One of our cherished rights in this country is our First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Throughout our history, Americans have been allowed to speak their mind no matter how controversial the topic. Unfortunately, over time, this right has been steadily diminishing and the forces of censorship are winning.
For example, on college campuses today, liberal speakers are welcomed, while conservatives are ignored and labeled too reactionary for young audiences.
In the corporate world, beliefs in traditional marriage are considered homophobic and antiquated. In June of 2012, Dan Cathy, the Chief Operating Officer of Chick-fil-A, expressed support for traditional marriage in an interview. This led to boycotts and protests from gay rights activists. Even though a counter protest was launched in support of the chain, the damage had been done. Eventually, the restaurant executives decided to refrain from commenting on the marriage issue and their charitable foundation stopped giving financial support to pro-traditional marriage organizations. In effect, the protests silenced this corporation and their executives. more >>
An eyewitness report indicates a Coptic woman was recently attacked by Islamic extremists while delivering medicine to the sick near her church in the suburbs of Cairo, Egypt. The attack is one of many carried out by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood after the toppling of former leader Mohamed Morsi.
Although several Egyptian media outlets did not report on last Friday's violent attack in Ain Shams, a suburb of Cairo, an eyewitness of the gruesome event still managed to relay their story to 90 Minutes, a program of the al-Mehwar satellite network.
One Coptic Christian told the media outlet of the horrific event on Friday, when a mob of Islamic extremists reportedly attacked 25-year-old Mary Sameh George, a Copt who was delivering medicine to an elderly friend near her church when attackers noticed a cross hanging from the rear view mirror in her car. They then reportedly attacked her in her car, eventually pulling her out onto the street where she was stabbed. more >>
A human rights group has decried Saudi Arabia's new sweeping set of laws aimed at counter-terrorism, arguing that they greatly stunt any religious or political expression that appears to criticize the government or Islam.
The new laws, approved by Saudi King Abdullah, calls for prison sentences of three to 20 years for any form of terrorist activity, defined as "calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based."
The new list of decrees also defines the Muslim Brotherhood and some al-Qaeda factions as terrorist organizations. more >>
On Thursday, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed S.B. 2681, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law, bringing the state into line with federal law on the issue of religious freedom. To their credit, Mississippi's elected officials read the bill's text and did not yield to egregious misrepresentations of what is a fair and reasonable religious liberty measure. Why anyone thinks this bill is a bad thing is tough to know. Why this should be so controversial is even more perplexing.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. The aim of the Free Exercise Clause is relatively clear from its text – to protect individuals wishing to freely exercise their faith from being restricting in doing so by the government. Historically, its interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court has been less clear.
In Sherbert v. Verner (1963), and Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Supreme Court explained that before the government could infringe on and burden religious exercise, it had to show that its burdensome regulations were advancing a compelling government interest, and were the least restrictive means to advance this interest. This requirement is known as "strict scrutiny," which is the toughest standard for the government to meet when it seeks to infringe on constitutional rights. Yet in its 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court significantly restricted free exercise rights, holding that laws infringing on religious exercise did not violate the First Amendment as long as they were neutral and generally applicable. more >>
Judges, like most of us, prefer to resolve matters on the basis of simple issues rather than complex ones. Part of that is due to the need for judicial economy. But it may also be due to an application of "Ockham's razor," the concept minted in the 14th century by theorist William of Ockham. He postulated that, between two explanations – one complicated and one simple – the latter is most likely to be the better one.
As I reviewed the arguments made before the Supreme Court last week in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, I counted no less than 11 important legal issues that haunt this case. Einstein restated Ockham's theory this way: "Everything should be made as simple as possible …." In an effort to satisfy both of these geniuses, I have come up with three "simple" reasons why the religious rights of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, both of them closely-held, family-owned, for-profit, faith-based companies, ought to prevail over the federal HHS mandate that would force them to provide their employees with insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs.
First, the federal law protecting those companies, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), was passed by Congress with the clear understanding that it would protect religious persons from having to provide, or support, objectionable services intended to terminate pregnancies. As we pointed out in our brief to the Supreme Court, even Nadine Strossen, the past President of the ACLU, testified in Congress in support of RFRA, and predicted confidently that the law "will enhance the rights of those who conscientiously and religiously are opposed to abortion …." While much has been made of the fact that both companies are for-profit corporations, there is nothing in the text of RFRA that would exclude them from its protections. Further, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who seemed otherwise hostile to the claims of the two companies, had to admit in open court that they nevertheless make "great plaintiffs," which I take to mean that they present an attractive illustration why some for-profit, faith-based employers might be entitled to the same religious rights that churches and private citizens enjoy. more >>
An Iranian Christian prisoner has decided to go on a hunger strike despite suffering from intense physical pain in order to protest the rejection of his conditional release.
"Vahid [Hakkani] has suffered intense physical mistreatment and has been in dire need of medical treatment throughout his detention, and he was transferred to a hospital to receive some necessary treatment," Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern's regional manager for the Middle East, told The Christian Post in an email Thursday. "He and his family have pressured the government to grant him a conditional release so that he can receive the treatment he needs, but the officials have repeatedly denied this request."
Hakkani, who is a Christian convert from the city of Shiraz, was arrested along with three other men in February 2012 and later sentenced to three years and eight months in prison by Iran's Revolutionary Court for attending house church gatherings and contacting foreign Christian ministers, which is forbidden in Iran. more >>