Religious Liberty: A Crystal-Clear Message?

It would be wonderful if President Trump’s executive orders wouldn’t battle one another. As seems to be the case with everything our new president does, we get great news along with not-so-great.

I won’t diminish the great news. The latest in his series of executive orders is a win for religious liberty. Neither do I believe it attempts to write a new law or extend presidential authority beyond proper constitutional limitations. This EO merely establishes what already is ensconced in the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Let’s rejoice over the following assertions in the EO (H/T to Erick Erickson’s wording on his Resurgent website):

  • It tells the entire federal government to respect federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times—that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
  • It notes that religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities. And it follows the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in saying that religious exercise “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice,” not just those absolutely required by a faith.
  • It instructs all agencies of the federal government, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • It instructs the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who weren’t exempted from the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that all citizens have the ability to purchase health care plans through Obamacare that do not cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that the federal government does not discriminate against child-welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on the organization’s religious beliefs.
  • It adopts the Russell Amendment and instructs all agencies of the federal government to provide protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.

That’s a tremendous list of assurances. As I’ve said, I will give credit where it is due, and this deserves our entire approbation.

So then why did Trump, the day before, allow an Obama executive order to stand that prohibits “discrimination” against gays when giving out federal contracts? While that may sound good to many, what it did was discriminate instead against Christian organizations that seek to aid the poor via contracts with the federal government. Those organizations would have to deny their basic beliefs about sexual morality and marriage before they can have an equal place at the table.

How does allowing that Obama dictate to continue mesh with this new EO on religious liberty, in particular that last provision that supposedly protects religious organizations seeking a federal grant?

Of course, my argument is that Christians shouldn’t try to get federal money at all. Let’s not intertwine our faith with government authority. Let’s not become dependent on funding from government to accomplish what God has called us to do.

Yet, it would be nice if the new administration wouldn’t send out conflicting signals. The message needs to be crystal clear. This whole matter of liberty of conscience is kind of a mess right now in our society.

I’ve noted before that Trump doesn’t really grasp the problem most evangelicals have with the LGBT agenda. He has no real issue with that agenda. We need to continue to pray that his understanding of Christian morality will become sharper over time.

Pelosi, Trump, & Reagan–Oh My!

Democrats are in disarray. They need assurance that they are on track for the future. Their leaders are in the business of reassuring them that what happened in the 2010 and 2014 congressional elections and the 2016 presidential election are all anomalies. Don’t worry, they’re told, the leadership knows what it’s doing.

right-road

As if to prove to themselves that’s the case, Democrats in the House have given Nancy Pelosi another victory–she’s been chosen as their leader again, despite all those electoral disasters.

extend-contract

Some in the party find that incomprehensible; they need to find some excuse for how it happened.

russian-hackers

Meanwhile, congratulations on her victory come from one unexpected source:

congratulations

Yes, Republicans are on a roll, and Donald Trump has a new approach that no other president has ever tried:

old-press-conferences

I have mixed feelings about that approach. While I love having the media shut out on occasion, the constant tweet flow from the president-elect doesn’t come across as presidential to me. It would be much better, of course, if he were more restrained in his comments, but that’s probably not in the offing.

For instance, tweeting that flag burners should be punished either with prison time or loss of citizenship runs counter to the First Amendment. Now, he can get away with saying such things simply because the majority of Americans (myself included) deplore that action. It’s insulting to the nation that gives everyone the opportunity to express disagreement. Destroying the flag is an act of ingratitude, and it is supremely juvenile.

Yet it’s a political winner for Trump. Our anger over the brazen act “trumps” concern for the First Amendment.

flag-fire-dept

But anytime we minimize the First Amendment, we are treading on dangerous ground.

Trump also is congratulating himself over keeping Carrier in Indiana rather than having the company move some of its activity to Mexico.  Again, this is a mixed bag. One can be glad those jobs were saved, yet how is this different from the crony capitalism that Trump supporters supposedly deplore? Giving one company a break that other companies in the same field don’t get is the ultimate in having the government choose winners and losers.

Trump is now embarking upon what he calls a “Thank You Tour,” holding rallies ostensibly to thank his supporters. I listened to part of his first rally. I’m sorry, but to me it sounds more like a “Trump Ego Tour.”

carrier-jobs

Oh, no, there you go, Snyder, just Trump-bashing again. No, that’s not my aim. As I’ve said, I will give him credit when it is due, and I do hope for the best. I’m pleased with a number of his cabinet appointments. I’ll write about those sometime next week, I presume, once a secretary of state is chosen.

But I’m looking for something else in him—humility. You see, I’m old enough to remember Ronald Reagan, the president who never took credit for anything, but always thanked God for blessings and praised the innovative nature of the American people. He gave credit to both God and the people for the economic revival in his day, not to himself. Trump is always bragging about the credit he deserves. That’s not the Reagan spirit that I seek.

I have a paperweight I purchased at the Reagan Library with one of my favorite Reagan quotes engraved upon it. It reads as follows:

There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

That can be true of Donald Trump also. For the sake of the nation, I pray he will begin to understand that truth.

Houston, You Have a Problem

We’re about to turn a corner on religious liberty in America, and it’s a chill wind that greets us.

Quoting from the story:

Annise ParkerThe city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.

Wait a minute. Houston? Texas? One of the most conservative states in the nation? Well, statewide, yes, but, as usual, the cities lead the way toward the new progressivism. Funny how those policies called progressive always seek to overturn religious liberty.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a law firm that specializes in protecting religious liberty, has filed a motion to stop the subpoenas, but why are we even at this place?

The controversy began when the city council, back in June, passed what it calls a “non-discrimination” ordinance that allows, among other things, men to use women’s restrooms and vice versa. It is “equality” run amuck. And any Christian pastors who speak out against it or the homosexual agenda that drives it are now in the legal crosshairs.

First AmendmentAs a spokesman for the ADF notes, “Political and social commentary is not a crime. It is protected by the First Amendment.”

That’s why this is such a chill wind; it seeks to stifle all political disagreement and the religious beliefs that are the basis of that disagreement. If ever anything were a clear violation of not only the original intent of the Constitution, but the specific wording therein, this is it.

Why subpoena sermons? To shame pastors publicly who speak out against homosexuality. To try to marginalize them and the Biblical message that homosexuality is a sin—a view, of course, that is quickly becoming forbidden in America. They want to “out” these pastors as so-called “anti-gay bigots.”

Many of us warned this day was coming. This ordinance is only the first shot in this particular battle of the culture war. There are those who say there is no culture war, that those of us who speak of it are blowing things out of proportion. Look around you. The forces against the Biblical worldview are building up their arsenals. It’s only going to get worse.

Yet we cannot allow these attacks to put us on the defensive. We have the message of life, and it’s never been more needed than now. As opponents of Christian faith become emboldened, we must not cower in fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. We need to work with Him, guided by His Spirit, to meet this challenge.

Tyranny Comes Packaged with Good Intentions

Imagine you’re a journalist working for a news organization where you are free to investigate any story you choose, follow any lead, and make decisions as to what is significant and/or newsworthy. Now imagine a government official coming into your organization and investigating you as to whether you are focusing on the types of stories the government deems appropriate. Have you given enough emphasis to the environment? Have you stressed income inequality adequately? Are you promoting equal rights by offering the government-approved new definition of marriage? Are you ensuring that the public understands that gay rights trumps religious liberty?

FCCFar-fetched? I would have thought so before the news this week that the Federal Communications Commission, with a Democrat majority, is studying that very scenario. Is it at all possible to violate the First Amendment in a more egregious fashion than this?

That important Amendment is already under fire with respect to its religious liberty provisions; now freedom of the press may soon be threatened.

Who would have the gall to make such a frontal attack?

Welcome to Obamaworld.

The “study” has identified eight specific areas where citizens need to be informed: emergencies and risks; health and welfare [Obamacare, anyone?]; education [Common Core?]; transportation; economic opportunities [income inequality?]; the environment [global warming or climate change—depending on the trend of the month?]; civic information; and political information [that last one is a truly loaded term].

One of the two Republicans on the FCC board—where a vote never even was taken about a study being done—commented, “An enterprising regulator could run wild with a lot of these topics. The implicit message to the newsroom is they need to start covering these eight categories in a certain way or otherwise the FCC will go after them.”

How does the FCC go after broadcast entities? It can shut them down.

This is not yet a reality, only a study. But those have a tendency to become real. If this one does, it will be chilling. Dictators always take over the media so that they can propagandize and silence any opposing view.

Budding tyranny has been a theme this week on this blog. It wasn’t my intent to focus on it, but circumstances have made it necessary. Tyrants never announce that they are going to tyrannize; they are always taking action for the benefit of their citizens. Tyranny nearly always comes packaged with good intentions. Yet it is tyranny nevertheless.

Duck Dynasty & Double Standards

Duck Dynasty CastLast Thursday’s post on Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty controversy received more “likes” than any post I’ve ever written. It’s because this whole episode has touched a nerve, particularly in the evangelical community. Ever since President Obama declared his support for homosexual marriage and the Supreme Court refused to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, our society has begun a mad rush toward Sodom. Now along comes Phil Robertson, who gets to the root of the problem: homosexuality is sin. Denizens of progressivism nearly faint, then react with outrage—how dare anyone use that word “sin.” What century does he still live in?

Part of the outrage, at least superficially, was Robertson’s rather colorful language in describing why a man should prefer a woman over another man. Let’s be clear: he used the correct anatomical terminology. He just made homosexuality sound so . . . well . . . disgusting. In doing so, though, he merely mirrored Scriptural descriptions of homosexual acts. Yet those same progressives have no problem with raunchy actions and vile terminology on their side. As Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal noted, “It is a messed-up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

I also mentioned in my previous post that media people, even at more conservative organizations like Fox News, scarcely know what to do with the controversy. That’s because so few of them agree with Robertson—and the Bible—that homosexuality is truly sinful. They kind of defend him on what they deem to be his First Amendment right of free speech and freedom of religion, but one gets the impression they still believe he’s some kind of loony anachronism for holding to those outdated views.

Yet even that defense isn’t strictly correct in this case. First Amendment protections are shields against government action; the A&E network is a private enterprise. As such, it can hire and fire as it chooses. I agree. It has that right. Those who then disagree with A&E’s choice have just as much of a right to express their disagreement.

I find this kind of funny, in a non-funny kind of way. A&E’s defenders cry out for the right of a business to make its own decisions, yet many of those same defenders of this particular private business are on the front lines of the battle to force Christian charity organizations, evangelical colleges, and Christian-owned businesses to bow to the government’s mandates via Obamacare that violate their religious beliefs. Ask Christian bakers and photographers who are sued for not wanting to participate in homosexual weddings if their right to run their business in accord with their principles is being upheld. The hypocrisy and double standard are appalling.

Gay Wedding Cakes

That’s why I ended my other post with a concern that we may be entering an era of persecution of Christians in a way never experienced before in this country. I repeat what I asked then: what will be the response of the church to this new reality? Will we stand for truth or fall in line with the tenor of the times? I know many will hold firm, but the real question is how many. When you hear someone more concerned about Robertson’s descriptive language than the moral precipice upon which we’re teetering as a nation, that person is already sliding toward accommodation with Gomorrah.

Oh, by the way, since Phil Robertson is supposed to be such an awful, hateful person who cares nothing about others, let me leave you with another of his quotes, and you decide just how hateful he is:

Phil Robertson Abortion Quote

On Clowns, Presidents, & the First Amendment

I always prefer to write about truly significant events or great insights offered by the wisest people. Then there are days that simply dictate what needs to be written, whether significant or not. This is one of those days.

I have a difficult time believing I have to comment on what a rodeo clown did last week, but the story refuses to die. You probably already know what happened, but for the few who live in a monastery somewhere carefully crafting illuminated manuscripts, let me get you up to speed. The gist of it: a rodeo clown wore an Obama mask; the announcer said something about how real clowns know they are clowns but Obama doesn’t realize his status as a clown; then a comment was made about the bull possibly running over the clown, who was there of course to distract the bull away from a thrown rider.

That’s the entire story. Well, it should have been. But now all the perpetually outraged amongst us are at it again. It’s okay, in their view, to ridicule the King of Kings who reigns forever, but one must never do so to The One who now reigns temporarily in one country, and who will be retired to the realm of private citizen after the next election. It’s just fine to take the name of the Lord of Lords in vain, but no one may dare mock a mere human who himself shows disdain for that Lord of Lords. The outrage is disproportional, but it does clarify the worldview of those so outraged:

Blasphemy

Before I go any further, let me assure everyone that I think the rodeo’s attempt at humor was rather tawdry, and that it never should have happened. Yet, in our society, at our current stage of devolution, even a stupid action leads to calls for “justice.” The clown involved has been banned from future Missouri rodeos, all the clowns are now subject to sensitivity training, and the NAACP, convinced that racism is behind this action [well, the NAACP is convinced racism is behind nearly everything], is demanding that both the Secret Service and the DOJ carry out further investigations. Such actions should not permitted in America without severe penalties, they seem to think:

Hate Crime Division

Let’s just reflect for a moment on how previous presidents have been treated. During the Vietnam War, LBJ and Nixon were castigated in public in every protest and demonstration. Protesters wore masks with the presidents’ faces on them, and many screamed for their heads, quite literally. While I don’t condone language that might set someone off and lead to violence, if the government had decided at that time to jail every protester and fill the courts with trials, the legal system would have ground to a halt. Some actions are sinful, but not unlawful. Some actions are distasteful and ugly, but not necessarily subject to legal redress.

The same could be said of how protesters treated Ronald Reagan during his presidency. Reagan masks were everywhere, depicting the president as an evil, cruel warmonger. No one was indicted for doing so. And then there’s George W. Bush. Anyone remember this image of him that was going around?

Bushitler

Should someone be prosecuted for that? Apparently Bush didn’t think so. The Justice Department wasn’t unleashed on those who promoted the image. Here’s an apt comparison:

 Let Me Be Clear

How has Barack Obama responded to his followers’ calls for justice? He’s silent, as usual, when it comes to soothing the outrage. Peggy Noonan made an astute observations the other day that is worth quoting. She said,

Let me suggest a classy Obama move that might go over well. From his Vineyard vacation spot he should have the press office issue a release saying his reaction to finding out a rodeo clown was rudely spoofing him, was, “So what?” Say he loves free speech, including inevitably derision directed at him, and he does not wish for the Missouri state fair to fire the guy, and hopes those politicians (unctuously, excessively, embarrassingly) damning the clown and the crowd would pipe down and relax. This would be graceful and nice, wouldn’t it?

Noonan, however, doesn’t stop there because she has seen this president in action for nearly five years. She continues,

He would never do it. He gives every sign of being a person who really believes he shouldn’t be made fun of, and if he is it’s probably racially toned, because why else would you make fun of him?

 It’s not good to have developed that kind of reputation. One cartoonist, by the way, in commenting on President Obama’s penchant for classy vacations, has an idea that he thinks would help the country:

Keep America Strong

Well, he’s probably just a racist and should be prosecuted for airing his view. Now that I’ve shared his view, should I be subject to prosecution also? Where are we headed as a country? What is the future of the First Amendment? There are many indications we’re not as free to speak openly as we used to be.

Protecting Life & Religious Liberty

Let’s set aside “official” scandals today and concentrate on how Republicans are attempting to safeguard life and religious liberty. Of course, the taking of innocent life via abortion and the persecution of those who hold to a Biblical worldview are just as scandalous, but the media would never use the word to describe what’s happening on those fronts.

After the revealed horror of abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s practices, there’s an opening to push for more restrictions on abortion. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee last week successfully advanced a bill to the whole House that would outlaw nearly all abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy. This is designed to terminate the actions of those who terminate life in a late-term abortion. The full name of the bill is the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. One of the goals is to show that these children in the womb actually experience pain during the abortion. These representatives are trying to awaken the general public to the humanness of each unborn child.

Awakening the general public is not as difficult as sparking interest in Democrat lawmakers, though. The bill passed on a purely party-line vote—not even one Democrat on the committee supported sending the proposed law to the full House. Prediction: it will pass the House since Republicans are in the majority; it will then die in the Democrat-controlled Senate. If, by some minor miracle, the Senate should pass it, President Obama is on record saying he will veto it. No surprise there. This is the president who spoke to Planned Parenthood and asked God’s blessing on their activities, which include more than 330,000 abortions each year. Neither Planned Parenthood nor President Obama care one bit for the lives of the unborn. Instead, they concentrate their efforts on making sure that any young girl, with no age restrictions, can get a morning-after pill.

Plan B

As for the issue of religious liberty, Republicans in both the House and Senate have put forward amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would protect the rights of conscience for members of the military, allowing them to express their religious faith without discrimination or retaliation. The amendments also call for investigation of reports of religious discrimination and the influence of outside groups in creating Pentagon policy. This is in response to the earlier repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the now total acceptance of homosexuality in the military. Ever since the repeal, Christians in the armed forces have been pressured to be silent or even promote homosexuality, although they believe it to be immoral behavior.

None of this should be necessary; we have something called the First Amendment. It should be a given that soldiers don’t lay aside their Christian faith upon entering the military. But here’s another non-surprise. Once again, as with the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, President Obama has vowed to veto any bill with this amendment, thereby showing he has no genuine regard for religious liberty. It also reveals his basic anti-Christian worldview. He and his party are devoted to promoting immorality, although selectively applied:

Progressive Logic

Our president seeks to impose his worldview on the nation. When he said he wanted to transform America, he meant it. I’ve often commented on the palpable arrogance of President Obama. You can see it in his poses, his facial expressions, and his actions. One gets the impression he considers himself somehow above mere mortals:

Mortals Don't Understand

Although the Republicans’ attempts to protect unborn children and ensure liberty of conscience will not succeed with this man in the White House, it’s important to continue to make the attempts. Each time, it’s an opportunity to bring understanding to the public. With enough understanding, perhaps we can avoid in 2016 the mistakes we made in 2008 and 2012.