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Religion



All Reason.com articles with the "Religion" tag.



Published: Sat, 22 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:32:52 -0400

 



Supreme Court to Hear Case on Gay Wedding Cakes

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 10:38:00 -0400

(image) Is a wedding cake speech? When a baker makes a wedding cake, is he or she declaring support for the couple's marriage? Can a baker decline to bake a cake for a gay couple (and defy a state's anti-discrimination laws) because he or she objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds?

Today, the Supreme Court announced they would be taking up a case that may answer these questions for anyone who provides services for gay weddings. This is likely to be a case with a narrow ruling about religion and compelled speech and what constitutes an artistic expression. Don't expect a broad ruling that would change the nature of state-level public accommodation laws one way or the other.

In Masterpiece Bakeshop Ltd. Vs Colorado Civil Rights Commission the owner of a bakery in Lakewood, Colo., declined to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple because he had religious objections to same-sex marriage. In 2014 he was ruled to have violated the state's anti-discrimination laws on public accommodation.

He is one of a handful of similarly-minded business owners who offer their goods and services to weddings but oppose same-sex marriage recognition. We've seen other cases involving bakers, florists, photographers, and owners of private wedding venues.

The Supreme Court had previously turned away challenges to state-level antidiscrimination laws, but the court has been sitting on this case for months without deciding one way or another if they'd take it. Today was the last day in this session for the court to report out whether they would grant the case. After months of rescheduling, they've decided that they will.

The case will in all likelihood be very narrowly focused on whether the free speech and free religion rights of bakery owner Jack Phillips have been violated. The Supreme Court will have to consider whether the making of a wedding cake is a form of artistic impression and whether, therefore, laws forcing Phillips to serve same-sex couples constitutes compelled speech.

Historically, as I explained about these cases in 2015, courts have not determined cakes themselves to be expressive activity (therefore not protected speech). But text, writing, and imagery placed on the cake can be considered speech, and a bakery cannot be forced to communicate text or images they deem offensive. The question is whether the creation of a wedding cake itself is a form of speech.

Libertarians hoping for a broader ruling related to whether public accommodation laws violate the free association rights of business owners will probably be disappointed. There is zero chance this court is going to rule in such a way that alters state-level public accommodation laws. This case will mostly revolve around whether the activities of people like bakers and florists are considered artistic speech and therefore are possibly exempt from such laws.

Read more about the case itself from SCOTUSblog here.




God and Man at the FBI

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 06:00:00 -0400

The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11, edited by Sylvester A. Johnson and Steven Weitzman. University of California Press, 376 pages, $29.95 Ever since FBI Director James Comey staggered into the spotlight during last year's presidential campaign, critics have been comparing him to the most infamous man ever to hold Comey's job. "I think this is sort of a flashback to the days of J. Edgar Hoover," the journalist turned academic Sanford Ungar told The New York Times last October. "I don't mean to smear Comey, and it may be an unfair comparison. But Hoover would weigh in on issues without warning or expectation." Comey's comments about the Hillary Clinton email investigation do highlight how a law enforcement agency can improperly influence public opinion. But there are some pretty big differences between his behavior and that of his predecessor. For one thing, his actions last year were public, a fact that triggered a national debate over their propriety and eventually led the Justice Department's inspector general to launch an investigation of how his agency handled its probe of Hillary Clinton's emails. For another, that probe was a legitimate criminal investigation. Hoover's FBI, by contrast, secretly monitored the non-criminal personal and political conduct of U.S. citizens. Among them: first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and syndicated columnist Joseph Alsop. Hoover even ordered his agents to conduct a content analysis of Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo to ascertain whether one of the strip's animal characters, based on the FBI director, portrayed him in a positive or derogatory light. The information acquired in these surveillance expeditions was maintained in closed FBI files, and much of it was used to advance Hoover's political agenda through leaks to favored reporters, governors, members of Congress, and the White House—on the strict condition that the recipient not disclose the FBI's assistance. The scope of Hoover's abuses did not become widely known until the unprecedented hearings conducted by the so-called Church Committee in 1975–76. It has been advanced since then through a mixture of journalism, scholarship, and Freedom of Information Act requests. Now a new book, edited by Sylvester Johnson of Northwestern University and Steven Weitzman of the University of Pennsylvania, adds another dimension to our understanding by recounting the bureau's long history involving religious activists and institutions. The FBI and Religion contains 15 essays written by theologians, historians, and political scientists; the ground it covers stretches from the bureau's birth during the Progressive Era through the current war on terror. It is based on extensive reading of the secondary literature on the FBI, supplemented at times by research of relevant and accessible FBI records. Most of the chapters focus on the government's surveillance of religious leaders and institutions, with bureau officials often equating moral advocacy of peace or racial justice with threats to the nation's security. Targets include the Church of God in Christ during World War I, the Moorish Science Temple of America from the 1920s through the 1960s, the Nation of Islam and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1950s and '60s, the Branch Davidians during the Waco siege of 1993, and militant Muslims following 9/11. Other essays assess how, during Hoover's tenure, FBI officials employed religious rhetoric to influence public attitudes about suspected subversives. (Hoover himself regularly used religious rhetoric in his public speeches and writings, impugning radical activists as "immoral, Godless, and disloyal.") In addition, FBI officials benefited from more conservative religious leaders, such as Carl McIntire, Edward Bundy, and Billy James Hargis—and conservative religious institutions, such as the Council of Christian Laymen and the[...]



Religious Objections to LGBT Issues in Mississippi Back in Play—for Now

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 15:30:00 -0400

(image) A controversial, religion-based LGBT law in Mississippi can't be blocked based solely on fears that discrimination will follow, a federal panel of judges ruled this week.

On the surface, Mississippi's HB 1523, passed last year, appears to be "religious freedom" legislation intended to protect Christian conservatives from state punishment for making decisions like declining to sell wedding cakes to gay couples.

What the law actually does is more complex, anti-libertarian and clearly unconstitutional.

The law grants special protections by the state for three particular religious beliefs. They are:

  • Marriage is or should be recognized as only being between a man and a woman.
  • Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.
  • Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

The law grants people who have only those beliefs various protections under the law. Religious organizations cannot be accused of discrimination on the basis of making decisions in accordance with the protected beliefs. The state cannot discriminate against families who want to adopt or foster children because they share those protected beliefs.

The state cannot punish doctors or therapists who refuse to provide services that would violate those beliefs (meaning a doctor couldn't refuse to treat people simply because they're gay or transgender but could refuse to provide therapy or treatment to help facilitate a sex change).

The state couldn't punish businesses for refusing to serve people in accordance with those beliefs or interfere with schools and businesses setting their own policies of how (or if) to accommodate transgender people. The state wouldn't even be able to punish government employees who refuse to hand out same-sex marriage licenses, but only if it's because of their religious beliefs.

To be very clear, this is not some form of Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowing people general but limited exceptions to following laws because of religious beliefs. This is a law that determines only these three beliefs get special protection. The law is in clear violation of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from showing a preference for any particular religious belief. It is blatantly unconstitutional.

Objecting to the law, a group of plaintiffs filed suit, and a lower court put an injunction in place to keep it from implementation.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel did not make a decision about the constitutionality of the law in any way. Instead, the three judges ruled unanimously that the plaintiffs lacked standing at this point to oppose the law. There is no case yet seeking relief from the courts. The ruling notes that in order for the judges to grant standing, it's not enough to argue that the law violates the Establishment Clause—"[the plaintiffs] must allege a personal violation of rights."

The panel's decision should not be taken as a determination that the law is constitutional or valid. Assuming the law actually gets implemented, it probably won't be long before somebody will be able to prove the law has affected them.




Brickbat: Where's The Beef?

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) India has banned the sale of cows for slaughter. While Hindus do not eat beef, it forms an important part of the diet of the nation's Muslims and Christians.




Atheism More Prevalent Among Americans Than the Polls Generally Show

Mon, 22 May 2017 16:50:00 -0400

(image) Although acceptance of atheists is increasing, their fellow Americans still eye them with considerable suspicion. The percentage of Americans who declare themselves religiously unaffiliated has risen from 5 percent in 1972 to 25 percent now. But depending upon the poll, the share of Americans who call themselves atheists varies from a low of 3 percent to around 11 percent.

Given the social stigma attached to atheism, researchers at the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hypothesized that polls might underreport the number of Americans who are nonbelievers. To test this hypothesis, they used the unmatched count technique, in which poll respondents are randomly divided into two groups. The control group is asked how many of a number of harmless statements—"I am a vegetarian," "I can drive a motorcycle," "I own a dog," etc.—are not true statements about them. The second group is asked to respond to one additional, more sensitive statement: "I believe in God."

Respondents are not specifically indicating which statements are true for them, only the total number that is. This type of polling has been used, for example, to estimate the size of the LGBT community and the extent of antigay feeling.

The researchers ran two slightly different unmatched count technique surveys involving 4,000 Americans. In their report, "How many atheists are there?," they conclude that about 26 percent of Americans likely do not believe in God.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, PRRI research director Daniel Cox notes that public attitudes toward the LGBT community have become more accepting as more Americans report having a gay friend or family member has increased. He suggests that the same dynamic is happening as more atheists come out of their nonbelief closets.

Interestingly, PRRI's 2013 American Values Survey reported that "fewer than 6-in-10 (58%) libertarians believe that God is a person with whom one can have a relationship, one-quarter (25%) believe God is an impersonal force in the universe, and 16% report that they do not believe in God."

For more background, see my article, "The New Age of Reason: Is the Fourth Great Awakening finally coming to a close?"

Also see ReasonTV's report on the Rally for Reason, a 2012 gathering of nonbelievers on the National Mall:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rAd72Gkfd4k" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




White Working-Class Millennials Are Less Christian, More Republican Than Their Elders

Tue, 09 May 2017 15:40:00 -0400

A large new report from PRRI and The Atlantic examines white, working-class Americans in an effort to explain what motivated them "to support Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of roughly two to one" in the 2016 presidential election. The findings tend toward conventional wisdom—except when it comes to white working-class millennials. It turns out this group breaks from their older counterparts in some unexpected ways. Less than half of young, white, working-class adults identify as Christian. For the report, "white working class" is defined as non-Hispanic white Americans without a four-year college degree who hold non-salaried jobs. Overall, 71 percent of white working-class Americans identify as Christian, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. And among "seniors"—defined as those 65 and older—the percentage calling themselves Christians jumps to more than 80 percent. But among white working-class young adults—defined here as those in the 18- to 29-year-old age range—just 48 percent identify as Christian, with 16 percent describing themselves as evangelical Protestants, 16 percent as mainline Protestants, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as another Christian religion. This is about equal to the percentage that said they have no religious affiliation. At 47 percent, religious unaffiliation for white working-class young adults was significantly higher than religious unaffiliation among 18- to 29-year-old Americans overall (36 percent). White working-class millennials are more Republican than their elders... but less conservative In general, young Americans tend to skew toward Democratic Party affiliation. But for the youth of the white working class, the Republican Party is way more popular than the Democratic, according to the PRRI/Atlantic report. More than half of young white working-class voters—57 percent—identify as Republican or at least lean toward the GOP, while just 29 percent identify as or lean toward Democrats It's no surprise that white working-class young folk might lean more Republican than their richer, non-white, or college-educated counterparts. But here's a departure from conventional wisdom: The youngest adults of the white working class are more likely to lean Republican than the oldest members. In fact, 18- to 29-year-olds here lean more Republican than any other white working-class cohort studied. For both seniors and those in the 50- to 64-year-old cohort, 51 percent identified as or leaned Republican and 36 percent identified as or leaned Democrat. The older-millennial/younger-Gen X group—which included white working-class Americans ages 30 to 49—contained slightly fewer Republican Party voters than did the older generations (47 percent) and slightly fewer Democratic Party voters (34 percent). This group was the most likely to identify as politically independent, with 16 percent identifying as such. Just 10 percent of the younger group, 8 percent of those ages 50-64, and 9 percent of seniors in the report identify as political independents. But while the youngest adults of the white working-class are more likely than their elders to describe themselves as Republican, they are less likely to consider themselves conservative. "White working-class young adults are less than half as likely as white working-class seniors to identify as conservative," according to the report. Less than a quarter—23 percent—of white working-class young people call themselves conservative, while 26 percent identify as liberal and 40 percent identify as moderate. White working-class millennials don't think Donald Trump gets it—but their parents love him. Just 34 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old cohort in question agree that President Trump understands the problems facing their communities. Older members of the white working class are much more likely to endorse this statement, with 47 percent of the 30- to 49-year-old crowd and 46 percent of t[...]



On Churches in Politics, Trump Does ... Nothing

Mon, 08 May 2017 00:01:00 -0400

With hundreds of executive branch jobs yet to be filled, the Trump administration needs a lot of people. One person it especially needs is Goldilocks, who might save the president from his habit of doing too much or too little but seldom getting anything just right. In the executive order he signed Thursday titled "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty," Donald Trump had a rare opportunity to pursue a small yet significant change that would have accomplished both of his stated purposes. Instead, he ceremoniously unveiled a heaping platter of nothingburgers. In February, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump extolled religious freedom and promised: "I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that. Remember." If you're not familiar with the Johnson Amendment, don't feel bad. It's safe to assume Trump wasn't either until he ran for president. Enacted into law in 1954, it prohibits churches and other nonprofit organizations from taking part in political campaigns, on pain of losing their federal tax exemption. The basic reason for it is sound. Political contributions are not tax-deductible, because Americans don't want to indirectly subsidize them. If churches were allowed to engage in active electioneering, citizens could give money to churches to help their favored candidates and then deduct those "religious" donations on their 1040s. This policy would have a couple of bad effects, besides the loss of revenue. One would be to encourage churches to become partly or solely political entities, at the expense of real political entities. In fact, it would be only a matter of time before partisan activists would form "churches" that hold no services and need no pews. They would exist purely to help candidates get elected. That would work to the detriment of real churches, fostering cynicism about their true function. It would jeopardize popular support for their tax treatment, which was granted partly in deference to the separation of church and state. We've long had a rough bargain between religious institutions and government. The deal is that because they, unlike other organizations, are not allowed to get financial aid from the government, neither should they be required to provide financial aid (in the form of taxes) to the government. The exemption also encourages charitable activities, by secular as well as religious groups, which are seen as good for society because they help those in need and lessen the burden of public aid. But the Johnson Amendment also bars political activities that don't cost a dime. If a pastor recommends a vote for a candidate during the course of a Sunday sermon that would be given regardless, no money is spent, and no indirect government subsidy occurs. As a literal matter, though, that pastor's statement violates the law. "It doesn't evade campaign finance regulation, it doesn't create a path for deductible campaign spending, and it ought to be protected," University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock told me. It's pure political speech, which the First Amendment was designed to cover. Securing this zone of freedom is what Trump might have proposed but didn't, quite. His fuzzy order directs the Treasury Department not to "take any adverse action" against a religious leader or church who has "spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective." It's the equivalent of strumming an air guitar. The IRS has long taken a relaxed view of the Johnson Amendment, cheerfully ignoring sermons that veer into political endorsements. But Trump didn't even explicitly reaffirm that tolerant policy. The reasonable answer is to write it into law—leaving no doubt about what is permitted and shielding clergy against any future IRS decision to get tough. What Trump did, though, was an empty gesture. Even his [...]



Trump's Religious Freedom Order Doesn't Roll Back LGBT Protections

Wed, 03 May 2017 22:05:00 -0400

(image) Once again, fears that the Trump administration is going to roll back federal LGBT protections may end up proving to be misguided.

The LGBT community and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) erupted in a new round of activism and concern when Politico reported yesterday President Donald Trump was planning to sign a new religious liberty executive order on Thursday.

Politico reported based on unnamed sources that this order was similar to one that Trump had previously rejected. That initial order catered to religious conservatives by carving out massive exceptions from federal discrimination laws and demanded certain religious positions be accommodated.

Let's be clear about that first draft from a libertarian perspective: This was not what libertarians would classify as a "religious freedom" executive order. As I explained back in February when it came around, that proposed order would have classified particular religious beliefs—that marriage is for heterosexual couples, that sex is immutable and determined at birth, and that life begins at conception—as beliefs protected by government order. It literally declared particular beliefs that the government would recognize over others and therefore violated the Establishment Clause. There were parts of the executive order that libertarians would support, like exempting religious organizations from having to pay for employees' birth control or abortions. But overall the order had serious, fundamental constitutional issues and it was good that Trump didn't sign it.

So, when Politico reported that the order was back, LGBT organizations and the ACLU sounded the alarms again. The ACLU held a rally today and has threatened to sue to try to block the order before even learning its contents.

We won't fully know the contents until tomorrow, but what the White House has released is much, much, much less than what was presented back in February. NBC reporter Kelly O'Donnell got a briefing at the White House with the basics of the order, which will be presented tomorrow. The summary:

  • It is the policy of the administration "To protect and vigorously promote religious liberty"
  • Calls on the IRS to show "maximum discretion" in the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which limits the power of religious leaders (and many charity groups) from endorsing political candidates
  • Calls for "regulatory relief" for businesses and employers who have religious objections to being required to fund birth control or preventative services.

And that's it. There are no special protections being extended to those who oppose gay marriage or recognizing transgender people. That first item, though, is very vague in the summary. It could end up meaning very little, but we'll have to see what the actual order says tomorrow.




MOABs, Russkies, Prog Rock, Jesus, Jackie Robinson, and the F-word: Matt Welch Hosts on Sirius XM 9-12 AM ET

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0400

(image) This morning from 9-12 ET I will be guest-hosting on Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick show, which you can find at 121 on your channel-finder. (I will also be hosting next Monday and Tuesday at the same time, and in fact hosted Tuesday of this week as well.) It's a loose-limbed and interactive format, so call anytime at 1-877-974-7487 to give me some ideological backup (and fashion critiques), though of course it will also be jam-packed with guests. To wit:

* Delaware Dave Weigel, the beloved if commenter-controversial former Reasoner-turned WashPost politics guy. We will be talking mostly about his marvelously named forthcoming book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, with maybe some politics sprinkled in.

* Michael Weiss, editor in chief of The Interpreter, and author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. We will be talking about the Russkies.

* Benjamin K. Bergen, cognitive scientist and author of the new What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. We will be talking about self-censorship in book titles.

* Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb, academics and co-authors of the new book Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero. We will be mashing up Good Friday and Jackie Robinson.

* And finally, Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week and The Slurve. We will be discussing our own personal Jesuses.




Brickbat: God Bless You

Thu, 06 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) An anonymous group wanted to donate $50,000 for a new turf field at the high school in Indiana's Greenfield-Central Schools. But school board members balked at the group's one request: to use the hashtag #BlessTheWorld to acknowledge their gift. School board members were afraid of using the word "bless." "There was some apprehension about if that was a gray area. If that was a breach of the separation of church and state that is often quoted from the first amendment," said Superintendent Harold Olin. The group withdrew its donation.




Brickbat: Sacred and Profane

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Ruslan Sokolovsky faces up to seven and a half years in prison for playing Pokemon Go inside a church in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Officials have charged Sokolovsky with inciting religious hatred and insulting the feelings of religious believers.




Another Blow Against the Petty Tyranny of Blue Laws

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 00:01:00 -0400

I am in Austin this week for the South by Southwest conferences, and I had planned to pick up some whiskey this Sunday before flying back home to Jerusalem, where brown spirits cost much more. Then a friend pointed out that my plan was not feasible in Texas, which is one of 11 states that still prohibit liquor sales on Sunday. Until recently there were 12 such states, but last week Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill allowing liquor stores to operate on Sundays. He thereby eliminated an arbitrary inconvenience that over the years has been justified in the name of piety, paternalism, and protectionism, none of which is a morally acceptable reason to use force against peaceful people. Minnesota's new law, which follows similar moves by 16 other states since 2002, takes effect on July 1. But Jim Surdyk, proprietor of Surdyk's Liquor & Cheese Shop in Minneapolis, did not wait to exercise his new freedom. He was open for business last Sunday, prompting a $3,500 fine and threats against his license. It is not hard to understand Surdyk's impatience. In the 159 years since Minnesota became the 32nd state, it has never deigned to let people buy packaged beer, wine, or liquor on Sunday. Minnesotans who wanted to have drinks at home on the Christian Sabbath had to plan ahead or make a run to neighboring Wisconsin, which has allowed Sunday sales since 1874. You might wonder whether it is constitutional to foist a religious day of rest on people who choose not to observe it. According to the Supreme Court, it is. The Court's reasoning highlights the petty tyranny of blue laws. In the 1961 case McGowan v. Maryland, seven department store employees challenged their criminal convictions for daring to sell people "a loose-leaf binder, a can of floor wax, a stapler, staples and a toy" on a Sunday. The Court rejected their argument that Maryland's blue law violated the First Amendment's ban on "an establishment of religion." "There is no dispute that the original laws which dealt with Sunday labor were motivated by religious forces," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion. But he added that "as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character." Warren's secularization of Maryland's blue law was a bit of a stretch, given that the statute explicitly addressed "Sabbath Breaking" and repeatedly referred to the "Lord's day," demanding that people not "profane" it through inappropriate activities. But the chief justice argued that the state had a legitimate interest in promoting "the health, safety, recreation and general well-being" of its residents by mandating not only "a periodic respite from work" but "a general cessation of activity, a special atmosphere of tranquility, a day which all members of the family or friends and relatives might spend together." More recently this pious paternalism has given way to a nakedly protectionist argument. The main opponents of Sunday sales nowadays are independent liquor stores whose owners worry that competition will force them to work harder without guaranteeing a commensurate increase in revenue. "Small-business owners argued that allowing Sunday sales would stretch six days of purchases over seven days and increase their operating costs," the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. "They also worried it would bring more chain and big-box stores," which "can undercut smaller stores on pricing." The point of banning Sunday sales, in other words, is not to protect consumers from themselves but to protect merchants from their competitors. High-handed promotion of "the general well-being" has been replaced by an open conspiracy against consumers. Jim Surdyk, the Minneapolis liquor retailer who dismayed city and state officials by se[...]



More Evidence That What Counts as 'Religious Freedom' Is Always In Dispute

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 11:22:00 -0500

In a new feature for America magazine, I explore how worried people of faith should actually be that their religious freedom is under assault. Some believers' claims can seem outlandish, as when one woman incorrectly told CNN before the election that pastors can be taken to jail if they refuse to solemnize a same-sex wedding. Surely the state knows better than to, say, try to dictate a church's operations. Doesn't it? But as a recent court hearing in New York makes clear, the line between something the government would obviously never do because it would clearly be a violation of the First Amendment, on the one hand, and something the government obviously has the right to do and how dare you suggest your fairy tales should let you get out of following the law, you bigot, on the other hand, is moving all the time. In its 2012 decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the Supreme Court held that anti-discrimination laws could not be used to interfere with a religious institution's right to select its own faith leaders. The ruling rested on a principle known as the "ministerial exception." In the U.S., a company isn't allowed to refuse to hire someone to a leadership position (or most other positions) because of the applicant's gender or religion. But if that rule were enforced against religious organizations, a Catholic church could be prosecuted for not ordaining women (or, even more absurdly, Protestants, Buddhists, and atheists) as priests. If that prospect doesn't disturb you, try substituting "Islamic mosque" for "Catholic church" and "imam" for "priest." It's an important precedent. In fact, people sometimes point to Hosanna-Tabor as evidence that conservative Christians who are worried the government is coming for them should cool their jets. In my America piece, I quote the University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock noting that "The ministerial exception decision was unanimous. It's not going anywhere." But even a ruling from all nine justices doesn't foreclose the possibility of expensive lawsuits, as one Christian school is discovering. Earlier this week, St. Anthony School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York were forced to appear in a Manhattan courtroom to argue that the state can't interfere in their hiring and firing decisions. The suit was brought by a former principal, Joanne Fratello, who says her employment termination violated civil rights law. The key dispute is over what counts as a minister. A pastor clearly is, while a landscaper clearly isn't. But what about a school administrator? In this case, as in Hosanna-Tabor before it, there is copious evidence the role in question did involve at least some religious ministry. A summary judgment siding with the school last year noted that Fratello's responsibilities included leading students in daily prayers and meditations, overseeing the religious education curriculum, and generally acting as a spiritual shepherd to pupils and faculty. Before she was hired, she was required to submit a letter confirming she's a practicing Catholic. She also signed a contract certifying she "recognizes the religious nature of the Catholic school and agrees that the employer retains the right to dismiss [the] principal" for any one of a series of reasons, including rejection of tenets of the faith. But Fratello's attorney argues the ministerial exception should apply only to clergy and—importantly—only within the four walls of an actual house of worship. He wrote in a brief that "a Church itself" but "not Church-affiliated entities operating in the secular world" are protected from interference, later adding, "organized religion must not be allowed to trump American democracy's need for an [sic] non-indoctrinated and educated citizenry.[...]



Danish Man Who Burned a Koran on Facebook Will Be Prosecuted For Blasphemy

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 12:15:00 -0500

A man in Denmark will be prosecuted under the country's blasphemy laws for burning a Koran and posting video of the book's immolation to Facebook in 2015. The Associated Press reports that the man (whose name was not released) will be the first Dane since 1971 to be charged under a law forbidding "publicly mocking a religious community's religious doctrines or worship," and only the fifth person ever to be prosecuted for blasphemy in Denmark, according to The Independent. The man faces up to four months in prison but, if convicted, will more likely face a fine. Prosecutors had considered charging the publisher and editors of Jyllands-Posten—which in 2006 published cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad that were met with violent reactions in various countries—but ultimately declined to do so. In recent years, Denmark had considered repealing its blasphemy ban, but in 2015 decided to reaffirm it during a session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. A poll conducted in 2012 found 66 percent of Danish citizens supported the almost-never-used prohibition on blasphemy. Despite the rarity of blasphemy charges in Denmark, prosecutions against "hate speech" are quite common. Writing for Columbia University's Global Freedom of Expression platform, Jacob Mchangama argues that "scope creep" among such prosecutions appears to be happening in Denmark, and that Denmark's stance at the UN has international implications—especially among certain countries which punish blasphemy with heavy prison sentences, or even death: The conflation of blasphemy and hate speech goes to the heart of the debate at the UN between (primarily) democracies on the one hand and Muslim states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the other. In 2011 the annual and highly divisive OIC resolutions on "Defamation of Religion" (an attempt to create a global blasphemy ban under international human rights law) were ended by the passing of Resolution 16/18 at the Human Rights Council. The resolution is essentially a compromise brokered by the United States and the OIC and protects individuals, rather than religions, from religious discrimination and intolerance, as well as promoting "open, constructive and respectful debate." Yet, OIC member states have since attempted to interpret the obligation to prohibit certain forms of hate speech in Article 20 (2) of the ICCPR, so broad as to include criticism and mockery of religion. Mchangama adds: Undoubtedly these states will have been encouraged by the actions of the Danish police and the District Court of Elsinore. However, the fates Asia Bibi on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, Raif Badawi serving 10 years for insulting Islam in Saudia Arabia, and Ayatollah Kazemeini Boroujerdi serving a lengthy prison sentence in Iran for "waging war against God," show that criticism of religion is an essential human right for all, including devout religious believers of all faiths. Watch Reason TV's interview with former Jyllends-Posten editor Flemming Rose below, where Rose talks with Nick Gillespie about "the Worldwide Suppression of Free Speech": src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pzdaoBsUW88" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]



Brickbat: Dancing Too Close

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Organizers of a Valentine's Day dance in Henryetta, Oklahoma, canceled the event after a local resident pointed out the venue is only about 250 feet from a Church of Christ and a city ordinance bans dancing within 500 feet of a church.