North Korea, Afghanistan Top List of Dangerous Places to Be Christian

As if North Korea weren’t taking up enough headlines, Open Doors USA just added another one: Kim Jong Un’s country is topping the list of the world’s “Most Dangerous Places to Be a Christian.”

Of course, the distinction is nothing new for the regime, which has owned the No. 1 spot for the last 15 years. “Nearly one of every 12 Christians in the world today lives in an area, or in a culture, in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden, or punished,” Open Doors President David Curry explained. In North Korea, where 50,000 people are suffering in prison or labor camps for their faith, few are surprised.

What is surprising, experts say, is the alarming new trend in places like Afghanistan. The struggling country, which is a routine offender on the list, climbed into the second worst spot—a frustrating development for nations like America that continue to pour resources and troops into the area. Even in the Bush years, religious liberty was a problem in the area.

As Open Doors points out, Islamic extremism is the biggest driver of persecution, “initiating oppression and conflict in 35 of the 50 countries on the list.” Now, with reports that Pakistan has been aiding Muslim radicals in Afghanistan, we’re starting to see the effects. President Donald Trump, to his credit, cut off aid to Pakistan, one of our supposed “allies” in the region, hoping he could persuade it to stop giving “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

Amazingly, “Afghanistan and North Korea are nearly tied. Never before,” Curry told reporters, “have the top two countries been so close in incidents. Both countries are extreme in intolerance and outright persecution of Christians in every area Open Doors monitors. Afghanistan now meets the same level of persecution as North Korea in five out of six areas. This is a tragedy considering the efforts being made by the international community to help rebuild Afghanistan are failing to ensure freedom of religion.”

Radical Islamists continue their march of savagery through most of the Middle East and Africa, burning schools and villages to the ground in their war against non-Muslims.

Pakistan, meanwhile, the accomplice to Afghanistan’s rise to infamy, scored the highest in “churches or church building attacks, abductions, and forced marriages.”

The Trump administration, which has done an admirable job cleaning up Iraq and driving the Islamic State out of the country, has another hill to climb in the surrounding nations. The problems of violence and extremism, which have mushroomed in the last decade, point back to President Barack Obama’s failures as an international leader—not only on terrorism, but religious liberty.

As we’ve said before, America’s silence under the last administration led to a rise in the global threat that Trump is now working furiously to control. Conservative leaders like former Rep. Frank Wolf spent the better part of Obama’s two terms begging him to get off the sidelines and defend the persecuted church. But if the president wouldn’t recognize the First Freedom of Americans here at home, how could he fight for the world’s? Fortunately, the new White House has no interest in tip-toeing around the issue of persecution.

Trump has been a staunch advocate for freedom, even going so far as to nominate Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to take over as ambassador-at-large for religious liberty. In the coming weeks, Vice President Mike Pence will build on the new administration’s agenda, visiting the Middle East and asking for other leaders’ cooperation in the fight.

For now, Family Research Council’s Travis Weber says, the Open Doors watch list should serve as “a reminder to all of us in the United States to never take our freedom for granted. Indeed, we must use our freedom to advocate for freedom of religion for all around the world, even as we guard against its infringement here at home.”

This was originally published in Tony Perkins’ Washington Update, which is written with the aid of Family Research Council senior writers.

The post North Korea, Afghanistan Top List of Dangerous Places to Be Christian appeared first on The Daily Signal.

The Role Faith Must Play in America’s Future

Does faith matter anymore in America? Should it?

That probably depends on who you ask, but what is becoming increasingly evident is a growing hostility among some segments of society and culture.

Last month, much of our nation celebrated the birth of Christ—called Christmas, short for Christ’s Mass—yet, the idea of any public display for a clearly religious holiday is somehow considered insensitive, discriminating, or criminal.

One begins to wonder if even saying “God Bless you” after a sneeze might somehow generate formal complaints and a lawsuit to stop such egregious behavior. Sounds like nonsense doesn’t it?

Sadly, it’s not.

Religious expression in the marketplace of ideas is not an automatic religious endorsement by the government, though this remains a loud, but hollow cry among many who would deny those rights if given the power to do so.

When our nation was established, the idea of “self-government under God” was a prevailing theme. Today, it feels more like an increasingly intrusive government without God.

Teachers, football coaches, counselors, city and county officials, our men and women in uniform, chaplains, students, and even government officials, are being reprimanded for acknowledging God or Jesus Christ in almost any public forum.

Business owners—photographers, bakers, florists, and others—are being sued, some even closing their doors, for simply adhering to their values, beliefs, and their rights of conscience in an honorable fashion.

Millions of citizens are rising up to say “Enough” and declare that they still want to “keep faith in America.”

Millions of people in this country continue to pray and place a heartfelt trust in God. This simple act of humble faith has given America strength in wartime, dignity and compassion toward those less fortunate, and confidence in the face of unprecedented challenges.

For so many, faith matters, faith makes a difference, faith brings with it a renewed sense of hope for a better future. Thankfully, this certainty is finding its way back into the hearts, conversations, and actions of everyday Americans.

Throughout U.S. history, prayers of petition and thanksgiving have been lifted up by state and national leaders—to embrace our grief and sorrow, for our troops and first responders in harm’s way, in times of uncertainty and chaos, during global crises, for protection, provision, guidance, and the acknowledgement that in and of ourselves, we are wholly insufficient.

These cherished values are derived from principles deeply woven into the very fabric of our founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—and through the legacy and dedication of the men and women who helped build and shape this country.

The only way to preserve their sacrifice is to boldly move forward with courage and determination, and to walk out what we know to be true.

This legacy also speaks to why millions more have immigrated to our shores over the past three centuries and why countless others have risked everything to preserve our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Are these realities only because the United States is viewed as a “land of opportunity,” a global superpower, a place where dreams can come true? Or is it as the Pledge of Allegiance acknowledges, that we are “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?”

Americans have long viewed freedom as a core longing given by the Creator in His design of man and a primary reason that religious liberty was established as a leading principle in our nation’s founding.

The freedom to choose what and who you believe in, as well as matters of conscience, is among the most basic and fundamental rights afforded to every citizen. Faith and freedom may not have been born together, but their marriage built America, and divorcing the two would ultimately lead to its demise.

Unfortunately, the fabric of this wonderful tapestry is fraying, and in many places is now being torn apart. Religious leaders across America have been concerned about the moral and spiritual decline we are seeing in the country, including the lack of respect and civility that exists in our national discourse.

Polarized and entrenched positions, angry rhetoric, and other signs of acrimony reveal the growing loss of decency and tolerance on all sides. And yet, faith still matters. It still has a role to play in the days ahead. We must keep faith in America.

On Jan. 16, National Religious Freedom Day, thousands of people from all walks of life will join together in a powerful show of unity to raise their voices and launch the “Keep Faith in America” movement.

They will be joined by numerous federal and state legislators, governors, celebrities, and faith leaders who are uniting to help ensure that prayer, God, faith, and the Bible continue to represent an important guiding influence in America’s future—a movement dedicated to promoting freedom and civility, and to reduce the bitter animosity infecting nearly every part of our national psyche.

Things will kick off on the 16th at events across the United States and in 30 state capitols nationwide. Interested individuals can be part of the initial launch through a first-of-its-kind nationally broadcasted Facebook Live event that could potentially reach millions of people throughout the world.

In the following months, there will be a focus on other critically important segments of society, including churches and clergy members, colleges and universities, local governments, and school boards. Some of the most recognized and respected faith leaders in America are uniting to make a difference and reach into every sphere of influence in today’s culture.

Now, more than ever, there is a need to affirm that faith and trust in the Creator remain vital to our national wellbeing. He was understood as the God of the Bible, which was given to help guide our decision-making, our governance as a people, to protect religious liberty, and to live before others with humility and Christian love.

Believers should be leading the way when it comes to engaging society and culture with greater civility, focusing their efforts to reduce harmful divisions. Faith is the key in the days ahead, and it must move beyond a well-crafted sermon and become faith in action.

The Keep Faith in America movement is a renewal of hope. People can register to attend the Facebook Live Event on Jan. 16 by visiting either of the following links: Keep Faith in America Facebook or www.KeepFaithInAmerica.com.

The goal is to first stand together, then pray together, and finally, to move forward together.

Stand. Pray. Move. This is about a renewed hope, a strengthened resolve, a sharpened focus, a bold declaration, and an energized movement.

The post The Role Faith Must Play in America’s Future appeared first on The Daily Signal.

I Was Denied Service Because of the Company’s Values, and I’m OK With That

This week, I was denied a service because the company’s values are at odds with the values that Alliance Defending Freedom stands for—values I personally hold.

And guess what? I’m okay with that. Allow me to explain.

As a writer, I’m always looking to improve my skills. And working for a no-debt legal service like Alliance Defending Freedom, which can only take on cases and clients as the funds are provided through our generous ministry friends, fundraising is an important part of what we do.

Using my work information, I signed up for an online course created by Moceanic, a team of talented fundraisers who have created a coaching and training business to help writers better connect with donors.

I’ve read blog posts and books that the team has produced, and I truly admire their talents. They have a gift for connecting with people.

What I didn’t know when I signed up for the course, however, is that Moceanic does a lot of work with organizations such as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and LGBT activist organizations.

If you know anything about Alliance Defending Freedom or have read my blog posts before, you know that Alliance Defending Freedom and these organizations don’t exactly share the same values.

I received login information from the course and was excited to get started. But last weekend I received an email notifying me that they had refunded the cost of the course with no explanation as to why.

I was a little perplexed by the email and when I logged into their website on Monday morning, the course was no longer available to me.

That’s when I starting digging deeper into the brains behind Moceanic, and it didn’t take long for me to discover the values statement on their website. Here are a few key excerpts:

We work with progressive charities and movements. … This includes LBGT+ rights, Planned Parenthood, ACLU… . We won’t work with organizations that oppose these movements.

This is important to us, and we reserve the right to choose not to train people working directly for, or on behalf of, organizations whose missions or values do not align with ours.

My first thought was, “I get it—no further explanation needed.” I mean, why would they want to train someone who is going to work to raise money for their opposition?

My second thought was, “We actually have more in common than they think!” This is somewhat like the kind of freedom that Jack Phillips and numerous other Alliance Defending Freedom clients are fighting for.

Alliance Defending Freedom recently argued on behalf of Jack at the Supreme Court.

Jack was sued because he politely declined to design a custom cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. He believes that marriage is sacred—between a man and woman—and designing a cake that celebrated a very different message than his religious beliefs was not something he could do.

It’s not that Jack had any problems serving the couple requesting the cake. In fact, he offered to design them cakes for other occasions or sell them any of the premade goods he had available.

But Jack’s faith is important to him, and as an artist, he has the right not to create art that contradicts that faith.

And it’s not just the cake artist or Barronelle Stutzman, the florist, whose case we have appealed to the Supreme Court.

Alliance Defending Freedom is defending website designers, promotional printers, photographers, film production companies, and other small business owners who are fighting for the same freedom in court—the freedom not to betray their most deeply held beliefs and values.

Our clients serve everyone, they just can’t custom design material that sends messages that violate their faith.

But Moceanic has taken it a step further. They denied me not just their coaching program involving customized material—they declined to serve me entirely, even refusing to allow me access to a pre-existing course.

Of course, Moceanic shouldn’t be forced to coach me on how to speak in a way that generates excitement and engagement for a cause that they disagree with any more than Jack should have to create a cake celebrating a marriage that conflicts with his beliefs.

But they also want to decline me pre-existing courses lacking any custom designed coaching or content.

Although Moceanic’s actions go further than protecting against compelled speech, I understand why they wouldn’t want to advance the mission of their opposition. We live in a diverse nation where people hold differing views about a lot of different things.

The freedom to disagree is what makes America so unique. If we’re all forced by the government to adhere to the same ideology, then we are no longer the land of the free.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy stated during oral arguments in Jack’s case, “[T]olerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.”

If the government can take away Jack’s freedom to speak and create consistently with his conscience, then freedom for all of us—including Moceanic—is at risk.

Whether they realize it or not, it appears the Moceanic team agrees with that sentiment. And although they might have taken it further than our arguments in Jack’s case, I wish them all the best.

Originally published by Alliance Defending Freedom.

The post I Was Denied Service Because of the Company’s Values, and I’m OK With That appeared first on The Daily Signal.

What I Learned From The Heritage Foundation’s New Leader

The Heritage Foundation announced with some fanfare Dec. 19 that with the new year Kay Coles James would become president of the leading policy research organization, which turns 45 in 2018.

For some of those outside the Beltway and on behalf of one of the fastest-growing voting populations, millennials, permit me to pose the questions: Who is Kay Coles James, and why should we care?

In 2003, I attended the funeral of E.V. Hill, the great Baptist pastor, while I was a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. I remember sitting in the audience at West Angeles Church of God in Christ when it was announced that the White House had sent a representative on behalf of President George W. Bush. Much to my surprise, Kay Coles James, then director of the U. S. Office of Personnel Management, stepped to the pulpit.

I was awestruck because this lady was someone I greatly respected and admired as a young conservative. Little did I know that I would end up working in the same administration, much less have the honor of Kay’s taking me under her wing as one of the many young African-American conservatives she has mentored along the way.

When Kay founded The Gloucester Institute and restored Holly Knoll, that beautiful house off Virginia’s York River that once belonged to celebrated educator Robert Russa Moton, I visited her home for one of the earliest meetings of what she called the First Saturday Group.

Dozens gathered at Kay’s invitation to foster dialogue about the future of conservative thought in the black community. I distinctly remember her giving everyone a chance to speak on political matters without judgment or ridicule. She created a safe place for us.

As Kay developed programming for her organization, it became clear to me that her intent was to bring back the best of the days of true diversity—diversity of thought, background, life experience, and even race. She would state her mission: “The Gloucester Institute provides an intellectually safe environment where ideas can be discussed and transformed into practical solutions that produce results, and a site to train and nurture emerging leaders.”

Kay at her core is a solutionist, one who believes conservative principles can uplift not tear down, encourage not stifle, and create opportunities not pacify the status quo. She does more than talk about the issues of the day; she wants to find solutions to the problems, and turns to millennials to make them a part of the conversation.

She once told me at dinner: “Paris, I am doing all this for you, for your generation, for the next generation of leaders in our movement. It is not about me.”

The author embraces Kay Coles James after speaking at a Dec. 18 event in her honor. (Photo courtesy Paris Dennard)

The nation and the world need Kay’s voice at this time, in this position, using the prestigious platform at The Heritage Foundation. We need her leadership to fight for and promote the timeless American principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

Kay is uniquely qualified not only because she knows Heritage, having been on its Board of Trustees since 2005. She also has an impressive resume at least 2 miles long, has advised every modern Republican president, and has even been on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” But those things are not as important as the fact that she is a strong woman of faith and a loving mother and grandmother.

Her best quality is that she listens, and seeks understanding. She brings people together, and is honest and unwavering in support of the black community. She has made significant investments in the lives of young college students across this country through her work at Gloucester.

At a time when free speech by conservatives on college campuses is under attack, Kay Coles James has visited campuses to challenge failed liberal ideas and eloquently articulate the heart of a committed conservative.

On several occasions, Kay asked me to be a judge during her “Great Debaters” programs. Students would research a topic then have to debate it on the spot from either the affirmative or negative perspective. The pride she took in seeing healthy intellectual rigor exercised through this competition was inspiring. She challenged these students to dig deeper, anticipate the hard questions, and test their own arguments.

Kay, who as a child lived in public housing in Richmond, Va., has challenged the conventional assertions of what it means to be liberal and conservative. She has proved that conservative principles can work for everyone. With faith, opportunity, and hard work, you can sit on corporate boards, serve governors and presidents, and then lead the foremost conservative public policy organization in the world.

In the new year, she will guide a leading think tank’s independent policy research, and her influence and ability to speak truth to power will be of tremendous value to Congress and the Trump administration.

President-elect Donald Trump trusted Kay so much that he asked her to serve as a key figure on his transition team. State governors know her. Leaders on both sides of the aisle, at all levels of government, know her. Thousands of college students, especially at historically black colleges and universities, know her.

For many years, Kay would have students in her Emerging Leaders program participate in personal and professional development training. She was focused on the whole individual, inside and out. All these people, like myself, have come not only to know her but to trust her.

And now many more will come to know and trust Kay’s wisdom through her new work and leadership at The Heritage Foundation.

I have no doubt that Kay will help raise a new generation of conservative, solution-based, independent thinkers. They, like others before them, will come to respect the fact that she, first, listens and, second, acts to make things better—not just for the black community and for millennials, but for the entire nation that she selflessly has devoted her life to improving.

Kay Coles James is nothing less than an unapologetic force for good, and Heritage is blessed to have her as president.

The post What I Learned From The Heritage Foundation’s New Leader appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Appeals Court Rules Bakers Must Pay $135,000 for Not Making Wedding Cake

A husband-and-wife baking team must pay a $135,000 fine for declining to make a cake for the wedding of two women, Oregon’s second-highest court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a decision by a state agency that led to the fine and forced Aaron and Melissa Klein to close their bakery.

The court ruled that baking wedding cakes is not “speech, art, or other expression” protected by the First Amendment. The judges said the state did not “impermissibly burden the Kleins’ right to the free exercise of religion” because it compelled the Christian bakers only to comply with “a neutral law of general applicability.”

Oregon law prohibits businesses from refusing service because of a customer’s sexual orientation, as well as because of race, gender, and other personal characteristics.

“We are very disappointed in the court’s decision,” Michael Berry, deputy general counsel at First Liberty Institute, which represents the Kleins, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Friday. “I think that punishing people for their religious beliefs is … not American, and it’s wrong.”

“It does not matter how you were born or who you love,” one of the lesbians, Laurel Bowman-Cryer, said in a written statement following the ruling. “All of us are equal under the law and should be treated equally. Oregon will not allow a ‘Straight Couples Only’ sign to be hung in bakeries or other stores.”

Boyden Gray, former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush, argued the Kleins’ case. Gray told the three judges that the state violated the two bakers’ rights to free speech, religious freedom, and due process.

The Kleins had owned and operated Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery in Gresham, Oregon.

>>> Bakers Accused of Hate Get Emotional Day in Court

After the Kleins declined in 2013 to make a cake for the wedding of Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, citing their Christian religious beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, they also faced protests that eventually led them to shut down their bakery.

In July 2015, an administrative judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that the Kleins violated state law by discriminating against the Bowman-Cryers on the basis of their sexual orientation. The judge ordered the Kleins to pay the $135,000 for physical, emotional, and mental damages to the two women, as The Daily Signal previously reported.

Brad Avakian, Oregon’s elected labor commissioner, had affirmed the heavy damages against the Kleins, the Oregonian reported.

Berry, the First Liberty attorney, said his legal team is deciding how they will move forward, which could mean appealing to the Oregon Supreme Court.

“We’re evaluating our options at this point, obviously in terms of whether we are going to appeal, etc., and we’ll discuss all those options with Aaron and Melissa Klein and decide on the best course of action for them,” Berry said.

In a written statement, Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to protecting religious liberty, said the Kleins are being denied free speech.

“Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others,” Shackelford said. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We are disappointed that the court ruled against the Kleins.”

Berry said the Kleins’ situation is an abuse of their religious freedom.

“I think it’s a sad day for our Constitution and for the rule of law in this country when a family-owned bakery can be put out of business simply for trying to follow their religious beliefs,” he said.

The post Appeals Court Rules Bakers Must Pay $135,000 for Not Making Wedding Cake appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Religious Liberty Is Eroding in Canada. Here’s What Americans Should Learn.

Outside of watching the occasional hockey game or purchase of maple syrup, most Americans pay little attention to Canada.

We may know of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s colorful socks, but little of how unpopular he is among his constituency. We may discuss the single-payer health care system, but are unfamiliar with the government’s disrespect for religious liberty of our neighbors to the north.

Faithful patriots in this country who are concerned by the attacks on free exercise of religion in America should also be concerned by the similar attacks on liberty echoing within Canada, a country with strong protections for religious liberty in its Charter for Rights and Freedom.

In light of the immense trade between our two countries, we must determine if religious intolerance is an intangible export that has escaped our notice.

Last month, Alberta’s Child and Family Services barred a Christian couple from adopting a child because their religious views about sexuality—views shared by orthodox Jews and Muslims—were incompatible with “the official position of the Alberta government.”

The Ministry of Children’s Services stated that the couple’s belief that sexuality should not be experienced or explored until a person is married, would not create a “safe, healthy, loving, and inclusive home.”

And in June, Ontario passed a law that gave state agencies the power to prevent families from adopting or fostering children if the parents would not affirm the child transitioning their “gender identity” from male to female or vice-versa, calling such a denial “child abuse.”

Similarly, the ACLU is suing the state of Michigan over legislation that allows faith-based adoption agencies to only place children into homes with mothers and fathers while under government contract.

And much like Ontario, Illinois is requiring foster parents to affirm the gender identity of any child in their care and aid in any medical procedures the child wishes to undergo.

The Canadian government has unilaterally taken positions on sexuality without the consent of its citizenry, much like the Obama administration’s unilateral decision to reinterpret the definition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity in Title IX.

But if Americans and Canadians can’t adopt or foster children because they don’t affirm a child undergoing potentially harmful hormone therapies and sex-reassignment surgeries or sexual activity outside of marriage, will the government also begin using this criteria for “good parenting” of biological children?

Will they treat the parenting practices of orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims as suspect if they simply refuse to adopt the latest sexual trends?

Also in Canada, the Supreme Court will soon determine if attorneys who hold orthodox religious beliefs on sexuality are eligible to practice law.

Before Trinity Western University could even open its law school, the accrediting legal societies within Nova Scotia, Ontario, and British Columbia, voted not to accredit graduates from the university’s School of Law, because the Christian university has orthodox Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

Trinity Western University is the only Canadian university to have received an A+ grade in quality of education over the past seven years, yet in 2014, the Law Society of Upper Canada labeled the students’ views as “abhorrent” and “not welcome in the public marketplace.”

Without a degree from an accredited law school, students cannot practice law in the province.

Similarly, in 2015, the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts lambasted Gordon College, a Christian University, for its beliefs about marriage after the university president wrote to President Barack Obama asking a for religious exemption from a forthcoming executive order on hiring practices related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The mayor decided to prohibit Gordon College and its students from using a local meeting hall they had used for years. Lynn Public Schools then banned Gordon College students who were majoring in education from training as student teachers at local public schools.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges even held a special meeting to consider revoking Gordon’s accreditation.

In both the United States and Canada, governments and accreditors are threatening the ability of graduates of Christian universities to work in the professions for which they have been trained.

Canadian members of parliament also denied MP Rachael Harder the chance to chair the Status of Women Committee led by the Liberal Party solely because of her pro-life views. Despite the chair position being procedural, not political in nature, the Trudeau government refused to allow Harder’s “outrageous” views into any kind of position of authority.

Much like a scene from “Mean Girls,” politicians staged a walkout to protest Harder’s appointment because of her viewpoint on abortion. Ultimately, they gave the position to a member of Parliament who did not want it.

In the United States, senators including Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Al Franken, D-Minn., and leftist organizations like the American Bar Association have smeared judicial nominees like Judges Amy Barrett and Steve Grasz and public officials like Kelvin Cochran and Russell Vought as “unqualified” and “hateful,” simply because of their Christian beliefs.

Their ability to serve as judges, work in government, or lead a fire department is being questioned solely because of their religious views.

In both the United States and Canada, the ability to work in government and pursue your dreams is becoming increasingly dependent on one’s beliefs about sexuality, biology, and the beginning of human life.

These developments should concern all those who believe in the right to not only hold religious beliefs in private, but to exercise them in public.

Canada was founded on the idea of religious pluralism, allowing Catholics living in Quebec to freely practice their faith. The United States was founded as a refuge for religious dissenters, as the Puritans fled persecution from the Church of England.

It is this commitment to religious liberty for all that has led America to defend religious minorities around the world, including Jews, Muslims, Bahai’s, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians.

The U.S. and Canada were the only two countries that had ambassadors for international religious freedom. But Trudeau opted to dissolve Canada’s office of ambassador of religious freedom.

If America and Canada, who are traditionally the foremost defenders of religious freedom around the world, are now forsaking that value, what will happen to the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the Christians and Yazidis facing genocide by ISIS, and the Jews who are facing renewed anti-Semitism in Europe, all of whom the U.S. has fervently advocated for?

Right now, Canadians and Americans of faith have the opportunity to form strategic alliances, especially as they relate to marriage, family, and the free exercise of religion. But the growing threats to religious liberty and freedom of conscience make it especially urgent that these partnerships develop quickly.

Many of the world’s most dire and violent religious conflicts are rooted in lack of respect for religious freedom and religious diversity. There is no time to waste.

The post Religious Liberty Is Eroding in Canada. Here’s What Americans Should Learn. appeared first on The Daily Signal.

Seattle Public Transit Religious Ads Guideline Could Prove Model for DC Metro, Which Won’t Run Religious Ads

Last week, a federal judge denied a motion from the Archdiocese of Washington for an injunction directing the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) to accept and run the Archdiocese’s Advent advertisements on Metrobuses.

The advertisements, which featured shepherds following a star, urged people to “find the perfect gift,” by directing them to a website with Catholic mass times and other religious content.

Metro previously rejected the advertisements as inconsistent with their advertising guidelines, which prohibit, among other things, “advertisements that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief.” The Archdiocese initiated a lawsuit in federal district court against Metro, asking that the guideline in question—Guideline 12—be declared unconstitutional.

This is far from the first lawsuit against Metro’s advertising guidelines, which it amended in 2015 to prohibit a wide array of non-commercial advertisements, including those with political or religious messages, endorsing public policies, or attempting to influence public opinion on contentious social issues.

What does this ruling mean? What are the legal arguments being raised against these guidelines? Could Metro have avoided these lawsuits by implementing more flexible policies?

The Injunction Denial Is Far From the End

The federal district court judge only declined to issue a preliminary injunction, which is different than deciding whether the guideline is constitutional.

An injunction is merely a request to make the other party to the lawsuit act or stop acting in a certain way, pending the outcome of the case. The Archdiocese essentially asked the judge to require that Metro run its Advent advertisements until the court rules on whether Guideline 12 is constitutional.

A preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary and drastic remedy” that is “never awarded as [a matter] of right.” (Munaf v. Geren). In other words, it’s intentionally difficult for a party to obtain one.

The judge determined that the Archdiocese did not establish that it was likely to succeed on the merits of its case, and that it would not suffer irreparable harm if WMATA wasn’t required to run the Advent advertisements in the interim. On Wednesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals also declined to issue a preliminary injunction for similar reasons.

Legal Arguments Against the Guidelines

The Archdiocese raises several legal challenges to Guideline 12, some of which are complicated by the fact Metro is a unique tri-jurisdictional agency, created by Congress as an interstate compact between Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. It’s difficult to ascertain whether and how this might impact the Archdiocese’s claims that Guideline 12 violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal statute that the Supreme Court ruled cannot constitutionally be applied to the states (City of Boerne v. Flores).

The other major claims, however, appear fairly straightforward.

The Archdiocese’s first claim is that Guideline 12 impermissibly restricts its First Amendment right to free speech. Because Metro is a government agency, this case is governed by law concerning the regulation of speech on government property. This means that the restriction will be analyzed under the “Public Forum Doctrine,” which categorizes government property as either a traditional public forum, a designated public forum, or a nonpublic forum.

In traditional and designated public forums, regulations that discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint or content are almost always struck down as unconstitutional. In nonpublic forums, however, content-specific regulations may be allowed as long as they are both reasonable and viewpoint-neutral.

The Archdiocese contends primarily that Metro’s prohibitions are not viewpoint-neutral and are enforced in a discriminatory manner against religious expression. It points out that Metro allows advertisements for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle charity drive and for a yoga studio, both of which arguably promote religion and religious practices. Further, it argues that Metro allows secular and commercial viewpoints on the Christmas season, while disallowing any promotion of the holiday’s inherently religious underpinnings.

The Archdiocese’s second major claim is that Guideline 12 burdens its First Amendment right to freely exercise its religious beliefs.

Similarly to laws and regulations restricting speech, regulations burdening a person or organization’s religious practices must be neutral and generally applicable to survive legal challenges. (Emp’t Div. v. Smith). If they are not neutral and generally applicable, they must survive strict scrutiny—that is, they must advance a compelling state interest, be necessary to achieve that interest, and be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

To be neutral and generally applicable, laws and regulations cannot single out religious speech or practices for disfavored treatment, and they cannot be enforced in a discriminatory manner against religious practitioners. (Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah).

The Archdiocese argues that Metro’s prohibitions disfavor religious speech in general, and establishes a preference for non-religious institutions and viewpoints. In practice, the prohibitions silence all ideological challenges to secularism.

Although absent from the Archdiocese complaint, it should be noted that at the same time Metro banned all religiously-oriented viewpoints because of their polarizing nature, it amended the guidelines to allow the advertisement of alcoholic beverages—an equally polarizing advertising topic according to Metro’s own research.

Metro’s Guidelines Are Misguided

As the late Justice Antonin Scalia famously noted, “It is entirely possible for a law to be really, really stupid and yet be constitutional.” Here, Metro notoriously demands increased funding while simultaneously rejecting revenue streams from fairly uncontroversial advertisements that technically violate its broad advertising guidelines.

Metro’s desire to adopt more restrictive guidelines was not completely unreasonable in and of itself—they were initially amended in 2015 after a proposed advertisement picturing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed caused significant and not entirely unfounded fears of violent backlash.

Similar public outrage had occurred in 1988 after Metro allowed advertisements alleging Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians, in 1995 when it ran anti-abortion advertisements, and in 2001 over advertisements attacking the Catholic Church’s stance on the use of condoms.

It is understandable that Metro sought ways to constitutionally prohibit these types of controversial advertisements that could legitimately hamper its ability to achieve its primary aim—safely getting D.C. area passenger from Point A to Point B.

However, there are other ways in which Metro could achieve this goal with more narrowly tailored advertising guidelines that could prohibit only those advertisements likely to be harmful or disruptive to the transit system. Had it adopted guidelines similar to those implemented by the King County (Seattle) Department of Transportation, all of this unnecessary litigation and public relations nightmare could have been avoided.

Seattle’s transit advertising guidelines offer perhaps the best example of a healthy balance between raising revenue, treating viewpoints equally, and still ensuring that inflammatory advertisements will not threaten the efficiency of the system or the safety of passengers.

Its prohibitions are limited in scope, and provide flexible but instructive guidelines for assessing whether a particular advertisement falls within a particular prohibition.

Notably, Seattle prohibits political campaign speech and speech that “demeans or disparages an individual, group of individuals, or entity.” But the most relevant prohibition bars advertisements containing “material that is so objectionable as to be reasonably foreseeable that it will result in harm to, disruption of or interference with the transportation system.”

For all of these arguably subjective standards, King County seeks to make the process more objective by employing a “reasonably prudent person” test to determine whether the advertisement would be generally understood as violating the prohibitions on demeaning or disruptive material. In Washington, as in many states, this test has developed a substantial body of judicial precedent that allows for fairly consistent and discernable outcomes.

The practical benefit of this standard is that it protects King County’s interests in passenger safety by actually focusing the prohibitions on material most likely to impact passenger safety and business efficiency. The “harmful or disruptive” prohibitions are not concerned with quashing viewpoints, either on an individual or categorical level. Rather, the concern is much more aligned with “reserv[ing] the forum for its intended purposes,” (see Perry Educ. Ass’n) which is the provision of safe and reliable public transportation.

Under similar guidelines, Metro could have allowed the Archdiocese to run its advertisements, while still having an emergency fire extinguisher to eliminate the would-be flames likely to be prompted by advertisements depicting Mohammed or accusing the Catholic Church of murder.

Although this lawsuit is still in its infancy, it appears—for this Christmas, at least—the Archdiocese will not be able to run its advertisements on Metrobuses. It is too early to make conclusions on how the court will rule on the merits, as many more facts about whether and how Metro enforces its policy in a discriminatory way may come to light as the litigation proceeds.

One thing, however, is abundantly clear: Metro could have avoided this problem by adopting more narrowly tailored prohibitions that don’t exclude advertisements unlikely to cause disruptions to transit service.

At the very best, Guideline 12 might pass constitutional muster (barely). That doesn’t make it any less worthy of being repealed as a bad policy.

The post Seattle Public Transit Religious Ads Guideline Could Prove Model for DC Metro, Which Won’t Run Religious Ads appeared first on The Daily Signal.

What the Founders Understood About Religious Freedom That We Must Recover

Friday, Dec. 15 marks the anniversary of the day our young nation ratified the Bill of Rights in 1791.

Given the national discussion in recent days over whether the government may compel speech from an ordinary baker, now is an especially good time to consider the very first words of our charter document: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Many today mistakenly interpret these religion clauses to mean something like, “Americans are tolerant of private religious conduct.” But mere “toleration” of “private” religious conduct was precisely what James Madison, a primary author of the Bill of Rights, was careful to avoid. He favored the protection of robust freedom.

Madison’s commitment to religious freedom in public may have begun when he reviewed the proposed Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. That document suggested “all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.”

Yet years earlier, he had personally witnessed the supposedly tolerant Colony of Virginia imprison Baptist ministers because their beliefs were out of step with the predominantly Anglican colony. Such religious “tolerance” sent minority ministers to jail.

More fundamentally, Madison recoiled at the notion that exercise of religion was a gift from government to be merely “tolerated.” He saw it rather than a hallmark of a free society—an unalienable right endowed by a creator—that exists independent of government.

Many years after witnessing religious persecution in Virginia, Madison chaired the House conference committee on the Bill of Rights. In that role, he seized the opportunity to reject the language of toleration, instead grounding his proposal for the First Amendment in the language of individual liberty: “the civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship … nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.”

The states ratified a revised version of Madison’s text as the First Amendment to our Constitution, and the first of our Bill of Rights. His gift to the fledgling republic was to reject the notion that individual rights—and preeminently religious liberty—were mere tokens bestowed by a beneficent state, replacing that view with the remarkable notion that these rights are inseparable from our humanity.

In other words, the right of every person to enjoy religious liberty doesn’t exist just because the government says it does—and any government that attempts to dictate otherwise risks illegitimacy.

That robust view of religious liberty served as a foundation for the remainder of what would become our Bill of Rights.

On Sept. 25, 1789, Congress sent the proposed Bill of Rights to the states for ratification. Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago this month, the states ratified these guarantees of natural rights, embedding them into the DNA of our nation.

America’s unique understanding of individual liberty is captured in the first three words of the Constitution, to which the Bill of Rights was appended: “We the people.”

From the preamble to the end of Article VII, the Constitution outlines how these people would form “a more perfect union” without abdicating their individual liberty to a monarch or a tyrant.

The governed gave their consent to lend some, but not all, of their individual authority as human beings to a central government. For instance, while they would remain free to defend themselves individually, they would vest the authority for the collective defense of the new nation to a government that could raise an army.

Thus, it is significant that after outlining the positive rights of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government on matters ranging from taxation to foreign relations, the Bill of Rights begins by negating the power of Congress—“Congress shall make no law …”—and recognizing the inherent rights of the people.

The reason for this is simple, revolutionary, and profound: Congress shall make no law because the people retain those rights articulated in the Bill of Rights by virtue of their humanity.

While it was, and is, necessary to lend government a limited amount of individual authority “to provide for the common defense” and “to promote the general welfare,” we the people have never ceded the rights of the free exercise of religion, speech, press, assembly, bearing of arms, due process, and those rights preserved within the Bill of Rights.

This was, and is, revolutionary. No nation had ever successfully undertaken to recognize, much less resolve, the tension between individual liberty and government as America did with its Bill of Rights.

Yet, this tension is a delicate one whose safeguarding demands vigilance and care. Madison was right to be wary of a government that treats civil rights as government-issued. And, as the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of Jack Phillips makes clear, so must we.

The legacy of the Bill of Rights is this: What government did not create, it can neither bestow nor confiscate.

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Must-See Moments: Corruption and Bias in the FBI

The Daily Signal’s Facebook Live show “Top 10” features the top news stories of the week—many of which have gone either misreported or underreported by the mainstream media. This week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill called for an investigation into the “special treatment” of Hillary Clinton and the bias within the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

President Donald Trump made an important decision this week, as he announced that he plans to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. And we also address one widely misunderstood story—Patagonia and others claimed that “the president stole your land” when  Trump scaled back the last-minute federal land grab from the Obama administration in Utah.

We covered all of this and much more on this week’s top 10 must-see moments. Watch the full video above.

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The Christian Baker Need Not Have Ended Up at the Supreme Court

On Dec. 5, the Supreme Court heard the case of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who can’t in good conscience design and create wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriages. The justices now will decide whether states, consistent with the First Amendment, can force citizens to express support for same-sex marriage through their artistic products.

But this case needn’t have ended up at the court. And future cases like it can be avoided.

Agree or disagree, but Phillips believes he is serving Christ with every cake he makes. He has previously turned down requests to create Halloween-themed cakes, lewd bachelor party cakes, and a cake celebrating a divorce. He was never reprimanded over those decisions, but the same-sex-wedding cake plunged him into hot water.

Not surprisingly, much of the oral arguments focused on the First Amendment. Phillips argued that making him create a cake that celebrates a same-sex wedding would violate his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, by forcing him to express a message, and celebrate an event, that runs against his beliefs. If the court agrees, it will bar Colorado and other states from applying anti-discrimination statutes in such a way.

But Colorado should never have applied its statute this way to begin with. Indeed, states can avoid First Amendment showdowns by refusing to view support for traditional marriage as “discrimination.”

Part of the problem is that Colorado misunderstood the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. Colorado claims that the court held “opposition to same-sex marriage” to be “tantamount to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

In fact, as Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out during the Masterpiece oral arguments, the court in Obergefell noted that belief in marriage as the union of husband and wife is held “in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.” The court stated in its majority opinion that “many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”

The states should not disparage these people and their decent and honorable beliefs, either.

A big part of the problem is that sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws are now being used to “punish the wicked,” in the words of Tim Gill, their biggest financial backer (to the tune of $500 million). But anti-discrimination policies should serve as shields, not swords. They are meant to shield people from unjust discrimination that might prevent them from flourishing in society. They aren’t supposed to be swords used to punish people for acting on their reasonable beliefs.

You can see this when considering the history of Colorado’s law. Within a two-year span, Colorado citizens voted to define marriage as the union of husband and wife and to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Many other states, too, simultaneously enacted sexual orientation nondiscrimination policies while insisting that the traditional understanding of marriage is not discriminatory.

Justice Samuel Alito pointed to this reality during oral arguments. At the time that Phillips declined to bake a same-sex wedding cake, Colorado wouldn’t even recognize—let alone issue—same-sex marriage licenses. So the same-sex couple couldn’t get the state of Colorado to recognize their relationship as a marriage.

“And yet when he goes to this bake shop, and he says, ‘I want a wedding cake,’ and the baker says, ‘No, I won’t do it,’ in part because same-sex marriage was not allowed in Colorado at the time, he’s created a grave wrong,” Alito stated. “How does that all that fit together?”

Indeed. Colorado should have never declared Phillips to be guilty of discrimination in the first place.

We apply other anti-discrimination statutes in a more fair and nuanced way. Bans on religion-based discrimination are not used to force secular organizations to violate their beliefs. Religious anti-discrimination policies have not been used, for example, to force Planned Parenthood to hire pro-life Catholics. And the state of Colorado said it wasn’t religious discrimination when three different bakeries refused to bake cakes with religious anti-gay messages. Religion anti-discrimination laws simply do not seek to impose religious orthodoxy on the country.

But sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination policies are used to impose sexual orthodoxy. They’re used to try to force Catholic schools to employ people who undermine their sexual values and to coerce Evangelical bakers to lend their artistic talents to messages about marriage with which they disagree. Sexual orientation and gender identity laws are used to punish people of good will who simply seek the freedom to lead their lives in accordance with their beliefs about human sexuality.

But this is a mistake. And—in what might prove to be the most important comment made during oral arguments—even Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared to reject the American Civil Liberties Union’s argument that the opposition to same-sex marriage just is discrimination against people who identify as gay.

Kennedy explained Phillips’s beliefs: “Look, suppose he says, ‘I have nothing against gay people,’ he says. ‘But I just don’t think they should have a marriage because that’s contrary to my beliefs. It’s not their identity; it’s what they’re doing.’” In response to the ACLU’s claim that this is sexual orientation discrimination, Kennedy responded, “Your identity thing is just too facile.”

We can do better. The United States has reached compromises on similarly difficult moral and cultural issues before. Following Roe v. Wade, Americans refused to use sex anti-discrimination law as a sword to punish pro-lifers.

In 1993, in Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, the Supreme Court resolutely rejected the argument that pro-lifers are inherently discriminatory: “Whatever one thinks of abortion, it cannot be denied that there are common and respectable reasons for opposing it, other than hatred of, or condescension toward (or indeed any view at all concerning), women.”

The same is true when it comes to marriage as the union of husband and wife: There are common and respectable reasons for supporting it that have nothing to do with hatred or condescension. But this is not true when it comes to opposition to interracial marriage—and this is where the analogies to racism break down.

When the Supreme Court struck down bans on interracial marriage, it did not say that opposition to interracial marriage was based on “decent and honorable premises” and held “in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.” It did not say it, because it could not say it.

Opposition to interracial marriage developed as one aspect of a larger system of racism and white supremacy, as part of an effort to hold a race of people in a condition of economic and political inferiority and servitude. It was based on the idea that contact with African Americans on an equal plane is wrong.

That idea, and its premise of the supposed inferiority of African Americans, is the essence of bigotry. Bakers who declined to bake cakes for interracial weddings also declined to treat African-Americans equally in a host of circumstances. Racists did not simply object to interracial marriage; they objected to contact with African-Americans on an equal footing.

By contrast, marriage as the union of husband and wife has been a universal human practice until just recently, regardless of views about sexual orientation. This vision of marriage is based on the capacity that a man and a woman possess to unite as one-flesh, create new life, and unite that new life with both a mother and a father. Whether ultimately sound or not, this view of marriage is reasonable, based on decent and honorable premises, and disparaging of no one.

A lack of disparagement also explains why bakers like Jack Phillips have been serving gay customers faithfully for years.

Sparing people such as Phillips from the sword does not undermine the valid purposes of anti-discrimination law—eliminating the public effects of anti-gay bigotry—because support for conjugal marriage isn’t anti-gay. Protecting freedom here sends no message about the supposed inferiority of those identifying as gay; it sends no message about sexual orientation at all.

It does say that citizens who support the historic understanding of sex and marriage are not bigots. It ensures their equal social status and opportunities. It protects their businesses, livelihoods, and professional vocations. And it benefits the rest of society by allowing these citizens to continue offering their services, especially social services, charities, and schools.

During oral arguments, Roberts asked the solicitor general of Colorado how the state would apply its anti-discrimination law to a pro bono Catholic legal organization for the poor that served all comers but couldn’t do legal work for same-sex couples that they would provide for husbands and wives: “So Catholic Legal Services would be put to the choice of either not providing any pro bono legal services or providing those services in connection with the same-sex marriage?” The solicitor general replied: “I think the answer is yes, your honor.”

Catholic Legal Services, Catholic Charities, Catholic adoption agencies—and the faith-based social services of any religion that believes we are created male and female, and that male and female are created for each other—are at stake.

A line of questioning on the comparisons to interracial marriage brought up the case of Bob Jones University, a school that lost its nonprofit tax status because it prohibited interracial dating and marriage. But do we really want to live in a country where acting on a belief about marriage that people have held throughout all of recorded history—that it’s a union of male and female—is treated as the functional and legal equivalent of racism?

All of us should work to prevent such an outcome. Which is why Phillips need not have ended up in court. We must refuse to use anti-discrimination laws as swords to impose sexual orthodoxy on the nation. As Americans continue to disagree about sex, we must refuse to weaponize the redefinition of marriage.

Even Kennedy seemed alert to this in oral arguments for Masterpiece. “Tolerance is essential in a free society,” he said. But, he continued, “It seems to me that the state in its position here has neither been tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

Anti-gay bigotry exists and should be condemned. But support for marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t anti-gay. Just as we’ve combated sexism without treating pro-life medicine as sexist, we can combat anti-gay bigotry without treating Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Evangelicals, and Latter-day Saints as bigots.

Not every disagreement is discrimination. And our law shouldn’t say otherwise.

Originally published in National Review

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