Religious freedom

Arizona Supreme Court rules Christian artists can’t be forced to make same-sex wedding invitations

A pair of Christian artists can’t be forced by the city government of Phoenix to make invitations for same-sex marriages, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday. Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, the owners of Brush & Nib Studio, were accused of violating a local anti-discrimination ordinance. Monday’s 4-3 decision reversed a lower-court ruling that favored the city. “An individual has autonomy over his or her speech and thus may not be forced to speak a message he or she does not wish to say,” the court’s majority decision read. Duka, a calligrapher, and Koski, a painter, were threatened with six months jail time and $2,500 in fines for every day they were in violation of the ordinance. They are now celebrating their judicial victory as “a huge win for religious freedom and freedom of speech.” Duka and Koski told “Fox News @ Night” last year they “serve all people” and decided to challenge the law to defend “the right of artists to create freely.” “Joanna and Breanna work with all people; they just don’t promote all messages,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued on the pair’s behalf, said in a statement. “They, like all creative professionals, should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.” Writing for the majority, Justice Andrew Gould concluded that the city of Phoenix “cannot apply its Human Relations Ordinance” to force Brush & Nib to “create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.” “Duka and Koski’s beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some,” Gould wrote. “But the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone.”

Exactly!!  And well said, your Honor.  We applaud this outstanding decision by the AZ Supreme Court.  Like the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of a Colorado baker for a similar situation, this is a BIG victory for freedom of speech and freedom of religion…some of our most basic values.  Excellent!!   🙂

Appeals court rules Pennsylvania county can keep cross on its seal

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday a Pennsylvania county’s 70-year-old seal and flag is allowed to remain after being targeted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled 3-0 Thursday that after the Supreme Court upheld the Bladensburg “Peace Cross” war memorial in June as a historic monument, the Lehigh County can maintain its seal as a symbol that “has become part of the community.” The seal and flag feature grain silos, the Liberty Bell, a heart, among other items. But it was the cross at the center of the seal that the Wisconsin-based group had a problem with. FFRF sued the county in 2016 to get the cross removed. A federal judge ruled in FFRF’s favor in 2017 based on the Lemon test from the Supreme Court case, Lemon v. Kurtzman, requiring courts to decide whether the government is trying to “endorse” religion with a mention of God or religion, something the court has moved away from since the June decision by the Supreme Court. “It is common sense that religion played a role in the lives of our nation’s early settlers,” said Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket, a religious liberty law firm. “It is only right that Lehigh County can continue honoring its history and culture.” The group that complained about the seal was disappointed in the court’s decision. “The appeals court decision validates a Lehigh County seal that sends a wrong, exclusionary message,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, said in a statement. “The county should be welcoming of all residents regardless of religion — and it’s appalling that the court didn’t prod county officials to move in that direction.” First Liberty Institute, which successfully defended the Bladensburg Peace Cross at the Supreme Court, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case and said the mere presence of a cross “does not establish a religion.” “The Supreme Court made it clear in its recent decision in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association that the days of offended observers forcing governments to scrub all public references to the divine are over,” Stephanie Taub, First Liberty Institute general counsel, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to see our victory in that case already making an impact.”

Great news!  This is a HUGE victory for religious rights!  We’re thrilled to see the anti-religious bullies getting smacked down in federal court.  Outstanding!!    🙂

Group sues Boston for banning Christian flag, approving 284 others

The city of Boston, Mass. is being sued for religious discrimination for banning the Christian flag while permitting 284 others, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week. Hal Shurtleff, the director and co-founder of Camp Constitution, asked the city to fly the Christian flag, an inter-denominational symbol, as part of Constitution Day on Sep. 17, 2017, for a one-hour event. But the city banned its appearance, saying no non-secular flags could be flown. “There’s no question that it is an unconstitutional act and originally said it was a violation of the First Amendment, which I find ironic,” Shurtleff told Fox News. “I’m optimistic the lawsuit will go our way.” Shurtleff said the city would have accepted it if they had called it the Camp Constitution flag instead of the Christian flag. The group was planning an event with pastors encouraging racial reconciliation, freedom in the United States, and celebrating the link between Christianity and the United States, ending with the presentation of the Christian flag. But after the city’s rejection, the event was canceled. Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom law firm representing Shurtleff, slammed the city for the decision, which they made again in 2018. “Censoring religious viewpoints in a public forum where secular viewpoints are permitted violates the First Amendment,” Staver said in a statement. “Boston city officials may not ban the Christian flag as part of a privately-sponsored event when they allow any other flag by numerous private organizations. It’s time for the court to stop the city’s unconstitutional censorship.” A federal court and appeals court previously ruled against Shurtleff, but the new lawsuit has new “key facts” that Liberty Counsel believes will “compel a result in Camp Constitution’s favor.” One is that the city allowed the Turkish flag — with its Islamic star and crescent — to be raised on city hall flagpoles 13 times since 2005, according to the suit. The city has also allowed the Communist Chinese flag to commemorate the anniversary of the Chinese Communist revolution, Cuban, and Vatican flags to fly along with transgender and LGBTQ flags, which were not mentioned in the lawsuit. “Yet, despite all of these many flag raisings containing religious symbols and imagery, and the City’s allowing the official flag of the Catholic Church, Camp Constitution’s proposed flag raising was denied because it was ‘religious,’” the suit states. “There can be no dispute that the City’s denial impermissibly discriminated between religion and non-religion, and discriminated between religious sects. Both violate the Establishment Clause.”

Exactly!

About 80 percent of world lives in areas where religious freedom is ‘highly restricted,’ report says

Pastor Andrew Brunson, jailed in Turkey, was released. Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, was set free. But sadly, their stories are not the norm — religious persecution is on the rise around the globe, according to a new report from the U.S. government that points to Iran, Russia, and China as some of the worst abusers. The Trump Administration puts religious freedom as a big part of its foreign policy, and Pompeo announced the State Department elevated the Office of International Religious Freedom, along with the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, within the organization, giving them more staff and resources. Pompeo called the 2018 International Religious Freedom Report “a chilling array of abuses committed by oppressive regimes, violent extremist groups, and individual citizens.” While there have been significant improvements, the majority of the world is facing rising religious persecution, with nearly 80 percent of the world’s population living in areas where the right to religious freedom is highly restricted. “For all those that run roughshod over religious freedom, I’ll say this: The United States is watching and you will be held to account,” Pompeo said. “History will not be silent about these abuses but only if voices of liberty like ours record it.” While some countries have shown improvements, like Uzbekistan, which for the first time in 13 years is no longer designated as a “country of particular concern,” persecution in other countries has grown. “In Iran, the regime’s crackdown on the Baha’is, Christians, and others continue to shock the conscience. In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were absurdly and abhorrently branded as terrorists, as authorities confiscated their property and then threatened their families. In Burma, Rohingya Muslims continue to face violence at the hands of the military. Hundreds of thousands have fled or been forced to live in overcrowded refugee camps,” Pompeo said. “And in China, the government’s intense persecution of many faiths – Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists among them is the norm. The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. The party demands that it alone be called God.” The Trump Administration launched the International Religious Freedom Fund, which has received millions of dollars to support victims of persecution. “We will not stop until we see the iron curtain of religious persecution come down,” said Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. At the same time, the United States could not secure religious freedom alone, he continued, “we need everyone’s help; everyone has a stake in the fight.” Pompeo said he hopes conditions improve leading up to the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, where 1,000 leaders have been invited.

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.    🙂

Sen. Sasse: Left-Wing Attacks on Karen Pence for Teaching at Christian School ‘Fundamentally Unamerican’

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska blasted left-wing groups for attacking Second Lady Karen Pence’s decision to resume her teaching career at a Christian school in Washington. Mrs. Pence was recently hired to teach art at a school that some critics said is homophobic because a document from the school asks students “not to participat[e] in, support or condone sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bisexual activity.” The Human Rights Campaign was one group to speak out, tweeting that the Pences “never miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some.” Sasse called the outrage “absurd” and said that Pence’s religious beliefs were under attack. “She doesn’t need a job, she’s doing this to love thy neighbor, through art,” Sasse said, calling the criticism a “fundamentally unamerican way to think.” Sasse added that a judge from his home state was subjected to similar scrutiny from Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California, who questioned — among other things — his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Judge Brian Buescher, who President Trump nominated to a federal judgeship in the Cornhusker State, is a devout Roman Catholic and member of the religion’s historic fraternal organization for men. Sasse said the Senate passed a resolution late Wednesday that rebuked Hirono and Harris: “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 resolution read, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

To see that article, scroll down 1 article immediately below.  Kudos to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb) for standing up to the pc police and speech nazis who hate Catholics and Christians of all stripes.  More politicians on BOTH sides of the political aisle should follow his fine example.

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!!   🙂