States still need their own religious freedom laws – Mero Moment, 7/1/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Green River Presbyterian Church in Green River, Utah.

Green River (Utah) Presbyterian Church.

The United States Supreme Court decided an important religious freedom case this week. In a 5-4 decision the court ruled that a privately held corporation is allowed its free exercise of religion. The landmark case, made famous by the mega-craft store Hobby Lobby, held that plaintiffs don’t have to comply with certain parts of Obamacare that offend their religious beliefs. Specifically, Hobby Lobby and two other plaintiffs are not required to pay for an employee’s abortion-related contraception such as the “morning after” pill.

The basis of this precedent-setting decision is a federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.

RFRA states that the federal government shall not substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion and the court held that a privately owned family business is a “person” in terms of this law.

Under RFRA, for the federal government to violate a person’s religious beliefs it has to demonstrate a “compelling government interest” and it then has to pursue a solution to enforce that interest in “the least restrictive means” possible. In other words, to force Hobby Lobby to pay for its employees’ abortion pills, the federal government would have to prove why abortion pills for employees are more important than the religious beliefs of employers and, even if that were possible to prove, the federal government would have to enforce its mandates in the least restrictive means possible. The court properly acknowledged that requiring Hobby Lobby to pay daily fines of $1.3 million, or nearly a half-billion dollars a year, in noncompliance is a clear burden to its free exercise of religion.

Of course, the progressive left is going crazy implying (and sometimes outright lying about) what this decision really means. Read more

How Supreme Court ruling supports integrity, tolerance

Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio. (Photo: DangApricot via Wikimedia Commons)

Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio.

“Americans need to understand that religious liberty is good for the nation; it’s not just a form of right-wing special pleading,” writes Rachel Lu today in The Federalist. Her article gives the reader “3 ways of promoting religious freedom to your liberally inclined friends and relatives.”

It’s a great explanation of the principles behind the Supreme Court decision that can also help clarify in your own mind just why “[t]he Hobby Lobby decision is a win for personal integrity, cultural diversity, and tolerance”:

Sometimes deep and serious commitments run up against each other, as, for example, when one person’s family commitments conflict with another’s religious beliefs. Those are the hard cases, and we have to sort them out as well as we can. But it’s very hard to argue that anyone’s personal integrity is deeply threatened by an employer’s refusal to pay for their contraceptives. …

[M]odesty gives us an additional reason to be wary of curtailing religious practice. Wise people recognize it’s bad to fool around with things you don’t understand.

Great religious faiths offer their followers a complex and comprehensive metaphysical and moral outlook. It’s extremely difficult to judge from the outside how a given belief or practice fits into that wider perspective. The best policy, therefore, is to respect religious groups’ claims of conscience so far as circumstances allow.

Click here to read the rest of this piece at The Federalist.

Sutherland applauds Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision

800px-United_states_supreme_court_buildingSutherland Institute issued the following statement today, June 30, 2014, in reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case:

The Supreme Court has done the right thing.

No one should have to choose between acting on their religious beliefs or paying crippling fines to the government, including business owners. The court has recognized the importance of the free exercise of religion, protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is good news for the principles of religious liberty and limited government.

However, supporters of religious freedom can’t let down their guard. Four justices would have allowed the government to force private companies to act against their beliefs. Today’s decision is a welcome reprieve but no reason to relax our vigilance in protecting religious liberty. Utah can help by passing comprehensive state religious liberty protections as soon as possible.

Even things forbidden will be compulsory

Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips, Colorado baker

The state of Colorado has put out a welcome mat for recreational marijuana use but is decidedly cool to private business owners who want to act on their faith as they conduct business. Last week, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered a bakery owner to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages and to “submit quarterly reports for two years that show how he has worked to change discriminatory practices by altering company policies and training employees” and “disclose the names of any clients who are turned away.”

One irony of this is that Colorado law, approved by voters in 2006, provides that the state will not recognize same-sex marriages. So, what the state is forbidden to do, private business owners are required to do.

It would be well to remember this in the debates over discrimination laws in Utah. It’s clear that even having a law protecting marriage as the union of a husband and wife would not necessarily prevent these kinds of results here. A law protecting individual religious expression will be necessary, period, however Utah defines marriage.

With atheism comes a culture of death

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

The Greek word "atheoi" ("[those who are] without god").

The Greek word “atheoi” (“[those who are] without god”).

It seems that the 40th annual convention of American Atheists is coming to town next spring, and its organizers sound like they’re looking to pick a fight with Utah’s Latter-day Saint population.

A spokesman for the atheists tells the Deseret News,

It is our perception that the Mormon Church is interfering with freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Utah by intimidating people. … We’d love to be proven wrong on that, but everything we see and hear about how the Mormon Church controls things in Utah seems to be a prime example of religious oppression. They are pushing Mormon values on people. I consider that to be un-American.

The Deseret News makes sure to mention how Mormons believe in religious tolerance, loving one another and doing the work of the Lord in kindness. But I’m pretty sure that’s not a big worry for atheists. The big problem for them isn’t anyone loving their neighbors. The big problem for them is anyone’s belief in God. Atheists despise citizens of faith as irrational and, with no small sense of irony, atheists claim higher authority to run the affairs of men and seek to disenfranchise citizens who actually believe in real Higher Authority.

LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson remarked in the most recent General Conference, “Without [Jesus Christ’s] redemption from death and from sin, we have only a gospel of social justice.” A gospel without God is exactly atheism.

I’m not too worried about Mormons not loving their neighbors. It is our second great commandment. I’d be much more concerned about atheists loving their neighbors, especially their Mormon neighbors. I know atheists argue that man can be ethical and moral without God. My reply is to look and see how unethical and immoral man is even with God. I can’t imagine peace, love, tolerance and happiness in a godless world.

But for that sentiment, apparently, I’m un-American.

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Guest post: The New Liberalism vs. the Restored Gospel

Photo credit: Steve Polyak

Photo credit: Steve Polyak

By Ralph Hancock

Part 3 of 3 of “Mormonism in the public square”

In the first two articles in this series, I have examined the relationship between religion and politics and shown the impossibility of keeping these completely separate, especially as fundamental moral questions are more and more a matter of very consequential political and legal contests. I have also shown that the New Liberalism goes far beyond the classical liberal task of facilitating free debate within a society of diverse interests and opinions; it now asserts itself as a substantive moral vision centered upon extreme freedom emancipated from all accountability to any higher moral standard.

Now I come to my most important point, which to me seems rather obvious but is somehow in fact quite controversial: This New Liberalism is not remotely compatible with basic LDS beliefs.

The New Liberalism posits open-ended individual self-expression — including, notably, sexual expression, however that may be defined by the individuals’ desires or supposed identity — as a fundamental right, as essential to the “dignity” of the person. The opposition of this view to the Restored Gospel could not be clearer: the Gospel situates sexuality within a distinctive view of the eternal destiny of the person, and subordinates sexual desire and expression to that definite purpose and to the commandments that serve that purpose. It is fundamental to LDS teaching that the family is eternal, and therefore that sexuality must be expressed within the bounds that serve the person’s interest in the eternal family.

All this and much more is clear to every LDS who is even passingly familiar with the great Proclamation to the World on the Family published under the authority of the First Presidency and the Apostles in 1995. This Proclamation would seem to present an insuperable obstacle to LDS wishing to reconcile their New Liberal commitments with Church teaching.

  • Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
  • …Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
  • …We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

The opposition seems clear. But in fact, as I have learned, a significant number of LDS who consider themselves and would like to be considered faithful are ready to discount the authority of the Family Proclamation and to subordinate it to the New Liberalism that they have adopted as an authoritative moral touchstone.

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Guest post: The sleight of hand in relativism

Abracadabra_magicianBy Ralph Hancock

Part 2 of 3 of “Mormonism in the public square”

In the first article in this series, I summarized a common contemporary view of the relationship between morality and politics as follows:

“But now society has fundamentally changed. It is no longer based on a moral consensus, but on the acceptance of diversity. ‘Pluralism’ has replaced moral-religious homogeneity as the basic character of modern societies like ours. So, even though we may not approve, personally, of many lifestyle choices among our fellow citizens, it is not only politically necessary but in fact a moral duty to respect the diversity of lifestyles that flourish in a pluralistic society.”

Pay close attention to the italicized assertion. For this points up a significant sleight of hand that plays an essential role in what I will call the New Liberalism. For the claim is not only that our political circumstances are such that we must accommodate and work with people with different moral views than our own. That is obvious, and our LDS leaders have provided excellent counsel and encouragement in our efforts to do just that. But the tendency is to go much further and to transform this practical accommodation into a new kind of moral imperative, the imperative of a respect for “diverse lifestyles,” which shades into the assertion that it is somehow wrong to affirm the superiority of one way of life over another.

With this sleight of hand that passes silently from necessary accommodation to the denial of real moral distinction, many are led, often in the name of “rationalism” or “public reason,” to deny the reasoned connection between religion, morality and political freedom that I set forth in the last article. Thus many fall, sometimes without knowing quite what is happening, under the influence of a new morality that presents itself at first as the simple recognition of new political realities.

Liberalism Then and Now

To clarify this change that has come about in liberalism in recent decades and to see the dangerous implications of this change, I propose a simple but helpful distinction between Classical Liberalism and the New Liberalism.

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Guest post: Mormonism in the public square

hancockBy Ralph Hancock

Part 1 of 3

There are two subjects to be avoided, it is often said, in conversation among casual friends and, especially perhaps, among relatives: religion and politics. Among people of the same faith, the first restriction can presumably be relaxed. But even (or especially) in the company of other LDS, with whom we share the deepest beliefs about things that matter eternally, we find ourselves avoiding political topics.

This reluctance to tread upon potentially touchy subjects is understandable, and it even makes a certain sense theologically: “My kingdom is not of this world,” the Savior said. Whereas pagan religions had always closely identified religious observances and beliefs with duties to a particular political community, Christ’s good news was proclaimed to all sons and daughters of a Heavenly Father, without respect to nations or kingdoms. Why complicate eternal truths and spiritual bonds with divisive questions surrounding how we run a country?

We express this same interest in keeping religion and politics separate when we affirm that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not an American church, nor of course a Utah church, but an international church that proclaims the Restored Gospel universally. None of us would want to burden a promise of eternal life with needless controversy surrounding mortal interests and partisan opinions. Alexis de Tocqueville saw this very clearly: “Religion,” he wrote, “cannot share the material force of those who govern without being burdened with a part of the hatreds to which they give rise.” The cost of mixing politics with religion can easily exceed the benefits.

In light of the Church’s divine mission, its official and consistent position of political neutrality therefore makes perfect sense: “The Church does not: Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms, etc.”

Principles Essential to Both Religion and Politics

And yet it is clear, on just a little reflection, that this wholesome distinction between religion and politics can never be an absolute separation, for the simple reason that certain common principles are essential to both. Tocqueville saw this with great clarity as well: religion and politics spring ultimately from the same source.

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How religion-free trend affects public policy

service1The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

A sign on a commercial building in the neighborhood where I live reads, “Interested in God, but not religion?” The invitation is to attend a church that advocates spirituality over any particular faith. Evidences of “unaffiliated” or “unchurched” people are on the rise – a trend unsurprising in an age of selfish individualism and progressive ideologies.

Younger generations, always the first group in search of themselves, obviously trend away from organized religion, let alone orthodox faiths such as Mormonism, Catholicism or Judaism. Even us old guys remember the Summer of Love and the hippie movement. Everything in the ’60s was about “spirituality” and finding purpose in life. But the fact is that everyone searches for purpose in life. Everyone is significantly spiritual at least at one point in life. And everyone seeks to belong to something meaningful and communal. It’s simply a part of the human DNA – we are spiritual creatures.

And yet so many disillusioned and disaffected people are convinced they aren’t really seeking God or answers to life’s most important questions revolving around human purpose. Like zealous journalists, they insist they are “objective” about such things. Everyone has an opinion – even those people who claim some sense of objectivity.

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Religious liberty in the crosshairs

800px-Cathedral_of_the_Madeleine,_SLC_The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has recently concluded hearings on religious liberty and the invaluable Kathryn Lopez of National Review has published an interview with Peter Kirsanow, one of the commissioners, about what he learned from that experience.

The entire interview is worth reading. Commissioner Kirsanow explains the commission’s interest in the topic:

In many respects, religious freedom has always been a civil-rights issue. It’s perhaps unique among civil-rights issues in that it was the impetus for many of the first American colonists to risk their lives to settle in the New World. That’s something that’s in our national DNA.  But over the last few decades there’s been a creeping erosion of our religious freedoms.

One thing Commissioner Kirsanow learned from the experience is “that there’s increasing hostility toward the religious — particularly, but not limited to, Catholics — who are seen as nettlesome impediments to an expanding benevolent state.”

Kathryn asked whether the commission heard concerns “about overreach of nondiscrimination laws” and Commissioner Kirsanow responded:

Absolutely. Scores did.  In fact, I’ve never seen such alarm about governmental overreach during my twelve-year tenure on the Commission. For example, students expressed concerns about the antidiscrimination rules in place at some universities that prohibit religious groups from requiring their leaders to sign a statement of faith or adhere to certain moral codes. Bishop Paprocki wrote about the nondiscrimination requirements in the Illinois civil-union law that drove Catholic Charities out of the foster and adoption business. Alliance Defending Freedom submitted a comment that detailed many incidents where small businesses were penalized by the state for exercising their religious freedom. The examples were endless. Read more