Freedom of Religion

Betsy DeVos Strikes a Blow for Religious Freedom

Last week, Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education will stop enforcing a provision in federal law that has long barred religious organizations from contracting with private schools to provide federally funded “equitable services,” like tutoring and professional development. In a letter to Congress, DeVos explained that she was acting in accord with the Supreme Court’s 2017 verdict in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. In Trinity Lutheran, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri had engaged in unconstitutional discrimination by denying a church-run preschool access to a publicly funded program for playground improvement. Under the Constitution’s free-exercise clause, the Court found, otherwise eligible entities cannot be disqualified from a public benefit “based solely on their religious status.” In a press release accompanying her announcement, DeVos declared that, “Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization.” This is not a theoretical problem. To take but one example, up to now, parochial-school teachers could not attend a federally funded workshop at Catholic University. In that sense, DeVos’s policy change is long overdue. Indeed, the prohibition on religious providers was not some recent move by the Obama administration. Since its inception, the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was held to require that school districts must provide comparable services to educationally disadvantaged private-school students and educationally disadvantaged public-school students. Washington determined that those dollars could not flow directly to private schools, however, meaning that local districts had to provide the services or find a contractor to offer them. As implemented, federal law dictated that religious organizations were summarily barred from working as contractors with private schools — even when well suited for the work. But the ban on providers was remarkably inconsistent. Bizarrely, under the law, religious organizations have been permitted to provide services like after-school tutoring to public-school students, even as they’ve been barred from providing the same services to private-school students. The secretary’s decision corrects the government’s puzzling policy of intermittent religious discrimination. Predictably, some portrayed DeVos’s modest step to obey Supreme Court jurisprudence as part of a shadowy effort to entangle church and state. (“DeVos Moves to Ease Church-State Rules in Education,” one New York Times headline blared.) But the Department’s decision seems more aptly described as an effort to correct a kind of reflexive, anti-faith discrimination that had been in place for decades, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his decision for the 7–2 majority in Trinity Lutheran, “There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is—a church.” DeVos is applying the same logic, consistently. There’s no need to overcomplicate this. If the prohibitions in question were being applied to religious organizations that had spent funds inappropriately or engaged in proselytizing while on the federal dime, that would be one thing. But the issue here is wholesale, categorical discrimination against organizations of faith, simply because they’re organizations of faith, when it comes to non-religious programs such as English tutoring and professional development for math instruction. Discrimination of that sort has no place in the American system, and DeVos was right in moving to stamp it out. The new policy has the potential to immediately benefit many of the millions of educationally disadvantaged students who attend private schools, and its significance will only grow if efforts to expand private-school choice continue to flourish. It didn’t spark the commentary or contention that have greeted so many of DeVos’s other actions, but it’s a sensible, overdue act of good stewardship and we ought not overlook it.

 

Thanks to both Frederick M. Hess and Brendan Bell for bringing this to our attention, and major kudos to Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos for making this happen!  This is a HUGE win not only for religious freedom, for the education of our kids.  Frederick M. Hess is the director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Brendan Bell is the education-policy program manager at AEI.    🙂

Senate Rebukes Harris and Hirono on Knights of Columbus

On Wednesday the Senate approved a resolution that rebuked two Democratic senators for questioning judicial nominees about their membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. The resolution, introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), affirmed “the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates the Constitution of the United States.” The Senate proceeded to affirm the resolution without objection. Last month, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii), both on the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned a judicial nominee about his membership in the Knights of Columbus and whether it would affect his ability to fairly judge cases. Brian Buescher was nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. Hirono sent written questions claiming “the Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions. For example, it was reportedly one of the top contributors to California’s Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage.” She also asked if Buescher would quit the group if confirmed “to avoid any appearance of bias.” Harris described the Knights as “an all-male society” in her questions, and also asked if Buescher knew the Knights “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he became a member. Sasse’s resolution also referenced the anti-Catholic bigotry Democratic president John F. Kennedy faced during his presidency, and cited the Knights of Columbus’s “proud tradition of standing against the forces of prejudice and oppression such as the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany.” The resolution asked the Senate to express its sense “that disqualifying a nominee to federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates Clause 3 of Article 6 of the Constitution of the United States which establishes that senators ‘shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution[; but] no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.'” Sasse urged his fellow senators to rebuke the anti-Catholic attacks against Buescher. “If a senator has a problem with this resolution, you’re probably in the wrong line of work because this is what America is. This is a super basic point, no religious test. If someone has a problem with this resolution, what other parts of the Constitution are you against: freedom of the press, women’s right to vote, freedom of speech? This isn’t hard. No religious test for serving on the federal bench. We should, in this body, rebuke these anti-Catholic attacks,” Sasse said. After the resolution was affirmed, the Nebraska senator said he would report back to Buescher “that he can ignore those questions that he received about whether or not he would resign his membership in the Knights of Columbus.”

Dem. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) are nauseating, self-righteous, religious bigots.  Kudos to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb) for calling them out like this publicly on the floor of the Senate and getting this resolution passed.  Excellent!!   🙂

Starnes: Texas cheerleaders win a victory for freedom of religious expression

There are two hard and fast rules in life: don’t mess with Texas and don’t mess with Texas cheerleaders. The Kountze Independent School District in southeast Texas has learned that lesson the hard way. The Texas Supreme Court on Friday refused to hear the school district’s appeal of a case involving Bible verses written by cheerleaders on run-through banners displayed at Kountze High School football games. The action by the state’s highest court all but ends a more than five-year legal battle that garnered support from Texas’ two Republican U.S. senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. “Our clients are relieved that the Texas Supreme Court has brought an end to the school district’s scorched earth litigation tactics,” First Liberty Institute’s Hiram Sasser told the “Todd Starnes Radio Show.” First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s most prominent religious liberty law firms, took on the case back in 2012 along with co-counsel David Starnes (no relation) and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher. “As the football season kicks off across Texas, it’s good to be reminded that these cheerleaders have a right to religious speech on their run-through banners – banners on which the cheerleaders painted messages they chose, with paint they paid for, on paper they purchased,” Sasser told me. Sasser said school districts across the nation should pay close attention to the Texas Supreme Court’s decision. “Stop harassing cheerleaders and accept that they are free to have religious speech on their run-through banners,” Sasser warned. In 2012 seven cheerleaders sued the school district after they were banned from using Bible verses on banners that players would run through at high school football games. The verses, like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” were meant to be inspirational and encouraging. The state’s Ninth Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the cheerleaders in January – declaring the signs are “pure private speech.” “We find the cheerleaders’ speech on the pregame banners cannot be characterized as government speech,” the court wrote. However, the school district argued that a cheerleader who cheers at a game engages in government speech, and therefore cannot write religious messages on banners. The “banners were held by public school cheerleaders while they were cheering for the school’s football team, while they were in uniform at a school-sponsored event, and while they were on the school’s football field to which access was limited by the school,” school district attorney Thomas Brandt wrote in the Beaumont Enterprise. The school district had no immediate comment on the Supreme Court ruling. “This is a total victory that protects the religious liberty of students everywhere,” attorney Allyson Ho, the lead appellate counsel, said. “This decision by the Supreme Court of Texas should be the final word on this issue for students and schools across Texas.” One question remains unanswered. Why did the school district spend thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to try and stop the cheerleaders from exercising their constitutional rights? Perhaps the citizens of Kountze might get an answer when school board members face re-election. I reckon the Kountze cheerleaders have learned a very important lesson about perseverance over the past five years. You really can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Indeed..  Thanks to veteran culture warrior Todd Starnes for bringing us this great story out of southeast Texas.     🙂

Federal court upholds prayer in Congress

A federal court ruled Wednesday that Congress can continue to open its sessions each day with a prayer, and upheld the House’s ability to pick and choose who’s allowed to lead the prayer. U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, a Bush appointee who sits in Washington, D.C., rejected a challenge by Daniel Barker, co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation, who said he was not permitted to give an opening invocation, even though other guest chaplains have been permitted. Judge Collyer said House rules didn’t permit him to lead the prayer because he had left his faith. Judge Collyer also said an opening prayer has been a tradition in this country for more than two centuries, and the Supreme Court has ruled it doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause. “To decide that Mr. Barker was discriminated against and should be permitted to address the House would be to disregard the Supreme Court precedent that permits legislative prayer,” Judge Collyer wrote in her opinion on Wednesday. Mr. Barker said her ruling was tainted by personal bias against nonreligious people. “The judge’s acquiescence in this inequity sends a crystal clear message that our government, founded upon our entirely secular Constitution, may discriminate with impunity against atheists and freethinkers,” he said. But House Speaker Paul D. Ryan applauded the ruling. “Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God. Today, that tradition was upheld and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. He added the return of Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, who was shot earlier this year by a left wing zealot, reminded Congress of the power of prayer.

Indeed..  This ruling was spot on, and with precedent from the Supreme Court.  This idiot from FFRF got slapped down, and rightfully so.  This is a small, yet important, victory for religious freedom, and for freedom of speech.  As we’ve documented on numerous occasions here at The Daily Buzz… The whole notion of a “separation of church and state” is bs.  There is no such thing.  That phrase originated in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the members of a church where he raised the idea in a philosophical sense.  That’s it.  Nowhere in our founding legal documents (i.e. The U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc.) is that phrase found.   Our founders intended freedom OF religion; NOT freedom FROM religion.  Kudos to Judge Collyer for her spot-on analysis, and excellent ruling!

Starnes: Bernie Sanders attacks Trump nominee for following teachings of Christ

First they came for the wedding planners and the bakers. Then they came for the Catholic farmers and the Baptist high school valedictorians. And now, the secularists are coming after the evangelical public servants. On Wednesday, Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee to be deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, was viciously attacked by Sen. Bernie Sanders over his Christian faith. Sen. Sanders deemed Vought unsuitable for office because he believes that salvation is found alone through Jesus Christ. He said someone with that kind of a religious belief system is “really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.” Sen. James Lankford warned that Sander’s comments “dangerously close to crossing a clear constitutional line for how we evaluate qualifications for public service.” “The First Amendment is crystal clear that the federal government must protect every American’s right to the peaceful and free exercise of religion,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “We cannot say we have the free exercise of religion and also require people to practice their faith only in a way that government officials prefer.” The Vermont senator’s comments brought strong condemnation from Christians across the nation – including Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “Senator Sanders is taking the Obama era’s religious hostility and putting it on steroids,” Perkins said. Thousands have signed a Family Research Council petition demanding Sanders apologize for his outburst of religious bigotry. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas (and a Fox News contributor), said that there are only two choices for the senator: “Apologize to the country for his foolhardy attempt to introduce an unconstitutional litmus test that would exclude 41 percent of the country, or resign.” The controversy stems from an article Vought wrote in 2016 defending his alma mater, Wheaton College. In that article, he described Islam as a “deficient theology.” “This is a fundamental problem,” he wrote in The Resurgent. “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” Sanders confronted Vought during the congressional hearing. To read a transcript of the exchange been Sen. Sanders and Russell Vought, click here.

Wow..  You really can’t make this stuff up, folks..  We all know how much of a lunatic, crazy ol’ Bernie is.  But, now we can add the adjective bigot to the list.  Isn’t ironic how the left is also preaching how we all need to be more “tolerant”..  But, when it comes to Christians, the left is VERY intolerant..  If you’re a Christian, you can’t have a job in government.  That is essentially what Bernie is suggesting.  So what if he this guy thinks Islam is a “deficient theology” (which, by the way, it is).  Who cares?  That has NOTHING to do with the time of day, or the job for which he is being considered.  Oh.. and what about that First Amendment to the Constitution?  Christians (who make up over 70% of Americans, according to the last census) are entitled to it’s protections.  Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) was more than right to slam Bernie for hiss outrageous questions and bigoted grandstanding.  Unreal..

Starnes: Bible reading not allowed before class, Northern Arizona Univ. professor tells student

It’s apparently okay to read history books at Northern Arizona University, but not the Good Book. Mark Holden, a 22-year-old history major, tells me he was ordered to leave a lecture hall after his professor objected to him reading the Bible before the start of the class. Holden alleges that Professor Heather Martel ordered him to put away the Good Book around six minutes before a scheduled history class. It’s unclear why she objected to the reading of God’s Word. According to her biography, Professor Martel is a noted scholar who is working on an essay titled, “The Gender Amazon: Indigenous Female Masculinity in Early Modern European Representations of Contact.” She also teaches classes on Global Queer History and Feminist Theory. When Holden declined to stop reading his Bible, the professor summoned Derek Heng, the chairman of the department. Heng then proceeded to explain the situation. Holden recorded the conversation and turned it over to congressional candidate Kevin Cavanaugh. In turn, Cavanaugh provided me with a copy of the audio. “So Professor Martel says that she doesn’t want you sitting in front of her because you put, you know, a Bible out, right?” Heng said. “So she doesn’t want me in the front because I have my Bible out,” Holden replied. “No, I think she, I mean, well why do you have your Bible out anyway,” Heng asked. After a bit more back and forth regarding the dynamics in the classroom, the chairman of the department got to the heart of the issue. “So, will you, will you, will you, put your Bible away,” Heng asked. The incident occurred back in February, but just recently became public after Campus Reform reported on the controversy. Holden had previously drawn the ire of his professor during a classroom discussion on assimilation. “All the students agreed with her that assimilation is oppressive and evil,” Holden said. “I suggested there are both positive and negative aspects to assimilation.” As an example, he referenced a report about two Muslim men in California who reportedly said the Koran justified doing terrible things to women. “She told me I was a racist and she would not tolerate that kind of racism in the class,” Holden said. “I told her Islam was not a race and I was only talking about what the two Muslims men as individuals said – I was not making broad claims about Islam or my interpretation of the Koran.” After a bit of back and forth, Holden said the professor told the class, “Welcome to Trump’s new America – where straight white males can say prejudicial things without being reprimanded for it.” I reached out to Holden and university officials for their side of the story – but so far they have not returned my calls. However, I did obtain an email Martel sent to Holden warning him about “disruptive behavior.” “For the remainder of the class, I will ask you to move to one of the desks along the wall by the door,” she wrote. “The roll sheet will be passed to you. You will make sure that students who come in late sign in. I will also require that you respect me and the other students in the class by acting in a civil manner.”

Soo.. At a publicly funded university in AZ, a professor is openly attacking one of her students for reading a Bible BEFORE class, and then goes on to attack his race (white) in front of the rest of the class, thereby humiliating him…and then penalizes the poor kid for having the nerve to question her liberal orthodoxy regarding assimilation.  Wow..  This professor should be suspended, and the kid apologized to in writing by that professor.  To read the rest of this investigative piece by culture warrior Todd Starnes, and hear that recording in question, click on the text above.  This type of political correctness should NOT be tolerated on our colleges and universities.  And, if this crap continues, tax-payer funding should be withheld.

 

French: Washington’s Supreme Court Imposes Its Progressive Faith on a Christian Florist

If you care about the Bill of Rights, the rights of conscience, or even the English language, there’s a chance that this morning you felt a disturbance in the Force — as if the Founders cried out in rage and were suddenly silenced. That disturbance was the Washington Supreme Court’s oppressive ruling in State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, a case holding that a florist was bound by state law to use her artistic talents to design floral arrangements to celebrate what she viewed as an immoral event: a gay wedding. The pretext for overriding the florist’s rights to free speech and religious liberty was Washington’s so-called “public accommodations law,” which required the owner, Barronelle Stutzman, to provide goods and services to customers “regardless” of their sexual orientation. Let’s be clear, according to the plain language of the law and the undisputed facts of the case, Stutzman did nothing illegal. She had always consistently and joyfully served gay clients, including the man who ultimately decided to bring potentially ruinous legal claims against her. On each of those prior occasions, however, she was not using her artistic talents to help her clients celebrate an occasion she considered immoral. In other words, she was not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. She was making a decision not to help celebrate an action, a form of expression. She would no more celebrate a gay wedding than she would any form of immorality, gay or straight. To dispense with her argument, the court did what numerous progressive courts have done: It rewrote the law. It rejected what it called the “status/conduct” distinction, and essentially interpreted the word “orientation” to also mean “action.” To understand how nonsensical and dangerous this is, one need merely apply it to other categories of expression. Is it now racial discrimination to refuse to bake a cake with Confederate flag icing, since the person asking for such a cake will almost always be white? Is it gender discrimination for fashion designers to refuse to “dress” Ivanka or Melania Trump? They’re women, after all. But this is the sexual revolution we’re talking about, so it’s necessary for the court to make a statement declaring the government’s allegiances. Indeed, late in the opinion its author gave the game away. Picking up on the absurd and historically ignorant comparison of the modern gay-rights movement with the civil-rights movement in the segregationist South, the judge wrote, “This case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.” What are they talking about? The federal government took the extraordinary step of passing the civil-rights acts to give black Americans access not just to sandwiches but to hotel rooms, jobs, voting rights, and all the other things they were systematically denied as southern states and communities continually and oppressively imposed the “badges and incidents of slavery” on them. In the pre-civil-rights South, black citizens often had trouble finding places to eat or sleep. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t get justice in state courts. Civil rights was about access, at its most elementary and necessary level. But that’s not the case any longer. The gay couple in this case had no trouble finding flowers. Stutzman even recommended other florists who would have been happy to help them celebrate their wedding. So, given the absence of any real harm, the court said that the state had a compelling state interest in punishing the “independent social evil” of discrimination toward a “broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace.” That’s it right there: the state religion. It reserves for itself the exclusive ability to name, define, and eradicate “social evils,” and heaven help the individual citizen who disagrees. There is no need to show a traditional, legally recognized harm. There is no need to prove lack of access to alternative artistic expressions. There is only the need to show that the business owner won’t use her unique talents to help celebrate the sexual revolution. Finally, if you doubt the court’s malice, look only to its last ruling — that Stutzman can be held personally liable for her allegedly discriminatory act. In other words, the court is willing to pierce the corporate veil to impose individual liability even in the absence of the traditional justifications for that drastic step. Stutzman didn’t commit fraud. She didn’t commingle her personal and corporate funds. She kept her private and professional affairs separate. But she still faces personal financial ruin. Social-justice warriors will no doubt celebrate the breaking of another egg for their cultural omelet. Meanwhile, Stutzman’s lawyers — my friends and former colleagues at the Alliance Defending Freedom — are appealing her case to the Supreme Court. Once again, eyes will be fixed on Justice Kennedy. Will he continue to impose his own version of the state religion, the one he so enthusiastically articulated in Obergefell? Or will he remember that words have meaning, orientation doesn’t mean action, and the state can’t compel citizens to condone what they consider immoral.

Agreed!!  And, well said, David.  Attorney, and Army Reserve officer (Major), David French was responsible for that outstanding legal op/ed.  David was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.  Excellent!!    🙂