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Canada Supreme Court Rules Against Christian Prayers at City Council Meetings, Says It ‘Stigmatizes’ Atheists

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on April 19, 2015

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Nearly a year after the United States Supreme Court ruled that government meetings could include Christian prayers, Canada’s highest legal authority has concluded the opposite.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously on Wednesday that prayers at town hall meetings are a violation of law, since they show preference for one religion over another.

In Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City), Canada’s highest court upheld a lower court decision concluding that the mayor of Saguenay had violated an atheist’s freedom of conscience by opening public meetings with a prayer

“The prayer recited by the municipal council in breach of the state’s duty of neutrality resulted in a distinction, exclusion and preference based on religion …. which, in combination with the circumstances in which the prayer was recited, turned the meetings into a preferential space for people with theistic beliefs,” wrote the court.

“Although non‑believers could also participate, the price for doing so was isolation, exclusion and stigmatization. This impaired [plaintiff’s] right to exercise his freedom of conscience and religion.”

Canadian Secular Alliance, an organization that was an official intervener in the case, called the decision a “victory” for Canada.

“The decision is a victory for pluralism, equality and neutrality, rather than a promotion of atheism,” stated CSA President Greg Oliver.

“The CSA congratulates Alain Simoneau and Mouvement laïque québécois for their successful effort to make Canada a more inclusive country and calls on municipal councils still reciting government prayers to respect the decision and end this discriminatory practice.”

For years, city leaders in Saguenay, Quebec, would open meetings with a brief Catholic prayer, reasoning that the prayer reflected Quebec’s historic Catholic heritage.

In 2007, atheist Sagenuay resident Alain Simoneau filed a complaint against the practice in the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, which ordered Sagenuay Mayor Jean Tremblay to cease the prayers.

Mayor Tremblay appealed the decision to the Quebec Court of Appeal, which in 2011 ruled in favor of the city over the atheist.

The case was then appealed to the nation’s highest court, which heard arguments last October and involved input from various religious and civil libertarian groups.

A nationally binding decision, Matt Kwong of CBC News noted that other local governments with prayer practices are being effected.

“City of Halifax legal staff began reviewing its morning ‘invocation,’ which begins with the words ‘God our creator’ and ends with ‘amen,'” reported Kwong.

“Ottawa’s city council also dropped its morning prayer on Wednesday, as did the community of Dieppe, N.B. Both municipalities stated they would review the practice — something constitutional law expert Errol Mendes suspects many town and city councils will be doing in the days to come.”

The Canadian Supreme Court’s decision comes nearly a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that local governments could hold sectarian prayers at public meetings.

In a 5-4 decision, the United States’ highest court concluded that a New York town could begin their monthly town hall meetings with Christian prayers.

“The court must decide whether the town of Greece, New York, imposes an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its monthly board meetings with a prayer. It must be concluded … that no violation of the Constitution has been shown,” read the majority opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Bruce Clemenger, president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, whose organization served as an intervener, released a statement arguing that the decision was more nuanced than perceived.

“The Supreme Court did not ban offering prayers at government events, but they did offer guidance about when a prayer may cross a line,” said Clemenger.

“It was the circumstances and context of the prayer that the court found violated the neutrality of the state and contravened the religious freedom of an atheist who challenged the prayer.”

Kwong of CBC reported that the decision “did not deal with religious icons in provincial legislatures or the prayers that open parliamentary sessions in Ottawa.”

“And there are some legal observers who feel that some forms of public prayer and reflection would be fine as long as they are not overtly exclusive,” added Kwong.

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Is Indiana Protecting Discrimination?

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on March 30, 2015

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A calm look at Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its precedents.

Last week, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed into law the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Almost immediately, an uproar ensued, claiming that the law was discriminatory — that it provided a license for businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers. Entirely lost in this kerfuffle has been the simple fact that the Indiana law is modeled on the 1993 federal law of the same name, and that counterparts have been adopted in 19 other states. Further, four federal courts of appeals and the Obama Justice Department have all taken the position that RFRA can be used as a defense in private suits involving the enforcement of laws that substantially burden free exercise of religion. Important debates over the intersection of faith and equality are impaired when they are overtaken by misguided rhetoric, rather than being informed by the history and context of how our legal system has treated this issue. 

Alfred Smith ingested peyote — a powerful hallucinogen — in the course of his Native American religious ceremonies. Smith was terminated by his employer due to the Peyote ritual. Smith challenged the subsequent denial of unemployment benefits — based on the drug use — as a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. In a controversial decision by Justice Antonin Scalia in Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court held that the Free Exercise Clause could not be raised as a defense against a law of general applicability. This opinion generated an immediate backlash: How could a person be punished for exercising his sincerely held religious beliefs? In 1993, then-Representative Charles Schumer of New York introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the House of Representatives. Its counterpart bill in the Senate was co-sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy. The bill enjoyed such wide-ranging bipartisan support that it passed the House on a voice vote, passed the Senate by a vote of 97 to 3, and was promptly signed into law by President Clinton. (Imagine such a significant law passing today with this kind of vote!)

The law states that the federal “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” At a minimum, RFRA attempted to reverse the Court’s construction of the Free Exercise clause in the Smith case. The scope of RFRA was clarified last year by the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The High Court found that the federal government could not mandate that Hobby Lobby offer its employees health insurance that would pay for certain emergency contraceptives. Unresolved by that decision, however, was whether the RFRA defense applies in private suits, not involving the government. The relief provision of RFRA provides that “A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government.” The use of the passive voice — “whose religious exercise has been burdened” — elides who is imposing the burden: the government, or private parties enforcing federal law. This language can be read two ways: first, RFRA can be asserted only to “obtain appropriate relief against” the government; second, RFRA can be raised as a “defense” whenever “religious exercise has been burdened” in any “judicial proceeding,” whether against the government, or a private party.

This provision has caused a split among the federal courts of appeals. The majority of circuits that have confronted this issue have held that the language allows a defendant to assert RFRA as a “defense” in a private cause of action not involving the government. Even though the suit is brought by a private party, the argument goes, the “religious exercise” is still being burdened through the enforcement of a federal law in “a judicial proceeding.” As Shruti Chaganti explained in a 2013 article in the Virginia Law Review, the Second, Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — which Chaganti dubbed the “defense circuits” — have allowed RFRA to be raised as a defense in a private suit, “finding the statute’s language and purpose sufficiently broad to create a defense regardless of the parties to the suit.”

In 1996 — three years after RFRA was enacted — the D.C. Circuit held that the Catholic University of America could raise RFRA as a defense against a sex-discrimination claim brought by a nun and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alike. In 1998, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a church could assert RFRA as a defense against a trustee in bankruptcy proceedings. In a 2000 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, one church sued another church for unlawfully using materials copyrighted by its late pastor. The court allowed the infringing church to raise the defense, but found that the application of the copyright law did not impose a “substantial burden” on its exercise of religion. In a 2005 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, a priest was forced into retirement by the New York Methodist Church when he turned 70. The priest brought an age-discrimination claim, and the church countered that enforcing the law would burden its free exercise. The Second Circuit found that “RFRA’s language surely seems broad enough to encompass” the church’s raising RFRA as a defense against the age-discrimination claim. In short, Judge Ralph Winter wrote, RFRA “easily covers” the church’s claim that applying the anti-discrimination law would “substantially burden” its exercise of religion. These four cases, and many others, concerned similar facts — private parties had brought suits against corporations. (Yes, Catholic University and Catholic churches are corporations.) In each case, the corporate defendants were allowed to raise RFRA as a defense to assert that the enforcement of a federal law — Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination, bankruptcy law, and even copyright law — would burden their free exercise of religion. In some cases, the defenses were successful, and in others they were not. But this is the rule of law in the states under the jurisdiction of these four circuits — nearly half the states in the union. Until recently, this was not particularly controversial. But not all judges agree. Taking the opposing view was then–Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor — now a Supreme Court justice — who dissented in the Methodist Church case. She found that RFRA “does not apply to disputes between private parties.” Judge Winter responded forcefully to Sotomayor’s suggestion: “The [dissent’s] narrowing interpretation — permitting the assertion of RFRA as a defense only when relief is also sought against a governmental party — involves a convoluted drawing of a hardly inevitable negative implication. If such a limitation was intended, Congress chose a most awkward way of inserting it.”

Joining Judge’s Sotomayor’s dissenting view, however, are the Sixth and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals. Chaganti dubs these courts the “non-defense circuits,” as they have held that RFRA was meant to “provide a defense only when obtaining appropriate relief against a government and therefore cannot apply to suits in which the government is not a party.” In 2010, the Sixth Circuit Court found that the “Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church” could not raise RFRA as a defense in a trademark infringement suit brought by the “Seventh-Day Adventist Church.” In 2006, the ubiquitous Judge Richard Posner weighed in on this issue for the Seventh Circuit. In an age-discrimination claim brought by a organist against the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Posner wrote that “RFRA is applicable only to suits to which the government is a party.” The Supreme Court in 2012 unanimously and expressly reversed Posner’s opinion on other grounds in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, finding that the so-called “ministerial exception” to the Free Exercise clause could be raised as an “affirmative defense.” Judge Posner’s RFRA analysis was premised, in part, on the fact that since the Free Exercise Clause does not offer the “ministerial exception” as an affirmative defense, it was “hardly to be imagined” that Congress gave “greater protection to religious autonomy than RFRA does.”

Since this predicate of Posner’s ruling was invalidated by the Court, the sustained validity of Judge Posner’s ruling is questionable. Joining the Second, Eighth, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits in finding that RFRA can be asserted as a defense in a private cause of action is the Holder Justice Department. In August of 2012, the United States Government stated that Wheaton College, if sued by an employee for failing to provide insurance that covered contraceptives, “in its defense of such an action, would have an opportunity to raise its contention that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates” RFRA.

Yes, you read that right. The Obama Administration held that a corporation, albeit a non-profit one, could defend itself against a private claim from an employee by asserting that the Obamacare’s contraception mandate imposes a “substantial burden” on its free exercise of religion. That is to say, the most controversial aspect of the new Indiana religious-freedom law was blessed by Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department. This position is directly at odds with the views of Sotomayor, Posner, and others. Again, none of this was particularly controversial until fairly recently. Since the enactment of the federal RFRA in 1993, 19 states — including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina —  implemented their own RFRAs, which were very similar to the federal law.

The state courts, like the federal courts, have wrestled over whether state RFRAs can be raised as a defense in private suits. Most notable among these decisions is the New Mexico Supreme Court’s opinion in Elane Photography v. Willock. In this now-famous case, a photographer was fined for refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding. The Land of Enchantment’s High Court, mirroring Sotomayor’s and Posner’s narrow reading, concluded that the photographer could not raise the state RFRA as a defense against the discrimination claim. (The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review this case).

This brings us back to the Hoosier State. Section 9 of Indiana’s RFRA provides that “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” In the wake of Elane Photography, Indiana made explicit for its own law what the four federal courts of appeals and the Obama Justice Department had already recognized about the federal counterpart. Indiana’s RFRA does no more than codify that the private enforcement of public laws — such as discrimination claims — can be defended if there is a substantial burden on free exercise of religion. That’s it. And again, until recently, this provision was not particularly controversial.

I must stress — and this point has been totally lost in the Indiana debate — that RFRA does not provide immunity to discrimination claims. It only allows a defendant to raise a defense, which a finder of fact must consider, as in any other defense that can be raised under Title VII or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yes, believe it or not, under employment-discrimination laws, the courts have long recognized that there are legitimate defenses to treating people differently based on protected statuses. In the Supreme Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor, mentioned earlier, the Court unanimously found that an employee terminated because of a disability could not sue the church, because of the Free Exercise clause. This may not seem fair or equitable, but this 9–0 decision by the Supreme Court was a recognition of clearly established principles of how religious beliefs can, in rare cases, provide a defense against discrimination claims. University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, an expert in free-exercise law, stated the issue well: “The hysteria over this law is so unjustified. It’s not about discriminating against gays in general or across the board. It’s about not being involved in a ceremony that you believe is inherently religious.”

Like the First Amendment, RFRA is not a blank check for bigotry. In summary, four Courts of Appeals, covering nearly half the states in the Union, and the Obama Justice Department, have stated that RFRA can be asserted as a defense in a private case seeking the enforcement of federal law. As Indiana University law professor Daniel Conkle, a supporter of same-sex marriage, explained, “The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a ‘license to discriminate,’ and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.”

In this sense, the Indiana law would operate as does its federal counterpart. None of this is to say whether allowing RFRA to be raised as a defense in private suits is a good or bad policy. Rather, the moral outrage and proposed boycotts over Indiana’s law reflect an inexcusable failure to put into context how these laws have developed over the last two decades. Public-policy decisions, even those involving the most controversial issues of social justice, should be made on the basis of reasoned debate, rather than inflamed diatribes. 

Josh Blackman is a constitutional-law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, and the author of Unprecedented: The Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare. He blogs at JoshBlackman.com. 

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416160/indiana-protecting-discrimination-josh-blackman

Posted in Attack on Christianity, Faith Issues in Our Times, Hot Legal News, Religious Freedom, Tim's Blog | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Former SEALs Chaplain Could be Kicked Out of Navy for Christian beliefs

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on March 9, 2015

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A chaplain who once ministered to Navy SEALs could be thrown out of the military after he was accused of failing “to show tolerance and respect” in private counseling sessions in regards to issues pertaining to faith, marriage and sexuality, specifically homosexuality and pre-marital sex, according to documents obtained exclusively by Fox News.

Lt. Commander Wes Modder, who is endorsed by the Assemblies of God, has also been accused of being unable to “function in the diverse and pluralistic environment” of the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Goose Creek, S.C.

“On multiple occasions he discriminated against students who were of different faiths and backgrounds,” the Chaplain’s commanding Officer Capt. Jon R. Fahs wrote in a memorandum obtained by Fox News.

Modder told me he was devastated by the accusations. He believes charges have been trumped up.

Modder is a highly decorated, 19-year veteran of the military. Prior to becoming a Navy chaplain, he served in the Marine Corps. His assignments included tours with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Naval Special Warfare Command – where he served as the Force Chaplain of the Navy SEALs.

His record is brimming with accolades and endorsements – including from Capt. Fahs.

In Modder’s most recent review, Fahs declared that the chaplain was “the best of the best,” and a “consummate professional leader” worthy of an early promotion.

So how did Chaplain Modder go from being the “best of the best” to being unfit for service in the U.S. military in a span of five months?

The Navy did not return my calls seeking comment – so all we can do is rely on their written accusations and evidence.

Michael Berry, a military veteran and attorney with Liberty Institute a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases is representing Modder. He accused the military of committing a gross injustice against the chaplain in a letter to the Navy. He told me they will respond forcefully and resolutely to the allegations – which they categorically deny.

“We are starting to see cases where chaplains have targets on their backs,” Berry said. “They have to ask themselves, ‘Do I stay true to my faith or do I keep my job?’”

He said Modder is being punished because of his Christian faith.

“They want chaplains to be glorified summer camp counselors and not speak truth and love into people’s lives,” Berry told me. “There are some anti-religious elements in our military. Anytime somebody wants to live their faith out – there are people who say that is offensive.”

Modder told me he was devastated by the accusations. He believes charges have been trumped up.

“The military now wants a 2.0 chaplain instead of a legacy chaplain,” Modder said. “They want a chaplain to accommodate policy that contradicts Scripture.”

Modder’s troubles started on Dec. 6 when an assistant in his office showed up to work with a pair of Equal Opportunity representatives and a five-page complaint documenting grievances against the chaplain.

The lieutenant junior grade officer went on to detail concerns about Moody’s views on “same-sex relationships/marriages, homosexuality, different standards of respect for men and women, pre-marital sex and masturbation.”

Modder said the young officer had only been working with him for about a month and would constantly pepper him with questions pertaining to homosexuality. He had no idea that the officer was in fact gay – and married to another man.

“His five page letter of complaint was unconscionable,” Modder said. “He said I had a behavioral pattern of being anti-discriminatory of same sex orientation.”

The chaplain was not even given a chance to defend himself. He was immediately removed from duties and told to clean out his office.

“It was insulting and it was devastating,” Modder said. “I felt discriminated against. How could something like this happen at this stage of my career?”

Zollie Smith, the executive director for the Assemblies of God, U.S. Missions, told me they stand firmly behind the chaplain.

“We stand behind him 100 percent,” he said.

In hindsight, Berry believes the officer was setting up his client – and in doing so may have committed a crime.

“I believe some of what the lieutenant has alleged could constitute a military crime – false statements – taking what the chaplain said and twisting or misconstruing it – in an attempt to get the chaplain punished,” he said. “He abused the position he was placed in as a chaplain’s assistant.”

He believes the officer may have gained access to private counseling file

“To be clear, Chaplain Modder does not dispute that during private, one-on-one pastoral care and counseling sessions, he expressed his sincerely held religious belief that: sexual acts outside of marriage are contrary to Biblical teaching; and homosexual behavior is contrary to Biblical teaching; and homosexual orientation or temptation, as distinct from conduct, is not sin,” Berry said.

Modder said many Americans may be shocked to discover how much military culture has changed over the past few years.

“This new generation is very secular and very open sexually,” he said. “The values that the military once held – just like the Boy Scouts of America – are changing. The culture wants this. Culture is colliding with truth. That’s at the heart of this.”

Modder recalled an incident that occurred when he first arrived on the base. He was about to deliver the invocation at a graduation ceremony when the captain pulled him aside.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Hey chaplain – do not pray in Jesus’ name,’” he recalled.

Modder said he understands the firestorm he is about to enter – but he remains resolute.

“Every fiber in my being wants to run away from this – but if I do I’m not being obedient to the Lord,” he told me. “I need to stand up for righteousness and this is something I cannot walk away from.”

The reality is that many other chaplains could find themselves in Chaplain Modder’s shoes. The Roman Catholic church and the Southern Baptist convention have nearly identical positions on the issues that the Navy found problematic with Modder.

“It’s going to be a hard road for me,” he said. “But it’s what God has called me to do.”

Ultimately, it’s about leaving a legacy and setting an example for his family – his wife and four young children.

The day he was relieved of his duties, Chaplain Modder’s 14-year-old son tagged along to help pack up his dad’s office. A few senior enlisted men were there as well.

As they were driving away, the boy told his father that the enlisted men had spoken to him.

“They told my son that ‘you can be proud of your father because he’s keeping the faith,’” Modder said. “The whole command knows that Chaplain Modder is keeping the faith.”

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America.”

Courtesy of http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/03/09/former-seals-chaplain-could-be-kicked-out-navy-for-christian-beliefs/

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Georgia Tech’s Speech Code Declared Unconstitutional

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on March 4, 2015

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Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar, unleashed all the worst furies of the Left when they stood up in support of their faith and their conservative views on the campus of Georgia Tech. The two united in their vocal opposition to the school’s ironclad speech codes, which severely curtailed any student conversation, publications, events, or activities administrators arbitrarily deemed “intolerant.” The codes banned free exchange of ideas except in very limited areas of campus, denied student activity funds to clubs and organizations that engaged in ‘religious activities,’ and officials even instituted a program, “Safe Space,” designed to demonize anyone or any group that considered homosexual behavior immoral.

When Ruth and Orit asked the Alliance Defending Freedom to sue Georgia Tech on their behalf, they found themselves mocked, cursed, defamed on posters, and threatened with rape and even murder.

The young women’s courage was rewarded when their case ended victoriously. Georgia Tech was forced to eliminate their anti-religious program and remove the speech code that violated the First Amendment. This critical outcome serves as a precedent for other schools around the country to abandon their similar speech codes and censorship.

Courtesy of http://www.speakupmovement.org/StudentStories/Details/23219

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COURT TELLS FLORIST: “TOLERANCE” WILL NOT TOLERATE YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEF

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on February 26, 2015

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The Washington Attorney General is exerting the weight of his office on a 70-year-old grandmother. Amazingly, that grandmother is still standing. But she could lose everything she owns, all because she is unwilling to abandon her religious convictions and create unique artistic expression that violates her beliefs.

The parties:

Barronelle Stutzman is a mother of eight, a grandmother of 23, and a floral artist. She is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, a corporation founded in 1989 and previously operated by her mother, before Barronelle purchased the company 12 years ago.

Robert Ingersoll was a regular customer of Arlene’s Flowers. During the past nine years, Barronelle estimates she sold flowers to Robert at least 20 times. They also became fast friends; Barronelle says, “[h]e has a very creative mind and we just kind of hit it off.” Barronelle knew that Robert was gay, and some of those floral arrangements were for Robert’s partner, Curt Freed.

Bob Ferguson is the Attorney General of Washington.

The offense:

In early 2013, Robert asked Barronelle if she would use her artistic talents to design floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding ceremony. Because Barronelle follows the Bible’s teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman, she felt obligated to politely decline the invitation. She explains, “as much as I loved Rob, I just couldn’t be a part of that. If I did Rob’s wedding, it would be from my heart because I think he is a really special person and I would want to make it really special for him.”

After communicating her regrets to Robert, Barronelle referred him to several other local florists and the two continued to chat about Robert’s wedding plans. Before he left the store, they embraced. Robert and Curt had no trouble finding another source for flowers; in fact, they received several offers for free flowers.

The charges:

While no formal complaint was filed with the State by the couple, Attorney General Ferguson heard about the matter and filed a lawsuit against Barronelle, accusing her of unlawful discrimination in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and Consumer Protection Act (CPA). This was the first time that the Attorney General’s office has sought to single out and punish a private citizen under the CPA.

The ACLU was quick to follow suit, and filed a lawsuit on behalf of Robert and Curt.

Notably, both the ACLU and the Attorney General’s office filed suit not only against Arlene’s Flowers, but against Barronelle personally. Barronelle thus found herself at risk of losing not only her business, but also her home, her entire life savings, and everything she owns.

The ruling:

A Washington state trial court ruled on February 18 that Barronelle had committed unlawful discrimination. Perhaps most appalling is the efficiency with which the court obliterated any possibility that faith could coexist with “tolerance.” Indeed, the court was explicit in its finding that Barronelle’s religious belief could no longer be tolerated: “[Barronelle] cannot comply with both the law and her faith.”

Barronelle’s attorneys plan to appeal.

What the court failed to acknowledge in its conclusion is that aside from the state’s intolerance of her faith, Barronelle is also being asked to create artistic expression that she disagrees with. This too violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held not only that First Amendment protection extends “beyond written or spoken words” but also that the freedom of speech “includes . . . the choice of what not to say.” Hurley v. Irish-Am. Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Grp. of Bos., 515 U.S. 557, 569 (1995); Pac. Gas & Elec. Co. v. Pub. Utils. Comm‘n, 475 U.S. 1, 16 (1986) (citing Miami Herald Publ‘g Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241, 258 (1974)).

The punishment:

Unless the appeal is successful, Barronelle faces the loss of everything she owns—her business, her home, her entire life savings, and other personal belongings. All because she made the principled choice to live—and create expression—in a manner consistent with her religious beliefs, a foundational freedom Americans have always enjoyed.

The offer:

On Thursday, February 19, the Attorney General offered to drop his lawsuit if Barronelle would pay $2,001 and agree to give up her religious freedom. (Notably, the ACLU has made no similar offer.)

Not surprisingly, Barronelle quickly rejected the offer. In her letter, she told the Attorney General that “you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money.” Barronelle added that “I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”

The irony:

There are at least three separate ironies to the state and ACLU’s oppression of Barronelle.

First, the law that is being used as a sword against Barronelle exists, ostensibly, to protect Washington’s citizens from unlawful discrimination. Yet the result of this prosecution has been a ruling that Barronelle’s Christian faith—and rights of expression—are incompatible with her private business, and that her religious convictions and expression will not be tolerated. In the meantime, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed easily obtained flowers from another vendor for their wedding—the court’s ruling notes that Ingersoll and Freed incurred a whopping $7.91 in mileage costs related to their efforts to select an alternative source of flowers.

Barronelle noted the irony of a one-way street of tolerance in her letter, stating, “Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences. Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.”

Second, not only is Barronelle being sued by a friend she had served for nearly a decade, Arlene’s Flowers has served—and employed—gays for years. Yet even in the midst of this lawsuit, and while facing the loss of everything she owns, Barronelle continues to proclaim her care and concern for Robert Ingersoll, stating “I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend.”

Third, it seems that some of the very individuals the Attorney General purports to be protecting by his dogged prosecution of Barronelle may in fact oppose his efforts to do so.

Barronelle also says she has received many cards, emails, and calls from those who identify as homosexual and support her right of free expression and religious freedom.

The conclusion:

Just two days ago, Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the administration’s efforts to “reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons.” He stated that “[d]efending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally – the heart and conscience of our diplomacy.” Nowhere, however, did Secretary Kerry reference religious liberty, or the plight of individuals like Barronelle.

Just last week I blogged about former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was fired because he dared to express his Christian faith. Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography in New Mexico, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, and Brendan Eich, founder and former CEO of Mozilla Corporation, have also faced serious repercussions for exercising their freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and/or free exercise of religion. And there are countless others.

Religious freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of conscience can no longer be assumed. Thankfully, people like Barronelle seem determined to make sure it doesn’t fade away with a whimper.

Courtesy of http://bowlingwithed.com/2015/02/26/court-tells-florist-tolerance-will-not-tolerate-your-religious-belief/

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City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on October 15, 2014

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.

“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”

ADF, a nationally-known law firm specializing in religious liberty cases, is representing five Houston pastors. They filed a motion in Harris County court to stop the subpoenas arguing they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”

“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” Holcomb said. “It is protected by the First Amendment.”

The subpoenas are just the latest twist in an ongoing saga over the Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance. The law, among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa. The city council approved the law in June.

The Houston Chronicle reported opponents of the ordinance launched a petition drive that generated more than 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed to put a referendum on the ballot.

However, the city threw out the petition in August over alleged irregularities.

After opponents of the bathroom bill filed a lawsuit the city’s attorneys responded by issuing the subpoenas against the pastors.

The pastors were not part of the lawsuit. However, they were part of a coalition of some 400 Houston-area churches that opposed the ordinance. The churches represent a number of faith groups – from Southern Baptist to non-denominational.

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” said ADF attorney Erik Stanley. “This is designed to intimidate pastors.”

Mayor Parker will not explain why she wants to inspect the sermons. I contacted City Hall for a comment and received a terse reply from the mayor’s director of communications.

“We don’t comment on litigation,” said Janice Evans.

However, ADF attorney Stanley suspects the mayor wants to publicly shame the ministers. He said he anticipates they will hold up their sermons for public scrutiny. In other words – the city is rummaging for evidence to “out” the pastors as anti-gay bigots.

Among those slapped with a subpoena is Steve Riggle, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church. He was ordered to produce all speeches and sermons related to Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality and gender identity.

The mega-church pastor was also ordered to hand over “all communications with members of your congregation” regarding the non-discrimination law.

“This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day,” Riggle told me. “The mayor would like to silence our voice. She’s a bully.”

Rev. Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, also received a subpoena. He said he will not be intimidated by the mayor.

“We’re not afraid of this bully,” he said. “We’re not intimidated at all.”

He accused the city of violating the law with the subpoenas and vowed to stand firm in the faith.

“We are not going to yield our First Amendment rights,” Welch told me. ‘This is absolutely a complete abuse of authority.”

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said pastors around the nation should rally around the Houston ministers.

“The state is breaching the wall of separation between church and state,” Perkins told me. ‘Pastors need to step forward and challenge this across the country. I’d like to see literally thousands of pastors after they read this story begin to challenge government authorities – to dare them to come into their churches and demand their sermons.”

Perkins called the actions by Houston’s mayor “obscene” and said they “should not be tolerated.”

“This is a shot across the bow of the church,” he said.

This is the moment I wrote about in my book, “God Less America.” I predicted that the government would one day try to silence American pastors. I warned that under the guise of “tolerance and diversity” elected officials would attempt to deconstruct religious liberty.

Sadly, that day arrived sooner than even I expected.

Tony Perkins is absolutely right. Now is the time for pastors and people of faith to take a stand. We must rise up and reject this despicable strong-arm attack on religious liberty. We cannot allow ministers to be intimidated by government thugs.

The pastors I spoke to tell me they will not comply with the subpoena – putting them at risk for a “fine or confinement, or both.”

Heaven forbid that should happen. But if it does, Christians across America should be willing to descend en masse upon Houston and join these brave men of God behind bars.

Pastor Welch compared the culture war skirmish to the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, fought in present-day Harris County, Texas. It was a decisive battle of the Texas Revolution.

“This is the San Jacinto moment for traditional family,” Welch told me. “This is the place where we stop the LGBT assault on the freedom to practice our faith.”

We can no longer remain silent. We must stand together – because one day – the government might come for your pastor.

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University of South Alabama Restricts Freedom of Speech

Posted by faithandthelaw on August 25, 2014

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MOBILE, Ala. — Alliance Defending Freedom filed an amended complaint Friday in a pro-life student organization’s lawsuit against the University of South Alabama.

The university relegated the group’s pro-life display to a small speech zone on campus because it deemed the nature of the event “controversial.” Under the university’s policies, students must also obtain a permit 72 hours in advance in order to use the speech zone.

“Universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “Free speech should not be censored or limited to a ridiculously small area on campus, nor should students need permission to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of speech. The First Amendment protects speech for all students in the outdoor areas of campus, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.”

Last October, Students for Life USA requested permission to a hold a “Cemetery of the Innocents” event, which consists of students placing small crosses in the ground to represent the innocent lives lost to abortion. University officials denied the request and said it would need to be held in the campus’s speech zone, even though other groups have exercised free speech on other portions of the campus. At the time, the speech zone was restricted to the Student Center, which was less than one percent of the college’s main campus. Although the university has since expanded its speech zone, it still restricts speech throughout the campus.

The lawsuit, Students for Life USA v. Waldrop, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, explains that the university’s speech policy violates the First Amendment and gives university officials “unbridled discretionary power to limit student speech in advance of such expression on campus and to do so based on the content and viewpoint of the speech.”

“Free, spontaneous discourse on college campuses is supposed to be a hallmark of higher education rather than the exception to the rule,” added ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “We hope that the University of South Alabama will revise its policy so that its students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”

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Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy

Posted by faithandthelaw on June 10, 2014

BRUNSWICK, Me. — For 40 years, evangelicals at Bowdoin College have gathered periodically to study the Bible together, to pray and to worship. They are a tiny minority on the liberal arts college campus, but they have been a part of the school’s community, gathering in the chapel, the dining center, the dorms.

After this summer, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship will no longer be recognized by the college. Already, the college has disabled the electronic key cards of the group’s longtime volunteer advisers.

In a collision between religious freedom and antidiscrimination policies, the student group, and its advisers, have refused to agree to the college’s demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association.

Similar conflicts are playing out on a handful of campuses around the country, driven by the universities’ desire to rid their campuses of bias, particularly against gay men and lesbians, but also, in the eyes of evangelicals, fueled by a discomfort in academia with conservative forms of Christianity. The universities have been emboldened to regulate religious groups by a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that found it was constitutional for a public law school in California to deny recognition to a Christian student group that excluded gays.

Reid Wilson, left, and Zackary Suhr, who have graduated, were part of the group.CreditKatherine Taylor for The New York Times

At Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders. And at Vanderbilt, more than a dozen groups, most of them evangelical but one of them Catholic, have already lost their official standing over the same issue; one Christian group balked after a university official asked the students to cut the words “personal commitment to Jesus Christ” from their list of qualifications for leadership.

At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems. Hillel, the largest Jewish student organization, says some chapters have even elected non-Jews to student boards.

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.

“It’s absurd,” said Alec Hill, the president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, including the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. “The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, have opted to exempt religious groups from nondiscrimination policies, according to the Christian Legal Society. But evangelical groups have lost official status at Tufts University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Rollins College in Florida, among others, and their advocates are worried that Cal State could be a tipping point.

The Bowdoin group has about 45 people on its mailing list, including 25 regular participants, on a campus of 1,800 students. The group notes that its participants, young people still figuring out where they stand on many subjects, have varying views on issues like same-sex marriage.

Around the country, a number of colleges and universities are asking all student groups to agree they won’t discriminate, on any basis, in the selection of their members or leaders. Evangelical groups are balking, saying they have to be able to demand Christian faith of their leaders.CreditKatherine Taylor for The New York Times

A few weeks ago, the Bowdoin group gathered for a final dinner at the Center for Multicultural and Spiritual Life at the college, thanking not only the graduating seniors, but also Robert and Sim Gregory, who volunteered with Bowdoin for a decade but are no longer recognized as advisers.

The students, who plan to meet informally in the fall and may seek an off-campus site for worship, are bewildered by the turn of events. “We can’t discriminate on religion, and we’re a religious group!” exclaimed Olivia Cannon, 18, a Bowdoin student.

Reid Wilson, 23, a leader of the group who has since graduated, rued the turn of events. “It’s hard socially to find people on this campus who make faith a strong part of their identity — people who really understand me and who I can really be open with,” he said. “This group has been a tremendous resource for me.”

Bowdoin officials say they, too, are disappointed.

“I want them on campus, because it’s a sanctuary for many of our conservative evangelical students — Bowdoin has accepted these students, and they need a place, and they need to have their faith challenged,” said the Rev. Robert Ives, a United Church of Christ minister who is the director ofreligious and spiritual life at Bowdoin. “But every organization has to be open to every student, and every position of leadership has to be open to any individual, without discrimination.”

At Cal State, evangelicals are facing a similar conundrum. “We’re not willing to water down our beliefs in order to be accepted,” said Austin Weatherby, 20, a Cal State Chico student. He sometimes leads Bible study, and said he had to agree that he believes in the Holy Trinity and the Resurrection to do so. “Anyone can join, but if you want to lead a Bible study, you need to believe these things,” he said.

Cal State officials insist that they welcome evangelicals, but want them to agree to the same policies as everyone else. “Lots of evangelical groups are thriving on our campuses,” said Susan Westover, a lawyer for the California State University System. However, she said, there will be no exceptions from the antidiscrimination requirements. “Our mission is education, not exclusivity,” she said.

At Vanderbilt, the decision to push groups to sign antidiscrimination policies was prompted by a Christian fraternity’s expulsion of a member who came out as gay. About one-third of the 35 religious groups on campus have refused to sign and are no longer recognized by the school; they can still meet and recruit informally, and the campus Hillel has even opened its building for meetings of one of the Christian groups.

“I am hopeful for a better future, but I’m not naïve, there are some issues that are irresolvable,” said the Vanderbilt chaplain, the Rev. Mark Forrester, who is a United Methodist minister. “This is a larger social and ethical struggle that we as a society are engaged in.”

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Churches and Government Facilities: A Battleground for the Gospel

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on April 28, 2014

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Two cases in Hawaii and New York City threaten the long tradition of churches using public school facilities. From the very beginning of the United States, churches have used government facilities for worship services. In 1795, a church used the United States Capitol building just two years after the cornerstone was laid and before Congress officially began meeting in the building. In fact, worship services were held in the Capitol building until around the time of the Civil War.

In the pioneer era, it was commonplace for church worship services to be held in public school buildings and for public schools to be held in church buildings. Indeed, it makes a great deal of sense for churches and schools to occupy the same physical space given that churches generally operate at times when schools are not in session and vice versa.

Despite this long history and the fact that church use of governmental buildings has not led our country any closer to establishing a national religion, there are forces that do not want churches to use school buildings for religious worship.

In one case, Alliance Defending Freedom has been representing the Bronx Household of Faith in New York City for close to 20 years. The New York City public schools established a policy that allows community groups to use school facilities but prohibits using them for religious worship. The case has bounced back and forth between the trial court and the appeals court in New York several times. In the most recent ruling, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school’s policy excluding religious worship was constitutional. Alliance Defending Freedom appealed that ruling to the full Court of Appeals and will continue to fight for the ability of churches to use school facilities equally. Churches should not be discriminated against simply because they are religious.

In another case, Alliance Defending Freedom represents two Hawaii churches who were sued by atheists, claiming that the churches knowingly underpaid rental fees to the schools they were using. The lawsuit filed was brought under the state’s False Claims Act, which allows insiders who possess confidential information of fraud to file a whistleblower lawsuit to recover the money on behalf of the state and to assess triple damages. If successful, the atheists get to keep a portion of the money they recovered, and they are asking for an award of several million dollars. But the churches paid all the rent they were charged, and the Department of Education knew about the charges and payments by the churches. Alliance Defending Freedom asked the trial court to dismiss this lawsuit. Churches should not be bullied into giving up their right to equal use of government buildings.

These lawsuits are just a few of the attacks against churches using school facilities. So how should a church respond? Should they abandon any attempts to use school facilities for worship services?

No. This approach disregards the many startup churches who can only afford to rent government school facilities. It also ignores that in places like Hawaii and New York City, property is at a premium with frequently nowhere for churches to meet other than public buildings. And it overlooks the rich history of complementary use of government buildings by churches since the very beginning of this country.

Churches should not be pushed out of public spaces simply because some find the message of the Gospel “offensive.” Nor should churches themselves voluntarily abandon the public square where the proclamation of the Gospel message is sorely needed.

Alliance Defending Freedom has attorneys willing to defend a church’s right to have equal access to government facilities and not be subject to intimidation tactics seeking to forcibly remove churches. If you or your church are facing threats or encountering problems regarding use of governmental facilities, please contact us so an attorney can review your situation.

Courtesy of http://blog.speakupmovement.org/church/uncategorized/churches-and-government-facilities-a-battleground-for-the-gospel/

Posted in Attack on Christianity, Faith Issues in Our Times, Religious Freedom | Leave a Comment »

No honor in his hometown: Jesus not welcome in Nazareth school

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on April 8, 2014

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Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit Monday against a Pennsylvania school district on behalf of a 1st grade student and his parents. In February, Nazareth Area School District unconstitutionally prohibited the student from distributing St. Valentine’s Day cards to his classmates because the cards contained a note that mentioned God and included the Bible verse John 3:16 after a sentence about the history of St. Valentine’s Day.

“Public schools ought to encourage, not suppress, the free exchange of ideas, including those communicated through Valentine’s Day cards. A Bible verse and a reference to God does not make such a card unconstitutional,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp. “Religious expression is just as protected by the First Amendment as other messages that students communicate.”

“To single out a faith-based message for censorship is exactly the type of hostility to religion that the First Amendment forbids,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope the school district will revise its policies to respect the constitutionally protected free speech of its students and make ongoing litigation unnecessary.”

In February, the parents of the 1st grader helped him assemble the cards for “Friendship Day,” the politically correct name the school district uses for St. Valentine’s Day. The cards included a note that stated, “Happy Valentine’s Day! St. Valentine was imprisoned and martyred for presiding over marriages and for spreading the news of God’s love. In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I want you to know that God loves you!!! ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:16.”

When the student arrived with his cards at Floyd R. Shafer Elementary School in Nazareth, his teacher noticed the faith-based notes and brought them to the attention of the school’s principal, William Mudlock. Mudlock ordered them removed because of their religious nature and because they contained a Bible verse, telling the student’s parents that they could be “offensive” to others.

At a meeting with the student’s parents, Mudlock explained that the child’s note sought to “establish the supremacy” of his faith over others as prohibited by school district policy. He pointed to NASD Policy 220 on “Unprotected Student Expression,” which states that the school officials can prohibit student expression that seeks “to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect or point of view.”

The complaint filed in J.A. v. Nazareth Area School District with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania explains that the same federal court struck down an identically worded policy at another Pennsylvania school district in 2008, saying that such policies “restrict what effectively amounts to all religious speech, which is clearly not permissible under the First Amendment.”

Ted Hoppe, one of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, is serving as local counsel in the case.

Posted in Attack on Christianity, Faith Issues in Our Times, Hot Legal News, Religious Freedom | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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