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The Freedom Friendship - Celebrating Religious Liberty and Diversity, Part 3

Spring is a season of devotion for Catholics
 
The Catholic Church traces its authority to Peter, Jesus’ disciple of whom he said, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”  Today it is led by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who presides over more than a billion adherents throughout the world, including well more than a million baptized Catholics living in Washington State. 
 
For Catholics, Spring is a time of devotion known as the season of Lent.  Lent begins in February or March on Ash Wednesday.  On this day priests place ashes on the heads of worshipers, saying “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  This commences 40 days of fasting, prayer and alms giving in remembrance of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness and in a desire to similarly draw closer to God through self-denial and reflection. 
 
The season culminates with Holy Week, an exceptionally busy time for priests such as Father Jim Northrop, pastor at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church in Bothell.  “This week we enter the most important time of the year when we as a Church celebrate the central saving mysteries of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection,” Father Northrop wrote on the parish website.  “For the past seven weeks we have been journeying into the depths of our hearts asking God to renew and transform us so that we can experience more of God's abundant love and mercy and be better witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
 
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, with Catholics waving branches in commemoration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  On Holy Thursday, they remember Christ’s Last Supper when the Eucharist—the partaking of consecrated bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus—was instituted.  Unlike other Christian denominations, Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, believing that the substance of the Eucharistic is actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ at the time of consecration, with only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining. 
 
The following day is the only day in the entire year when Catholic priests do not offer the Sacrament of the Eucharist (also known as Mass) to parishioners.  This day—today—is called Good Friday or Passover, for it was on the Jewish Passover holiday that Jesus was killed two thousand years ago in Jerusalem.  This morning I visited St. Brendan’s Catholic Church to see the Stations of the Cross, a celebration of Good Friday.  Hundreds of children wearing red St. Brendan’s uniforms walked through the parking lot from their school to the church to participate in the event.
 
Photo taken at St. Brendan's Catholic Church today
 
The program was led by 7th-graders who took us through a dramatic narration of Jesus’ final day intermingled with prayer, genuflection and song.  One child carried a large wooden crucifix around the church’s perimeter.  He was flanked by others carrying candles.  “Were you there when they laid him on the cross?” the choir and congregation sang.  The church’s alter was bare and its decorations covered in purple cloth, symbols of mourning.  But Good Friday is also a day of anticipation.  It is followed the next evening by the Easter Vigil.  Historically, a new day was thought to begin at sundown, and thus Catholics begin their Easter celebration on Saturday evening. 
 
“The Easter Vigil is the penultimate celebration of our identity as a Christian people,” Father Northrop wrote.  “On this holy night we gather in darkness but end in total light surrounded by so many powerful reminders that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and we have hope and a whole new way of life. We journey together through Scripture, through our salvation history and remember with profound reverence the saving acts of God throughout human history.”  On this night, candidates who are prepared for baptism and baptized Catholics who are prepared to receive full communion, are able to partake in these Sacraments of initiation.  “Water, light, oil, music, bells, and beautiful decorations remind us how much we are loved by God and that Jesus Christ has truly risen from the dead,” Father Northrop’s message continues. “We have glorious hope now to face anything and everything with courage because of the presence of Christ in our lives.” 
 
Misunderstandings about the Catholic Church persist
 
When asked what are the most common misperceptions about their religion, St. Brendan parishioners said that many people mistakenly believe that Catholics worship Mary.  Jeannette Mitchell Green, a young mother and music director at Holy Innocents Catholic Church, explained to me that while Catholics have a great love for Mary and do pray to her, they are not worshiping her through that prayer. 
Photo taken at St. Brendan's Catholic Church today

“While we live together on earth as Christians, we are in communion, or unity, with one another,” explained one Catholic in an online forum.  “But that communion doesn’t end when one of us dies.  We believe that the saints, the Christians in heaven, remain in communion with those of us on earth.  So, just as we might ask a friend or family member to pray for us, we can approach a saint with our prayers, too.”
 
People think we worship “cookie wafers,” said Julie Linde, a retired bookkeeper.  “Catholics believe the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus,” she continued, referring to its scriptural foundation.  “When Jesus said, ‘This is my body,’ many followers left.  He did not chase after them saying, ‘Wait!  I didn’t mean it literally—it is just a symbol!’  No.  He let them leave.  The saying is hard, and we struggle to understand this mystery, but we believe he meant what he said.”
 
Another common misperception is that Catholicism is all about rules, said Harriet Debroeck, an 85-year-old widow who volunteers in hospitals and helps to feed and clothe the poor out of her devotion to Jesus.  “I’m happier because I’m able to attend Mass every day to receive the Blessed Eucharist: God’s greatest gift to all Catholics.  I offer my sufferings to Jesus.”
 
“Because we emphasize works and living a moral lifestyle and everything, some people are confused as to how we are justified before God,” Father Northrup explained.  “How do we overcome sin?  It’s through the grace of Calvary, through the grace of God, God’s divine gift of life.  The road to conversion is a long one.  That’s probably why a lot of people bail out.” 
 
Photo taken at St. Brendan's Catholic Church today

Jeannette said the Catholic Church has always been there for her and she knows it will never lead her astray.  Today she played the piano at St. Brendan’s Stations of the Cross, creating the mournful, reflective tones to accompany the children’s procession.  Afterward she posted on Facebook:  “It is a very Good Friday.” 
 
Catholics find themselves at the forefront of the world’s culture wars
 
The Catholic Church is famous for its uncompromising stance on the sanctity of human life and on its definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman.  Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish is facing a lawsuit for firing an administrator who is in a gay marriage.  The Catholic Church is also seeking to overturn some provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that compel them to fund abortions.  I met with Father Northrup last week to discuss both his spiritual life and the state of the Catholic Church.  Father Northrop is a strong advocate for a child’s right to life and is saddened by our society’s distorted views of marriage.  He expressed dismay that many Catholics, including politicians such as Washington governor Christine Gregoire, have joined in pushing for gay marriage. 
 
And yet he remains positive.  When you look at the history of the church, the times of persecution are the times when the church has been most healthy, he said.  I asked about Pope Francis, wondering how an institution that faces so much criticism and opposition from social liberals can have a leader so well beloved by the media.  Pope Francis was named person of the year not only by Time magazine, but also by The Advocate, a gay lifestyle magazine.   “They’re obviously drawn to him,” Father Northrop said, “but once they figure out that he’s pretty traditional in his beliefs and everything, they’ll probably be less enchanted with him.”
 
Other parishioners echoed Father Northrop’s sentiments.  “Our freedom of religion is threatened by gay marriage and Obamacare’s abortion,” Harriet said.  “Pope Francis believes the same things—[while showing] great tenderness to everyone.”
 
“The world is falling in love with Pope Francis, and this is good,” Julie asserted.  “I believe God is using him as an instrument to draw lost souls Christ.”  She added that people are infatuated with what they want the pope to be, rather than what he is, and yet she hopes that as they discover who he truly is, they will love him enough to follow him in truth. 
 
“There are some issues that the Catholic Church will never change its stance on,” Julie explained.  “That is because these are moral issues, not political or social issues. Gay marriage and contraception and abortion are among these issues.  Jesus said his church would be persecuted, but the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

This article was withheld one day so as to be published on Good Friday. It is the third in a weekly series celebrating religious freedom.  The author may be contacted by email at lara@fpiw.org.

Celebrating Religious Freedom Series:

Part 1.
Part 2.

Same-Sex "Marriage" & Obamacare: Similarities?

What do Obamacare and same-sex “marriage” have in common?  More than you might think.

 

In both cases, people created well intentioned policies that ignored immutable laws of the universe. In both cases, support was generated by intentionally withholding relevant information and accusing those who asked critical questions of wanting to harm their neighbors.

 

Of course we hope everyone will have high quality health care. 

 

But Obamacare couldn’t deliver on its promises  because the idea that you can provide insurance for 30 million people who don’t currently have insurance, while reducing the cost of insurance for those who do have it by $2,500 a year, all while reducing the federal deficit violates economic realities.  Nothing is free.

 

Of course we don’t want the government telling people who they can form relationships with.

 

But same-sex “marriage” can’t succeed because it is based on premise that, with respect to marriage and parenting, men and women are interchangeable; a belief that is biologically, physiologically, hormonally, and neurologically false.

 

Still, unlike Obamacare, there has been a feeling, even in conservative circles, that same-sex “marriage” is here to stay. 

 

Maybe that was presumptuous.

 

The now well chronicled ouster of Brendan Eich from his job as CEO of Mozilla for making a 2008 contribution to California’s Proposition 8 campaign could be a watershed moment in this entire conversation.

 

Through his forced resignation, the tolerance assassins have (once again) served notice that if you want a high profile job in the private sector, you have to agree with them about marriage and sexuality-or at least never have done something public that would indicate otherwise.

 

It’s the kind of “accountability” that every totalitarian government adopts.

 

The public has soured on Obamacare because reality is not conforming to the promises made.

 

Could the same be true for the same-sex “marriage” movement as well?

 

Despite the fact that 33 states still define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, and only three states have voted for same-sex “marriage”, it is becoming increasingly obvious that America is being sold “power and control” under the guise of “love and commitment”. 

 

Hey, if you like your religious freedom you can keep it.  Period.

 

The public didn’t come to a vigorous public defense of the florist and wedding photographers who were being sued because they didn’t want to be part of a same-sex “wedding” because most people aren't florists or wedding photographers. 

 

But any of us could be Brendan Eich. 

 

All he did was have an opinion. We all have those. 

 

To their credit, some on the left are acknowledging that the leadership of the so-called gay rights movement have become the zealously, narrow-minded moralists they once despised.

 

Bill Maher, who is completely sympathetic to their policy goals, thinks Eich’s ousting is evidence of the fact that there is a gay mafia and if you cross them you get “whacked”.  

 

Andrew Sullivan, a gay activist who helped pioneer the entire idea of “gay marriage” said, “the whole episode disgusts me.

 

As it should. Maybe it was the irony that triggered his gag reflex. 

 

Only four weeks before Eich was forced to resign, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill protecting religious freedom because of left-wing hysteria that all the gay people would be fired for being gay.

 

When was the last time a group of right-wing, fundamentalist rallied together to get a gay person fired from their job?

 

I can’t think of anything either.

 

But we all know about Brendan Eich and Phil RobertsonFrank Turek and Craig James have similar stories.  They’re just the beginning of the list of people who have been fired or threatened to be fired because they expressed their views on marriage.

 

Then there is: Barronelle StutzmanElaine Hugenin,Melissa Klein, and Jack Phillips who have had their businesses threatened because they do not want to personally be involved in a same-sex “wedding” ceremony. 

 

And remember Dan Cathy? They couldn’t really get him fired, since he’s the owner of Chick-fil-A, but they convulsed loudly enough in response to his opinion about marriage to basically make the franchise a symbol of the culture war.

 

America may be gullible, but we aren’t completely brain dead.  

 

The homosexual lobby got where it is today by playing the victim.  But at some point, the narrative that “we’re firing all the bigots because we don’t want to be fired by all the bigots” won’t be taken seriously.   

 

If they can’t play the victim, they can’t make people feel bad for asking questions.  

 

And once people start thinking again, watch out.  Public opinion can be a fickle thing. Just ask Obamacare.


Your contribution of $5 or more helps us encourage a culture of life, marriage, and religious freedom in Washington State. 

The Freedom Friendship - Celebrating Religious Liberty and Diversity, Part 2

On a Wednesday afternoon last October, I visited a Gurdwara for the first time.  I drove through Thrasher's Corner in Bothell, past the big box stores and fast food chains, and turned into the parking lot of the Sikh Centre of Seattle, a once commercial building that is now undergoing a renovation and expansion.  As I entered the Gurdwara, I left behind a familiar American suburb.  I stepped across the Pacific Ocean and landed in northern India.

 

I was greeted by the smell of curry and men with flowing beards

Worshipers meditate at the Gurudwara Singh Sabha in Renton.
and flowing robes.  Men wearing slacks and dress shirts showed me where to remove my shoes and wash my hands.  They led me through a commercial-grade kitchen-"Are you hungry?" they asked-and up the stairs to the room where the Sikhs' holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, is installed.  Before entering this room, visitors must cover their head with a scarf or turban as an expression of reverence and willingness to empty one's mind to receive God's light. 

 

At the top of the stairs we proceeded down a red carpet to an altar where the Guru Granth Sahib rests beneath colorful cloths.  A man sitting behind the altar waved a royal whisk above the display to remind us that the Guru Granth Sahib is God's sovereign revelation.  We knelt before the altar, touching our foreheads to the floor, then approached a man seated nearby who gave us each a scoop of sweetened grain to eat.  My escorts, Jaideep Chimni and Balwant Aulck, led me to the rear of the sanctuary where we sat down for a discussion. 

 

"Sikhism is beyond religion," Balwant began. "It's the universal truth . . . Sikhism takes you and purifies you and crosses all the boundaries, which are man-made boundaries, call it race, color, geographical areas and time boundaries."  He spoke quietly, systematically, but his eyes shined with enthusiasm.  "All the beliefs start as spirituality," he explained.  "When spirituality is managed by the mind, it turns into religion."

 

Guru Nanak revealed a new way

 

The Sikh faith was founded by Guru Nanak, born in 1469 in what is now Pakistan.  Guru means "enlightener" and in Sikhism is a sacred title reserved for Guru Nanak, his nine human successors and their holy book, which they consider the eleventh and final Guru.        

 

Guru Nanak opposed India's oppressive caste system, the strife between Hindus and Muslims who populated the region, and the many rituals and superstitions common to that time and place.  He preached a new faith that emphasized belief in one immaterial Creator who beckoned to humanity to join Him in spirit.  Guru Nanak taught that all people are born of God's light and thus are equal regardless of gender, race, religion, class or ability.  He taught, "There are ignoble amongst the noblest, and pure amongst the despised.  The former shall thou avoid, and be the dust under the foot of the other."

 

When asked who was superior, the Muslim or the Hindu, the Guru replied, "Without good deeds, both will repent.  The superiority lies in deeds and not in mere creeds."  Guru Nanak rejected the ascetic life both in word and example, teaching that men should not retreat from society to pursue God.  Earning an honest living and sharing one's wealth are foundational tenets of Sikhism.  "Touch not at all the feet of those who call themselves gurus and pirs, and go begging," Guru Nanak taught.  "They who eat the fruit of their labor and bestow something in the name of the Lord, O Nanak, recognize the right way."   The Sikhs thus have no priestly class and religious services may be conducted by any member of the congregation. 

 

The last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, declared that the Sikhs' holy book would succeed him as the people's spiritual guide forever.  Guru Gobind also founded the Khalsa, the body of fully-initiated Sikhs who have committed to living the life of a Saint-Soldier.  Members of the Khalsa never drink or smoke, do not cut their hair (a symbol of respecting God's will), always wear a comb in the hair and cover the head with a turban (a turban or a scarf for women).  Additionally, they wear a kirpan (similar to a sword), under shorts, and a steel or iron bracelet.  These outward expressions of faith help them to remember their religious heritage and commitments.  They also make it easy to identify a Sikh, even in a crowd of thousands, standing as a light of courage and compassion to those around them.  Sikhs who have not been initiated into the Khalsa are encouraged to work toward this goal, emulating the lifestyle of the Khalsa.

 

The word Sikh means disciple or learner.  Sikhs emphasize the importance of learning and self-improvement.  As Balwant explained, people are God's greatest creation.  When other animals find adequate food and shelter, they have reached the end of their existence; but when human beings obtain food and shelter, that is when their existence begins.  

 

A Sikh is one who searches for truth both by looking outward, which may be termed curiosity, and also by looking inward to connect with the divine, which is termed meditation.  Balwant told me about passages in the Guru Granth Sahib that describe the universe with scientific accuracy.  They were written long before space exploration began, even before Galileo, he said.  "The point is there is another way to learn." 

 

While Sikhs do not believe salvation is only available to members of their religious denomination, they do believe all people must make the same journey toward enlightenment, toward connection with God.  If you "spend your life and vanish back to the universe, if you haven't had a longing to know, that's when your life is wasted," Balwant told me.  "The material world is an examination; can you cross it?" 

 

My family eats with Sikhs

 

A week after my first meeting with Balwant and Jaideep, I returned to the Gurdwara with my family for Langar, a community meal.  Like all Gurdwaras, the Sikh Centre of Seattle offers free

 

From left to right: Jaswinder Lalli Singh, Paramvir Singh, and Jagbir Singh eat at the Gurdwara Singh Sabha

 

meals to all visitors every day of the week provided by the congregation's voluntary donations and labor.  The purpose of Langar is greater than that of a soup kitchen: Langar is when the haves and have-nots eat the samefood, seated together on long thin carpets, a symbol of equality.  No one sits above or ahead of another.  

 

 

Over rice and curry, I asked Balwant more questions:  "What do Sikhs believe about family?"  For Sikhs, family bonds are very strong, he said; often three or more generations share a home, and not for economic reasons.   In India, arranged marriages are the norm, he continued, but in America most Sikh families are opting for selective marriages with the parents highly informed and involved in making the selection. 

 

In Sikhism, marriage is a sacrament, and divorce among Sikhs is extremely rare.  "You are born once.  You marry once.  You die once," Balwant asserted.  Sexual activity outside of marriage is strictly forbidden.  "What about homosexuality?" I ask.  The Guru Granth Sahib does not mention it, Balwant replied, but it's not allowed.  "If you look at the rule of common sense, it's very clear that you were not created for that, and that very thing is showing disrespect to your Creator." 

 

About 80% of Sikh youth, both men and women, graduate from college, Balwant told me.  Many go into high-tech fields or construction.  "One thing we feel very proud to say," he said, "You won't find many Indians, especially the Sikhs, on the welfare line or the government assistance programs."  "Because you have strong families?" I asked.  "Strong families, and also if someone new comes, even if we don't know each other, we are still willing to help."

 

After dinner we went upstairs for a service.  First we listend to the Kirtan-verses from the Guru Granth Sahib sung to classical Indian music-and then to the children, who took turns speaking.  Each one told the same story about the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, who was unfairly imprisoned because of his religion.  In 1619, the Emperor Jahangir, was pressured to release him and relented:  "Let those rajas be freed who can hold on to the Guru's coat tails and walk out of the prison."  The Guru cleverly arranged for a coat to be made with 52 coat tails, enough for every rajah imprisoned with the Guru, and thus obtained freedom for all of his associates.  Each child summarized the story's moral as demonstrating the importance of caring for the rights and freedoms of others. 

 

The first time I visited the Gurdwara, I was startled to find India in America.  As I left the Gurdwara that evening, I felt amazed to have found America in India.

 

Sikhs preserve their heritage and strengthen the community

 

On a Friday night in January, I visited the Gurdwara in Renton, one of the largest of nine public Gurdwaras in our state.  At the entrance I met Harkirat Singh, a young man who emigrated from India three years ago but has no noticeable accent, having mastered English by attending a Catholic school there.  Shouting over the Kirtan, I asked him to show me around.  He told me he's not the best person to talk to-he doesn't even have a long beard!  Nevertheless, he helped my photographer fasten his scarf and asked permission from the man behind the altar for us to take photos.  As we waited, I looked at the reader board where passages of the Guru Granth Sahib were displayed in the original Gurumukhi alongside Punjabi and English translations:  "One who praises the True Lord with his mind and body, pleases the mind of the true Lord."

 

We entered the sanctuary where three musicians in white cotton clothing and brown turbans played and sang alongside the colorful altar.  Devotees entered the sanctuary, bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib, received the ceremonial pudding, and found a place to sit on the floor to listen-women on the left and men on the right.  Harkirta told me he's not a real religious person, but he likes to come to the Gurdwara to relax and meditate after a long day. 

A young Sikh woman illustrates a poster at the Gurudwara Singh Sabha.

 

After listening to the Kirtan, we went downstairs for Langar.  People ate, socialized and prepared for other activities.  The Gurdwara in Bothell is continually sponsoring charitable projects such as free health screenings, food drives for the food bank and visits to prisoners, as well as offering classes to perpetuate the Sikh religion, culture and language to the rising generation.  I found this Gurdwara to be similarly engaged in charitable projects and in the education of its own congregation.

 

I met a lot of people at the Renton Gurdwara, and I asked a lot of questions.  Like all world religions, Sikhism comes with a rich history and culture.  One can spend a lifetime studying it.  The more I learned, the more I questions I had.  One thing, though, was plain: this community of new immigrants is a blessing to our state. 

 

This article is the second in a weekly series celebrating religious freedom.  The author may be contacted by email at lara@fpiw.org.

 

Celebrating Religious Freedom Series:
Part 1.

The Freedom Friendship - Celebrating Religious Liberty and Diversity, Part 1

A few months ago I conceived of a project that would fulfill two goals: celebrate religious freedom and strengthen ties between faith communities within our state.  My plan was simply to visit places of worship, interview the people I met there, and write about my experience in a blog series for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

 

As a person of faith, I am concerned about our nation’s increasingly narrow definition of religious freedom.  A healthcare worker who does not wish to administer the morning-after pill is told, “This is not a religious issue; this is a healthcare issue.”  A photographer who does not wish to record a same-sex ceremony is told:  “This is not a religious issue; this is a discrimination issue.”  Of course, “This is not a religious issue; this is a (fill in the blank) issue,” can be applied to every activity that occurs outside a place of worship.  And so conscience rights are diluted to the idea that one can believe and say as he pleases, but not do as he pleases.  For those who feel accountable to God, this is unacceptable.  Our places of worship are where we study how to live, not where we live.     

 

Defending our neighbors whose freedoms have been violated is a moral imperative, but with this blog series I want to step back from the battlefront to celebrate what it is we’re defending.  The United States Constitution declares:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Those words should be sacred to every American.  They are the foundation of American liberty and the American dream.

 

In his 2012 book, “America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists,” sociologist Rodney Stark shows how these words have shaped our nation to be exceptionally religious.  Rodney reports that in 1776 only about 20 percent of American colonists belonged to a local church.  At the time, most colonies had a state-established religion, similar to the monopoly churches found in Europe then and today. 

 

The colonies’ churches were discontinued with the establishment of the U.S. Constitution, placing all denominations on the same footing.  “Intense competition arose among the churches for member support,” Stark writes, “and the net result of their combined efforts was a dramatic increase in Americans’ religious participation.”  The U.S. soon had more clergymen who worked harder for less money than did clergy in the Old World.  Stark writes that the percentage of citizens who belonged to a church rose continually through the next two centuries to a high of about 70% today.

 

Stark goes on to tabulate what science has revealed about the effects of religiosity-most often measured by frequency of attendance at a place of worship.  The preponderance of research indicates that religious organizations do for the soul what a gym does for the body.  For example, religious people as compared with non-religious people are less likely to commit crimes, less likely to commit suicide, more likely to marry and be satisfied in their marriage, less likely to divorce or have extramarital affairs, and less likely to be on unemployment or welfare.  Religious students perform better on standardized tests.  Religious people live, on average, seven years longer than their non-religious counterparts.  Stark describes study after study showing a correlation between religiosity and practically every measure of health and happiness.

 

Why don’t we hear more about this?  Probably because religion is not in fashion, especially among our nation’s media elites.  News outlets do publish stories about scientific research and surveys about religion, but they seldom make it to a prominent page.  They rarely become a part of the national conversation. 

 

It is therefore especially important for people like you and me to spread awareness of religion’s benefits and to take pride in being religious.  It’s also important for us to become acquainted with one another so that we can stand together in protecting our liberty.   Our backgrounds, belief systems and political leanings are diverse, but we can be a united, coherent voice in defending freedom of conscience.  I invite you to come along with me as I set out to meet our neighbors and learn how they are utilizing their freedom.  Please join me in our Freedom Friendship.

 

This is the first article in a blog series celebrating religious freedom to be published each Thursday during the months of April and May.    

Hobby Lobby Case Transcript

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments for the Hobby Lobby case. Hobby Lobby, along with Conestoga Wood Specialties, is opposing the birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act on the basis that the mandate would force them to violate their religious beliefs about abortion inducing contraceptives. 

If you are interested in reading the oral argument transcript, click here.
 

Hobby Lobby: What You Need to Know

Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in two lawsuits against the federal government by family owned businesses who do not want to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives that cause abortions.

 

Generally, the case is about whether the federal government can force companies to do things that violate the conscience of the companies’ owners.

 

The legal questions are more precise:

 

1.      Do for-profit companies have a right to exercise religious freedom under the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),  a federal law passed in 1993 that states the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability?" 

 

2.      If so do, does the government have a compelling interest to restrict those freedoms in this case?

 

Historically, religious freedom has been something that has been protected in the United States.  It unfortunately seems necessary to repeat the fact that the free exercise of religion is protected from government intrusion by the First Amendment to the constitution.  It is literally the first freedom.

 

In 1990, the Supreme Court held that a law prohibiting Native Americans from using peyote in their religious ceremonies was legal because peyote was illegal for everyone, not just people who wanted to use it for religious purposes.   In other words, because the law was generally applicable the burden on religious freedom was ok.

 

Congress was concerned because this made it easier for the government to restrict peole’s religious freedom.  So in 1993 they passed RFRA, which said the government cannot restrict someone’s free exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest in doing so.  This is a much higher standard. As a result, Native Americans could use peyote for religious purposes because the government could not demonstrate a compelling government interest in prohibiting it.

 

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court will decide whether that high standard of religious freedom protection applies to a company as well as individuals. Can a business be religious?  If the answer is no, it would effectively mean that individuals lose their religious freedom when they act as part of a for-profit corporation.

 

Interestingly, earlier this month the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Carnell Construction Corporation v. Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said that a company can acquire a racial identity.  In that case, an African-American owned small business in Virginia accused a local government of racial discrimination in violation of Title VI which protects people from discrimination on the basis of race.

 

Since a company can be African American, can it also be religious?


If the Supreme Court decides that companies can claim religious freedom protections, the court would then have to decide whether the government has a compelling government interest in forcing employers to purchase abortion drugs for their employees.  

In defense of the mandate, the government is arguing that such an interest exists. Even if they lose, as they should, the fact that the government is making that argument is a concerning sign of the times.

 

Whatever the outcome, a decision is not expected until June at the earliest.  However, analysts will attempt to decipher which way the court is leaning based on the questions they ask.

 

There isn’t much to do to influence a Supreme Court decision, however, this is a good time to remind you that in a similar spirit Washington’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, is currently suing a grandmother in Richland, WA to force her to provide floral services for a same-sex wedding in violation of her beliefs about marriage.

 

If you’re wanting to do something to support religious freedom today, and you should, call Bob Ferguson at 360-753-6200 and respectfully ask him to drop the lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers.  Then ask your friends to do the same. 

 

Our freedoms were won because people sacrificed greatly for them.  Simply being disappointed won’t be enough to preserve them.  Make the phone call even if you already have once. Be the delightfully, pleasant squeaky wheel that gets the grease. 

Tomorrow is Hobby Lobby Day

Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in one of the most significant conscience rights/religious freedom cases in our nation’s history.

 

This case challenges whether employers can be forced to provide their employees with contraceptives.

  

Two families have filed lawsuits claiming that this mandate violates their constitutional rights. The Green family owns the national craft store Hobby Lobby and the Hahns are Mennonite cabinetmakers who founded and own Conestoga Wood Specialties. 

 

The plaintiffs currently have an injunction preventing the federal government from enforcing the mandate against them.

 

However, if the Supreme Court held that the mandate is constitutional, these families would be subjected to a fine of $100 per day, per employee for failing to provide contraceptive coverage.

 

Hobby Lobby would face fines of $1.3 million per day.  The Hahns have said their company would be out of business within a month.  

 

It should also be noted that the fine for providing no health insurance at all is $1,000 per employee per year.  That is still significant, but it is 18 times less than the penalty for providing excellent health insurance that does not cover contraceptives.

 

The fact that Congress is passing laws that so blatantly target and punish people because of their convictions is problematic regardless of the outcome of this case.

 

A good pictorial summary of the scores of lawsuits related to this mandate can be found here.

 

Please pray for the Supreme Court as they hear arguments in this case and deliberate.

 

Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and do business according to their faith.   

78 Votes Made All the Difference

Late last Thursday night, the 2014 Washington State legislative session ended.

 

The last two years were historic because of the formation of a bi-partisan majority coalition that was formed when two Democrats joined with the Senate Republicans to take control of the state Senate.  As a result, the leadership of the Senate was taken away from downtown Seattle to more moderate leadership.      

  

This changed everything.

         

Without this coalition in place, it is likely that the Abortion Insurance Mandate would be law, taxpayers would be funding telemed abortions as well, and minors who want professional help with unwanted same-sex attraction would be prohibited by law from getting it.

 

These bills were not defeated because of a socially conservative majority in the Senate, but because the Majority Coalition agreed to table debates over controversial social issues so they can focus on legislation affecting jobs, budgets, and transportation.

 

It was an issue of prioritization.

 

But it wasn't just social issues that were affected.

 

Debates over tax policy, immigration, gun control, transportation, and education were all significantly impacted by the fact that the leadership in the Senate had changed.

 

Still, the move from a majority that prioritizes special interest legislation on behalf of the abortion industry to a majority that doesn't is progress.

 

When progress happens in the legislative arena, it is helpful to step back and ask how it came to be.

 

Was it an accident?  Stroke of good fortune?  The result of an actual plan?

 

In 2012, FPIW Action targeted more than 4,000 pro-family households in each of 5 legislative districts to educate them about the positions of candidates on their ballots.

 

In one of those races, conservative Vancouver Senator, Don Benton, won re-election by 78 votes.  

If 79 people had decided not to vote, or if 40 people had voted a different way, the last two years in Olympia would have been very different. 

 

78 voters in Vancouver made all the difference.

 

But that hand has been dealt and played now. The session is over.

 

Every seat in the House of Representatives, and half of the Senate, is up for election.

 

And as is the case every year, the outcomes of the swing races in Washington will be decided by margins of 500 to 1,500 votes.  In some cases, as we saw in Vancouver in 2012, the outcome might be only 78 votes.  In 2010, Representative Hans Zeiger won his race in 2010 by 47 votes.

 

If you are encouraged by the fact that Olympia no longer rubber stamps everything the abortion industry sends their way, remember why that is. It wasn't an accident.  It was a result of a deliberate effort to educate people who share our value system in targeted areas to make an informed vote. 

 

Next time, it might be 50 or 100 people in your neighborhood that make the world a better place simply by filling out a ballot.

 

The fact that so many critical policy decisions are effectively made in November is the reason our work at FPIW doesn't slow down once the legislative session is over.   

 

Beginning, Monday, March 31, FPIW will launch its "Interim of Engagement" campaign, a monthly mobilization itinerary of grassroots activities and action items you can do to continue making a difference during the interim. 

 

Those same friends who made the phone calls, attended legislative hearings, met with their legislators, and wrote emails during the legislative session will now be helping us to educate about the issues, register voters, inform voters, and get their friends to do the same. 

 

Who knows, the 79 voters who are going to make all the difference next time may be reading this email.

Webcam Abortion Bill Dies as Session Ends

The Washington State legislature adjourned late Thursday night.  The end of session also ended discussion on a controversial bill involving telemed or webcam abortions as well.  

 

This bill (HB 1448), which would have facilitated payment for medical services done remotely, is generally seen as an advance in health care because it makes it easier for people who live in rural areas to access health care.  Many health services, particularly in mental health, do not require a physical examination of a patient.  The ability to consult with your doctor without the need to drive hundreds of miles would be an improvement.

 

Nevertheless, after passing unanimously through the State House of Representatives, Planned Parenthood testified in support of the bill in the Senate, alerting people to the fact that this bill may not be as innocent as it appears.

 

It turns out that Washington is not the first case to facilitate telemedicine.  In Iowa, the legislature passed a similar measure.  However, one of the unexpected results was that the abortion industry began taking advantage of the measure in ways that were harming women. 

 

Drugs that cause chemical abortions were being prescribed by medical providers who were hundreds of miles away from their patients.  These drugs, which have caused death and frequently cause severe abdominal pain, were leaving women to deal with serious complications far from any medical care to help them deal with it.

 

In the end, the Iowa Department of Health examined the evidence and banned the use of telemedicine for abortion. For similar reasons, eleven state legislatures have passed legislation banning telemed abortions.

 

Planned Parenthood has sued the state of Iowa challenging the Board of Health decision.

 

The abortion industry generally is having an increasingly difficult time finding medical providers to perform their abortions.  Applying this technology to abortion would make it much more efficient to prescribe the drug and get the taxpayer reimbursement.  Fewer medical providers would need to be involved.

 

The problem with telemed abortions is particularly acute in a state like Washington that has no parental notification law.  It would have created a situation in which a 14 year-old girl could get a chemical abortion without her parent’s awareness hundreds of miles from the doctor who prescribed the drug.  Not only would her parents not know, but perhaps the only adult who does know would be unable to help with complications. 

 

The Board of Health in Iowa banned the use of telemed abortions because they heard from women who had driven hundreds of miles, while bleeding in their car, looking for help.

 

In the end, there was general agreement on the vast majority of this bill.  Typically, in situations like this, the bill would simply be amended to remove the small part of the bill on which there is disagreement so the rest can be advanced. 

 

Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good, right?

 

But nothing involving the abortion industry is very typical.

 

Once the issue was raised, the abortion industry took the position that if telemedicine would not be available so they could prescribe chemical abortions to children from hundreds of miles away, it shouldn’t be available to those needing mental health services in remote parts of the state either.

 

It’s really unfortunate.

 

Still, whenever the abortion industry loses a chance to expand its business, it’s a good day. 

 

And you made it happen.  And not just on this bill.

 

From the Abortion Insurance Mandate, to the ban on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, to telemed abortion, the thousands of times you reached out to legislators made all the difference. 

 

Your voice is being heard and it is changing the debate in Olympia. Keep doing it.  And go recruit some friends.  There’s obviously a long ways to go.

Apology Demanded

Gay activists are calling for a public apology from the authors of SB 1062, Arizona’s religious freedom bill.

 

If not vetoed by the governor, SB 1062 would have protected the religious freedoms of business owners and craftsmen. For example, a Christian photographer who believed that gay marriage was in opposition to his religious convictions could decline to photograph a gay wedding. In order to claim religious freedom protections under SB 1062, the photographer would have had to demonstrate an actual sincere religious conviction. The law would have protected the photographer’s rights whether being sued by a private or governmental entity.

 

SB 1062 wouldn’t have actually changed anything. The right to freedom of religious expression is safeguarded in the Constitution. Unfortunately recent judicial decisions have challenged that right. SB 1062 would have merely explicitly safeguarded already existing freedoms.

 

SB 1062 would have made certain that governmental laws could not force people to violate their faith unless it had a compelling governmental interest. Cathi Herrod, president of CAP and contributing author of SB 1062 noted that this balancing of interests has been in federal law since 1993.

 

In a statement, Herrod said opponents of the measure distorted its intent, which she said was to "guarantee that all Arizonans would be free to live and work according to their faith."

 

But gay activist connected with Citizens for a Better Arizona swarmed the conservative Center for Arizonian Policy (CAP) building last Wednesday demanding a formal apology from Herrod.

 

Irate protesters stated that Herrod was a puppeteer and that Arizona overwhelmingly supports the LGBT community. One protester suggested returning with Molotov cocktails while another suggested running Herrod “out of town.”

 

The degree of anger directed at Herrod is disturbing. It seems odd that a group committed to equality and safe guarding constitutional rights, such as Citizens for a Better Arizona claim to be, could be so determined limit the freedoms of others. 

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