault on someone’s person because it is seen as a denial of their identity. Policing language thus becomes central to a society constituted by psychological selves. The net result of this is that matters once considered basic social goods such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion become problematic.

The Lincoln Proposal: Pro-Life Presidents Must Take Ambitious and Bold Action to Protect the Constitutional Rights of Preborn Children

Public Discourse by Foster, Pecknold and Craddock

The Constitution vests the president with “[t]he executive power” to take decisive and conclusive action within the domain of the executive branch, including its subsidiary departments and agencies. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution requires the president to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Additionally, Article II, Section 3 directs the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” This provision imposes a twofold duty: first, an independent responsibility to interpret the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and then second, to faithfully execute them. The president’s interpretive role is implicit in and antecedent to the power of execution. Relying on his constitutionally prescribed oath and his Take Care Clause interpretive authority, the president should fulfill his duty to faithfully execute the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution by issuing an executive order recognizing preborn persons as constitutional “persons” entitled to due process and equal protection of the laws.

Biden projected winner, rollbacks on pro-life and religious liberty protections expected

Catholic News Agency

Biden pledged during his campaign to roll back bans on foreign aid to groups promoting or performing abortions, and to rescind religious liberty protections enjoyed by groups who object to the federal contraceptive insurance mandate— both things that can be done by executive order. But the Biden campaign also pledged to enshrine abortion protections into federal law and to pass far-reaching gender identity protections into law — those measures will be unlikely to be enacted if Republicans control the Senate.

Argument analysis: Justices sympathetic to faith-based foster-care agency in anti-discrimination dispute


Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the case involved both contractual relationships and licensing, in which the city would have less latitude. Windham responded that licensing is indeed different, and the city has less leeway, because the city is trying to regulate an area – foster care — in which religious organizations historically have played a large role. She stressed that CSS is not trying to tell the city how to run its internal affairs; instead, the city is trying to tell CSS how to run its internal affairs.
Justice Samuel Alito was clearly sympathetic to CSS. He told Neal Katyal, the lawyer representing the city, that “if we are honest about what’s really going on here,” the case is “not about ensuring that same-sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents.” Rather, Alito contended, Philadelphia “can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old-fashioned view about marriage.”

Supreme Court Tackles Religious Freedom in Foster Care Case


The reason that the outcome of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia is so potentially important goes back to another Supreme Court decision from 1990. In Employment Division v. Smith, Justice Antonin Scalia determined that a state or local law could restrict religious freedom, as long as it does so in a way that equally applies to everyone. The only way such a law can be challenged under the Free Exercise Clause is if it violates some other right. In a way, Employment Division v. Smith turned religious freedom into a subset of the freedom of speech, rather than the “first freedom” it truly is.
Yesterday, the lawyers for Catholic Social Services not only asked the Court to rule in their favor but, also to overturn Employment Division. This would force state and local governments to abide by the same standard as the federal government, justifying any infringement on religious freedom by showing that a compelling interest is being served in the least restrictive way possible.

Bishop Chairmen Urge the Supreme Court to Preserve the Right of Catholic Foster Care Agencies to Serve


“Catholics have been called to care for children who have been orphaned, or whose parents face unique difficulties in providing care, since the earliest days of our faith. We serve all children in need, without regard to race, religion, sex, or any other characteristic. We have done this for centuries, long before any government, because we believe every single person – especially the marginalized and powerless – deserves to experience the love of Jesus and be part of a family. The same core beliefs about human dignity and the wisdom of God’s design that motivate Catholics to serve the vulnerable also shape our convictions about sex, marriage, and the right of children to a mother and a father. These commitments are inseparable."

Qualifying Free Speech Out of Existence: Dare to Speak and the Danger of Polite Self-Censorship

Public Discourse by Allen Guelzo

Nossel is not any more enthused about the prospect of privately owned digital platforms—such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter—stepping up to censor inconvenient utterances. “Pious pronouncements by tech company CEOs about free expression,” she complains, “come off as self-serving,” and she is fearful of the “risks associated with commissioning the world’s most powerful companies to exercise vast and unprecedented controls over speech.” In the face of widespread demands for such censorship, Nossel argues that free speech is essential to self-government, promotes tolerance and personal autonomy, catalyzes progress, and serves as the foundation for all other freedoms.

No choice on school choice


Three families in rural areas of Maine without public high schools can send their children to private school but not Christian school on the government’s dime, an appeals court ruled Thursday. The decision “allows the state of Maine to continue discriminating against families and students seeking to attend religious schools, and we will immediately appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Tim Keller, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents the parents.

Image by Markus Winkler

International News

‘Trump Is Better’: In Asia, Pro-Democracy Forces Worry About Biden

New York Times

As President-elect Biden now assembles his foreign-policy team, prominent human rights activists across Asia are worried about his desire for the United States to hew again to international norms. They believe that Mr. Biden, like former President Barack Obama, will pursue accommodation rather than confrontation in the face of China’s assertive moves.
Mr. Trump’s popularity is particularly enduring among Christians, such as Chinese-born legal scholars chafing against Communism’s atheist core and ethnic minority activists in Southeast Asia. Mr. Pompeo and other Trump administration officials, they believe, have been fulfilling a faith-based mission overseas.

China drafts new rules cracking down on citizens' religious exchanges with foreigners

Christian Post

This week, China’s Ministry of Justice published a list of new restrictions on religious foreigners who are visiting or working in the communist country to prevent them from spreading so-called "religious extremism," or use religion "to undermine China's national or ethnic unity."
The draft rules include a list of activities that foreigners are advised not to conduct within China, such as "interfering with or dominating the affairs of Chinese religious groups," advocating "extremist religious thoughts," using religion to conduct terrorist activities, or "interfering with the appointment or management of Chinese clergy members."
Foreigners are also prohibited from “illegal preaching among Chinese citizens, converting new believers, accepting religious donations from Chinese citizens,” or “carrying out religious education and training.”

Will religious liberty survive in Europe?

Northern Virginia Daily by Charles Mills

Anti-Catholics, atheists, anti-clericalists, humanists, and secularists have long wanted to force Poland and Hungary to adopt unwelcome secularist ideas, including abortion on demand and public pornography, or suffer economic sanctions and loss of representatives in the European Parliament. To inflict this persecution requires unanimity. Poland is prepared to veto any such sanctions against Hungary and Hungary to veto them against Poland. To break these two intransigent Christian nations, the Germans and other Western European countries proposed a seven-year budget that contained a repeal of the need for unanimity to “discipline” a member state.

USCIRF Releases New Report about Countering Violent Extremism in Tajikistan


Issue Update—Promoting Religious Freedom and Countering Violent Extremism in Tajikistan—This update describes Tajikistan’s official campaign to control and restrict Islamic practice, ostensibly an effort to combat the spread of terrorism and violent extremism but, in reality, represents harsh and counterproductive religious freedom restrictions. Contemporary research on effectively countering violent extremism demonstrates that religious freedom and security are symbiotic rather than mutually exclusive. This report recommends that U.S. government engagement with Tajikistan reflect best practices by integrating religious freedom requirements into all security assistance.

Secy. Pompeo: China, Iran, North Korea Greatest Threats To Religious Freedom


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named China, Iran and North Korea as the most dangerous opponents of freedom of religion around the world. One America’s Hans Hubbard reports.

Christians in the Middle East need us

Daily Journal

"The sand has nearly run out in the hourglass that is Christianity in Iraq," is how Stephen M. Rasche, vice chancellor of the Catholic University in Erbil, describes the situation in his book "The Disappearing People: The Tragic Fate of Christians in the Middle East." And although there is still time left, if we don't act now, the 2,000-year presence of Christians in the Middle East will come to an end on our watch.

What Biden foreign policy picks mean for religious freedom


After President Obama promoted “the rights of gays and lesbians” during a 2015 trip to Kenya, Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja responded that “our Church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman.”
During the Trump administration, the U.S. also spoke out against abortion as an international human right at the United Nations General Assembly. As Biden has pledged to support legal abortion and overturn a ban on funding of foreign abortion promoters and providers, his administration might also promote legal abortion as part of diplomacy.

USCIRF Condemns Egypt’s Detention of Mohamed Basheer, Ramy Kamel


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns the Egyptian government’s arrest of Mohamed Basheer, Administrative Manager of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and urges his and Coptic activist Ramy Kamel’s unconditional and immediate release.
USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins said, “USCIRF calls on the Egyptian government to immediately release Mr. Basheer and Mr. Kamel from detention and dismiss all charges against them. While Egypt’s recent initiatives to promote interfaith tolerance, protect religious heritage sites, and legalize hundreds of churches deserve support and encouragement, we cannot stand idly by while it continues to harshly punish honorable advocates for religious freedom and broader human rights.”

USCIRF Releases New Report about Global Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses


“The Global Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses” Issue Update—This update describes official discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world, with a particular focus on countries where members have been imprisoned for their beliefs. These include countries that USCIRF recommended in its 2020 Annual Report for designation as countries of particular concern, such as Eritrea, Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan; countries USCIRF recommended for the Special Watch List, including Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan; as well as South Korea and Singapore. The report also makes recommendations for U.S. policy.

Religious Liberty in Peril, in France and Elsewhere

National Review by Doug Bandow

Neither Macron’s rhetoric nor his government’s policies are beyond reproach, especially Paris’s historic attachment to extreme and coerced secularism. However, the ongoing controversy illustrates a severe problem within Islam. A significant strain of Islamic thought justifies brutal, even deadly treatment of non-Muslims — or, more precisely, non–Sunni Muslims. Groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram have cheerfully, even enthusiastically, slaughtered Shiites, Sufis, and Muslims deemed insufficiently supportive of the murder of Christians.

USCIRF Releases New Report about United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms


This factsheet provides an overview of the UN human rights mechanisms, with a particular focus on those most relevant to freedom of religion or belief. The factsheet describes the mandate and composition of the Human Rights Council and its subsidiaries, which include the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, the Special Procedures mandate holders, and factfinding missions. The UN treaty-based mechanisms, such as the Human Rights Committee established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are also explained. The factsheet includes examples of engagement with these mechanisms that has advanced religious freedom. Although these bodies have limitations, they nevertheless provide opportunities for advocacy by and collaboration among states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to promote freedom of religion or belief internationally.

Religious Freedom in Algeria


Thursday, November 12, 2020
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM (EST)
This special event will highlight recent and ongoing religious freedom concerns in Algeria, including the restriction and closure of Protestant churches, as well as the potential impact of recent political developments on religious freedom conditions in the country. These trends were reflected in USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report which recommended that the U.S. Department of State include Algeria in its Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe religious freedom violations. USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava and Commissioner Johnnie Moore will host a conversation with guest panelists Jeff King of International Christian Concern (ICC), and Dalia Ghanem of the Carnegie Middle East Center. USCIRF Director of Outreach and Policy Dwight Bashir will moderate the conversation followed by questions and answers from attendees.

USCIRF Observes International Religious Freedom Day


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today commemorates International Religious Freedom (IRF) Day, October 27, 2020, marking the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). IRFA sought to make religious freedom a priority in U.S. foreign policy in a variety of ways, including by creating governmental institutions including USCIRF and the State Department’s IRF Office, requiring monitoring and reporting on religious freedom violations, and establishing consequences for the worst violators.

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