Posts

SPLC Blacklists Pro-Family Groups; Norton Anti-Virus Blocks Access to Conservative Websites

A popular anti-virus software program used by millions of Americans has blocked access to the website of Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty advocacy group. It is the latest development in a political war being waged against pro-family organizations.

Symantec, the owner of the popular Norton anti-virus software, began blocking access to Liberty Counsel’s website two weeks ago. Internet users attempting to access the website are greeted with a message from Symantec explaining that “this website is categorized as ‘Hate’ and is blocked as part of this networks [sic] web content filtering policy.”

Why would Symantec tag Liberty Counsel—an esteemed religious liberty organization with ties to Liberty University, the largest Evangelical university in the world—as promoting hate? Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman, blames Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and its ongoing assault against organizations with socially conservative values.

Southern Poverty Law Center, which calls itself a civil rights advocacy organization, was founded in 1973 to monitor and litigate cases against white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations.

Although nearly all accounts of its founding acknowledge that SPLC started off doing good work in litigating cases against racist groups, their focus began to shift as the decades elapsed and white supremacist groups began disappearing. After involving themselves in an ACLU-led lawsuit to remove an Alabama Supreme Court monument celebrating the Judeo-Christian heritage of American law, SPLC turned its sights toward conservative Christian groups that advocate pro-family policies.

Because these family organizations support the rights of churches and small businesses to operate according to the dictates of their faith, and oppose same-sex marriage and legal prohibitions on conversion therapy, SPLC began adding them to its notorious “Hate Map” and pejoratively labeling them as “anti-LGBT hate groups.”

SPLC’s list of “currently operating anti-LGBT hate groups” reads like a ‘who’s who’ list of the conservative Christian movement: Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association, American College of Pediatricians, Ruth Institute, and D. James Kennedy Ministries are all included on the list. SPLC also compiles “Extremist Files” on supposedly dangerous “extremists” like historian David Barton (Wallbuilders), pro-family advocate Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), commentator Bryan Fischer (American Family Association), theologian Gary DeMar, and evangelist Lou Engle (The Call and International House of Prayer).

Even mainstream media organizations like the Washington Post have published articles admitting that SPLC’s cataloging of mainstream, conservative Christian organizations and public figures in lists of “hate groups” and “extremists” alongside neo-Nazis, black separatists, and white supremacists is bizarre and farcical. In an article for National Review, Alex Torres mused that SPLC uses its hate group designation to “vilify” organizations that promote policies and positions it finds offensive “in an attempt to curtail free debate.”

The labeling also proved to be dangerous four years ago when an LGBT activist shot a security guard at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C., because SPLC had identified the organization as an “anti-LGBT hate group.” The shooter planned to “kill as [employees] many as possible and smear Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in their faces.”

Despite the ludicrous and dangerous nature of equating pro-family organizations with the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI still considers SPLC a “partner” in fighting hate crimes. Charity and nonprofit watchdog GuideStar briefly used SPLC hate group designations in its public reporting on nonprofits earlier this summer, prompting a backlash from critics of the SPLC’s methods and lists.

Mat Staver says SPLC uses its hate group designation “as a weapon to defame” and “harm” nonprofits with which it disagrees politically. He believes the SPLC’s “reckless” and “defamatory” labeling “inflicts reputational and financial harm” to pro-family nonprofits like Liberty Counsel.

Staver’s account of the damage caused by SPLC designations seems to comport with the ongoing Symantec attack on Liberty Counsel. By blocking access to Liberty Counsel’s website, Symantec makes it harder for the religious liberty organization to spread its message and fundraise money.

Southern Poverty Law Center’s efforts to blacklist conservative Christian organizations seem to be working, at least for the moment. But they fail to realize that the most effective way to defeat other political ideologies and worldviews isn’t through blacklisting opponents but instead through the power of persuasion in the public square.


Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.


 

Would the Johnson Amendment Have Stopped the War for Independence and Abolitionist Movement?

Had the Johnson Amendment been in effect prior to 1954, the American War for Independence and the abolitionist movement may have never happened.

The Johnson Amendment to the federal tax code prohibits nonprofit, tax-exempt entities from participating in, or intervening in, “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” This prohibition includes “the publishing or distributing of statements” on behalf of candidates, legislation, or political parties.

The amendment was originally proposed by Texas Senator (and future President) Lyndon B. Johnson to silence and retaliate against the nonprofit political organizations that had been created to support his primary opponent. It was passed in 1954 by a unanimous voice vote without debate.

Although Congress never intended to include churches in the prohibition, “the I.R.S. has steadfastly maintained that any speech by churches that the IRS could construe as supporting or opposing candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Johnson Amendment has had a chilling effect on American churches. Radical atheist organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have mounted public relations campaigns to intimidate churches and pastors. Not only do they spread misinformation about what churches and pastors can/cannot do regarding political involvement, but they have also reported to the IRS those churches who refused to remain silent about issues relating to government.

However, American pulpits have not always been censored by the federal government. Before the enactment of the Johnson Amendment, churches and pastors used their moral authority to speak prophetically to members and the culture about political issues.

From colonial times until the twentieth century, American churches often used their trusted social position to proclaim the Bible’s truth about issues being debated in public.

For example, pastors would frequently endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office, and they shared with their congregations whether a piece of legislation or a candidate’s positions were compatible with biblical principles. Pastors also commonly preached “Election Sermons,” which were given in the audience of public officials to exhort them to govern according to God’s truth and design for society.

Recognizing that a faithful exposition of God’s Word demanded that they preach about political issues, churches and pastors spoke into the civil arena and helped shape the American political debate for centuries. Perhaps this is no more apparent than the indispensable role churches played in the War for Independence, the abolition movement, and early civil rights movements.

John Adams, himself a central figure in the independence movement and the early republic, pointed to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew as having had a “great influence in the commencement” of the American War for Independence. Like many of his contemporaries, Mayhew preached and published sermons that seemed to “revive… animosity against tyranny in church and state.”

It was in church that early Americans learned of their inalienable rights and the proper jurisdiction and role of civil government. According to Adams, the Spirit of 1776 ripened, in part, because “the pulpits thundered!”

Leading up to the Civil War, churches also played a key role in the movement to abolish slavery. Quakers, Wesleyans, American Baptists, Congregationalists, and some Methodists stridently opposed the peculiar institution and mobilized political and social efforts against it, with their churches serving as the center of the action. Churches comprised many of the stops along the “Underground Railroad,” offering their sanctuaries as hiding places for those escaping slavery.

It is no wonder that the abolition of slavery came on the heels of the Second Great Awakening, an Evangelical religious revival during the early nineteenth century that stressed the importance of a personal relationship with Christ and propelled efforts to reform society according to biblical precepts.

Imagine if the Johnson Amendment had been around during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Would American churches have assumed their role as agents of social change in the movements for independence, abolition, and civil rights if their free speech had been muzzled by the federal government?

Churches and pastors have a biblical obligation to share biblical positions on political issues with their members and their communities. Throughout this nation’s history, churches have acted as champions of justice.

Although President Trump campaigned on “totally destroying” the Johnson Amendment, his religious liberty executive order last month failed to make any substantive changes to IRS policy. The ACLU called the executive order a “faux sop to religious conservatives” and an “elaborate photo-op” that “does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process.”

It is time to stop censoring the constitutionally protected religious speech of American pulpits. Pastors who preach and uphold the entirety of the Bible should no longer have to fear the IRS. Congress should not wait any longer to begin the process of repealing the Johnson Amendment.


Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.


NC Caves to Moneyed Interests, Deserts Women and Children

North Carolina legislators approved legislation repealing parts of HB2 yesterday.

HB2 was a common sense law that protected the privacy rights of women and children in schools and other government buildings by requiring that individuals use only restrooms and changing facilities consistent with their biological sex.

The repeal legislation, which is the result of a compromise between Democratic and Republican legislators, is designed to appease the NCAA, who threatened to prevent the state from hosting college sports championships unless the state repealed the contentious law.

In a press statement released after the passage of the legislation, NC Values Coalition President Tami Fitzgerald blamed state leaders for “letting down” North Carolinians:

“The truth remains, no basketball game, corporation, or entertainment event is worth even one little girl losing her privacy and dignity to a boy in the locker room, or being harmed or frightened in a bathroom.

“I hope that our state will learn from this and stand stronger in the future against the bullying and intimidation tactics of groups like the NCAA, the NBA, and billion dollar corporations who care more about their political, hypocritical agendas than the well-being and dignity of the people in our great state.”

The legislation passed yesterday repeals HB2’s prohibitions on individuals using the bathroom, changing facilities, and showers of their choice, regardless of biological sex.

However, it maintains HB2’s ban disallowing local governments from passing their own policies regarding private areas for three years.

HB2 was made necessary after the Charlotte City Council approved an ordinance forcing all businesses, schools, churches, and government buildings to allow individuals to use the bathroom, locker room, or changing facility of their choice, regardless of biological sex.

Ironically, the repeal legislation was opposed by both pro-family and liberal groups. Pro-family organizations view the deal as selling out the privacy of women and children to appease big business.

Liberal organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Human Rights Campaign oppose the compromise because it maintains the three-year prohibition preventing local governments from setting their own policies.

Some companies and organizations threatened to leave the state and encouraged a boycott after the passage of HB2 last March.

Despite the boycott, tourism is “thriving” and business is “booming” in North Carolina, according to the Washington Times. The paper claims that North Carolina’s economy was generally unharmed by threats of boycotts and desertions.

 

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Freedom of Association: Does it Exist or Not?

Last month, fashion designer Sophie Theallet said she would refuse to dress First Lady Melania Trump and encouraged fellow designers to follow her lead.

Believing that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign unleashed “the rhetoric of racism, sexism and xenophobia,” Theallet said that her personal convictions of “diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles” disallowed her from “dressing or associating in any way” with the first lady.

“As a family-owned company, our bottom line is not just about money. We value our artistic freedom and always humbly seek to contribute to a more humane, conscious and ethical way to create in this world,” Theallet wrote in an email to the fashion designers.

Many of those on the political left cheered Theallet’s courage in taking a bold stand against ideas she finds contemptible. After all, isn’t Theallet’s decision to discriminate against the president-elect’s wife protected under freedom of association, the constitutional right that enables her to decide for herself who she will do business with?

Maybe freedom of association only applies to those on the left?

Ironically, the same people that extolled Theallet’s choice not to dress Melania Trump have long denied that Christians share the same right exercised by the fashion designer.

Here in Washington State, Barronelle Stutzman, a septuagenarian Christian florist, is facing the wrath of the state after she refused to decorate a same-sex wedding. Like Theallet, Stutzman believed that her moral conviction demanded that she not provide a service. And like Theallet, Stutzman felt that her conviction precluded her from using her artistic talents to support or endorse something she views as morally inappropriate.

Unlike Theallet, who was celebrated by liberals everywhere, Stutzman ended up in court being sued for discrimination by the homosexual couple and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Because the state has sued her in her personal and professional capacities, she stands to lose her home, life savings, retirement, and business.

In oral arguments presented to the Washington State Supreme Court last month, Attorney General Ferguson claimed that Christians surrender their right to act upon their religious convictions when they start businesses.

To make matters worse, Stutzman isn’t alone. Christians in other states are also being targeted for exercising their right to free association – the same right that protects Theallet’s decision not to dress the wife of a man who holds views she believes to be immoral.

According to the ACLU, “Religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others…. The ACLU works to defend religious liberty and to ensure that no one is either discriminated against nor denied services because of someone else’s religious beliefs.”

I’d love to ask the ACLU why they believe it’s permissible for a fashion designer to discriminate against First Lady Trump because of political convictions, yet it’s unacceptable for a Christian to refrain from using her artistic expression for an event she finds morally objectionable.

Our nation’s founding fathers believed that all individuals, including business owners, were entitled to freedom of association. Businesses and customers had the right to decide whether they wanted to do business with someone else. If the other party engaged in morally objectionable behaviors, or if the other party was asking you to violate your personal convictions, then you had the right to refuse to do business with them.

Yet the political left, which has long denied that businesses and individuals possess this fundamental right in issues of sexual orientation and religious conviction, seems perfectly fine with a fashion designer not providing a professional service to the First Lady of the United States.

This intellectual dishonesty from the political left is noxious.

America needs to decide whether it will remain faithful to its historical tradition of protecting freedom of association and other conscience rights for everyone, regardless of their religious and political beliefs. If not, it needs to apply the standard consistently. There shouldn’t be a different standard for Christian florists and liberal fashion designers.

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Judge Orders Public Hospitals in Washington to Perform Abortions

 

Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis, who resides on the Skagit County Superior Court, issued a ruling Tuesday that requires public hospitals that provide maternity services to also perform abortions.

As part of its national campaign to bully hospitals into performing abortions, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Skagit Regional Health District and its Skagit Valley Hospital on behalf of Kevan Coffey, a nurse practitioner who had been previously employed at the Skagit Valley Hospital.

While working at the hospital, Coffey would refer patients seeking an abortion to Planned Parenthood because the hospital lacked doctors willing to perform the procedure. Washington law currently protects doctors who refuse to perform abortions from being discriminated against in employment.

Judge Montoya-Lewis wrote in her ruling, “If the Hospital District chooses to provide maternity services, it is acting in its capacity as a state entity, and, therefore, must provide those services in an equivalent manner those women who seek voluntary [abortions].”

Washington state law prohibits hospitals from asking prospective employees whether they would be willing to perform abortions. State law guarantees that “no person may be discriminated against in employment or professional privileges because of the person’s participation or refusal to participate in the termination of a pregnancy” (RCW 9.02.150).

How can a hospital be expected to perform abortions if state law prohibits it from seeking to employ doctors willing to perform the procedure? Judge Montoya-Lewis said in her ruling that the hospital has an obligation under Washington’s Reproductive Privacy Act to secure doctors who are willing to perform abortions. However, this would entail the hospital making the doctor’s willingness to perform abortions a condition of employment, which would necessarily discriminate against pro-life doctors, thus violating state law.

Thomas Ahearne, a lawyer for the health district, said the hospital’s board will meet Thursday to decide their next steps. The hospital is considering appealing the judge’s ruling.

Additionally, it is notable that Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting Coffey and the ACLU. He released a statement after the judge’s decision, calling it “a great victory for reproductive rights in Washington.”

The conscience and religious rights of health care providers are increasingly under attack. A U.S. district court in Michigan recently dismissed a lawsuit against a Catholic nonprofit that operates 86 hospitals in 21 states. The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit, wanted to force the hospitals to change its policy that prohibits doctors from performing abortions.

The Illinois Assembly recently passed SB 1564, which amends the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act by removing some conscience protections for physicians and health care providers who hold moral objections to abortion. If signed by Governor Bruce Rauner, the law would force physicians to transfer or refer patients wanting an abortion to another physician willing to perform the procedure. Pro-life doctors and those working at crisis pregnancy centers would also be required to inform pregnant women about the benefits of undergoing an abortion.

FPIW also recently brought attention to Planned Parenthood’s Washington state candidates survey, which attacked the forty percent of Washington’s hospitals that are managed by Catholic health systems. Planned Parenthood claims that these religiously-affiliated health providers “undermine patients’ rights” and “interfere with their ability to obtain a full range of health services” because they refuse to perform abortions.

6 Religious Freedom Battles in Schools to Watch in 2016

 

For many years, Christian students and faculty have been increasingly targeted by secular school administrations for demonstrating religious beliefs, whether through prayer or other forms of expression.

Coach Joe Kennedy

Bremerton High School Coach Joe Kennedy congratulates a player at a football game in September.

The issue is all too familiar for Washingtonians, who have recently seen a state school district explicitly punish public prayer by students and faculty.  The administration at Bremerton High School has suspended and threatened to fire football Coach Joe Kennedy for briefly praying with the team before and after football games. The school ordered Kennedy to halt his public displays of faith so as to “avoid alienation of any team member.”

Related: Help us honor Coach Kennedy for his courage on May 6th!

And it doesn’t appear this targeting of religious expression in schools is going away any time soon.

While it may still be early in 2016, here are just a few of the major violations of the right to religious expression that have occurred in public schools so far this year:

  • A school district in Hollister, Missouri, told students they could no longer participate in organized prayer during school hours after a cell-phone video emerged showing a large group of students praying with a visiting Christian minister during lunch time.  The students were the ones who first approached the minister — who is not a representative or employee of the school district — and asked him to lead a prayer.  The footage prompted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist advocacy group, to send a letter pressuring the Hollister School District to ban the practice in the future.
  • Two schools in Fairfield County, Ohio first suspended, and then reportedly banned a Church-led Bible study after receiving complaints, also from the FFRF.  Consequently, the Liberty Union-Thurston school district conducted investigations into school Bible clubs, as the FFRF claimed that invitations to local church pastors to participate in club activities is illegal, despite the fact that the groups are entirely student-led.
  • In February, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the Chino Valley Unified School District in Arizona to stop prayer at school board meetings, arguing that it is an “unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.” The board’s activities included reading Bible passages and opening board meetings with religious invocations.  The school board has since voted 3-2 to hire a lawyer to appeal the Court’s decision.
  • A public prayer at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Cooper Elementary School in Bentonville, Arkansas, has been labeled as unconstitutional.  An individual speaking at the ceremony, which celebrated the opening of a fitness trail, said a blessing over the project and allowed the spectators to participate in a prayer.  The main issue centers around whether or not the event was officially sponsored by the school; only about 20 students and administrators attended the ceremony.
  • An Illinois public school district has placed a ban on coach-led prayers, arguing that basketball coaches leading their teams in prayer is unconstitutional. The school district’s decision comes after they received pressure from the FFRF, which argued that, because coaches are employees of the school and the district, their behavior constitutes an official endorsement of religion.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to file a lawsuit against the Azusa Unified School District in California because one of its teachers displays a portrait of Jesus and Bible verses in his classroom.  The ACLU has warned the district that unless it prohibits the teacher, Michael Martinez, from displaying the religious decor, they will initiate a lawsuit, claiming that the presence of the object signify an endorsement of Christianity by the school district.

Organizations such as the FFRF and the ACLU may claim to be fighting for the separation of church and state, but their actions indicate that their real goal is the censorship of religious speech in public spaces.  They claim that religious expression in the presence of others creates victims — and that it should not be tolerated.

We must resist this policing of speech.  If we don’t, speaking openly about our personal religious convictions will be the least of our problems.  Indeed, we may not be able to speak openly at all.

Schools need protection now more than ever.  If you believe in protecting students’ rights to pray openly in schools, will you stand with FPIW to protect religious freedom in our state?

ACLU Says Christians Should Be Forced to Perform Abortions

aclu3In a startling lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated that employees of a Catholic hospital group should be required to perform abortions, even if that procedure violates their religious views.

Similar lawsuits have been filed by the ACLU here in Washington State, against Skagit Regional Health Clinic and the East Jefferson County Hospital in Port Townsend.

Trinity Health, which operates 86 health clinics in 21 states, including four clinics in the Pacific Northwest, was sued by the ACLU in October, when the group claimed that the group was “denying appropriate emergency care to women.”  Despite the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prohibiting Catholics from terminating a pregnancy, the ACLU claims that the group has no legal protection to hide behind their rights of conscience.  Further, the lawsuit claims that Trinity’s refusal to provide abortions is a violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, a federal statute that, among other things, aims to ensure that emergency healthcare is not to be denied because of a patient’s inability to pay.

Read the lawsuit in its entirety here.

Trinity Health is being defending by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a national partner of the Family Policy Institute of Washington.  ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said Thursday that, “not only is there no law that requires faith-based hospitals and medical personnel to commit such acts against their faith and conscience, federal law directly prohibits the government from engaging in any such coercion. Similarly, the government cannot tie any funding to a requirement that hospitals and health care workers give up their constitutionally protected freedoms.”

You can read more about Alliance Defending Freedom’s positioning in the case here.

 

Feds Bully School District to Allow Boy into Girls Locker Room

When the federal government bullies a school district to allow a boy into the girls locker room, that’s when you know the government has gotten too big.

That’s exactly what has happened to the Palatine Township School District in Illinois this week.

A biologically-male student at a district high school was denied access to women’s showers in the locker room due to his biological status as a male.  The school made efforts to create a private shower facility for the student, so that the female students wouldn’t feel uncomfortable in the showers, but that wasn’t good enough for the ACLU, who took the case to the Department of Education claiming discrimination.

After being threatened by the Department of Education (DOE) with the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding, the school district is being required to implement an entirely new set of policies to deal with transgender and opposite-gender-identifying students.  The DOE declared that the district was in violation of Title IX requirements because they held that locker room and bathroom facilities would be made available according to biological gender.

Not only has the school district been saddled with the responsibility of making structural changes to their facilities, but they’re now also being mandated to provide a “support team,” to make sure the transgendered student is happy and feeling included, as well as ensure that all facilities the sports teams visit have adequate space for the biologically-male student to change and shower in the comfort of female-only facilities.

School districts across the country are now being forced to comply with new guidelines to accommodate all transgendered students’ specific requests.  In this case, the Department of Education required the Palatine, Ill. Township School District to:

  • Provide the student with access to the girls’ locker rooms based on the student’s request to change in private changing stations in the girls’ locker rooms.
  • Protect the privacy of its students by installing sufficient privacy curtains within the girls’ locker rooms at the high school to accommodate the transgender student and any students who wish to be assured of privacy.
  • Provide a reasonable alternative for any student requesting additional privacy—beyond the privacy afforded by the privacy curtains—in the girls’ locker rooms. Examples could include use of another private area or assignment of a locker in near proximity to the office of a teacher or coach.
  • Coordinate with hosts of off-campus, district-sponsored activities to arrange for the transgender student to be provided access to facilities for female students.
  • Engage a consultant (who may be a district employee) with expertise in child and adolescent gender identity, including transgender and gender nonconforming youth, to support and assist the district in implementing the resolution agreement.
  • Establish a support team, if requested by the transgender student and her parents, to ensure that she has access and the opportunity to participate in all district programs and activities, and is otherwise protected from gender-based discrimination at school.
  • Adopt and publish a revised notice of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex. And,
  • Provide OCR with a copy or detailed description of all gender-based discrimination or harassment complaints or incidents.

Parents showed up outraged at the most recent School Board meeting, where the Board voted 5-2 to approve changes to the policy to allow any student who identifies as a woman to use the women’s shower facilities, even if they are biologically male.

Stay up to date on issues like this in Washington State.  Join the FPIW Alert mailing list!

The Tyranny of Good Intentions

A couple weeks ago I was part of a debate with a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  We discussed the impact of the Hobby Lobby decision in which the Supreme Court said that a family owned business could not be forced to pay for contraceptives that violated their sincerely held beliefs.
 
I argued that it was a good decision and the ACLU argued that the government should be able to force people to violate their faith so contraception will be even more available than it already is. 
 
According to the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm, more than 99% of women aged 15-44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. There isn’t exactly a crisis of access.
 
While the ACLU’s position may not be surprising, the justification is horrifying.
 
In a statement defending her position, the lawyer I was debating wrote the following: “A free and pluralistic society requires everyone, including corporations with religiously observant owners, to comply with laws intended to advance public health and the general public interest.”
 
I suggest you go back and read this statement again…slowly.
 
Keep in mind, the ACLU is not on the fringes of the left, they are part of the nucleus. 
 
According to them, a free society requires people to do what they’re told as long as the people ordering them around have good intentions.
 
I guess we’re redefining what it means to be free now as well.
 
Our founding fathers had a very different understanding of what a free and pluralistic society required.
 
They believed a free and pluralistic society required the understanding that government was a tool to secure the rights of the people.  
 
They knew that governments are tempted to invade people’s privacy in the name of keeping them safe, so they drafted the Fourth Amendment which prohibits search without cause regardless of what the intentions are.  They recognized that government would be tempted to restrict people’s speech believing certain ideas were harmful, so they drafted the First Amendment and limited government’s power to restrict speech even if they meant well.
 
C.S. Lewis explained the tyranny of good intentions well. “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
 
What the ACLU and their friends on the left apparently have forgotten is that proponents of internment, segregation, book bans, blue laws, compulsory church attendance, and prohibition all believed they were acting in the public interest.
 
Even ISIS believes they are making the world a better place.
 
The entire reason you establish bright lines regarding what is and is not acceptable is so that fools (or worse) with good intentions can be stopped.
 
At least internment camps were created in the name of keeping the country safe from traitors.  Yes, they were a gross violation of human dignity, but you can at least see the argument.
 
But now they want to take away constitutionally guaranteed rights… so it’s easier to get birth control? C’mon.
 
And, most importantly, you should like it because they “intend to advance the public health and general public interest.” 
 
At least they are putting it in writing now. We cannot say we were not warned.

Why the Left Abandoned Religious Freedom

In 1990, the Supreme Court’s Employment Division v. Smith decision lowered the bar for religious freedom protections.  Three years later, Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which restored the higher standard of religious freedom protections that existed prior to the Smith case.

The RFRA required the government to have a “compelling government interest” before doing anything that would restrict religious freedom.

This did not mean you could do anything in the name of religion, but it prevented the government from punishing an individual’s religious expression simply because they didn’t like it.  It would not allow someone to beat their children as a matter of religious expression because the government has a compelling interest in the protection of children. But it would allow Native American’s to use peyote in their religious ceremonies despite the fact that it is generally illegal.  The compelling governmental interest in stopping the ceremonial use of peyote could not be demonstrated.

Significantly, when congress adopted this standard it wasn’t even controversial. Everyone believed in religious liberty

The bill was sponsored by Chuck Schumer, still one of the most prominent leftists in Washington DC. It passed the House of Representatives unanimously and passed the Senate 97-3. President Clinton, who signed it into law, called the bill one of his greatest accomplishments as President.

A later Supreme Court decision said that the federal government could not force the states to abide by the standard in RFRA so 18 states have subsequently adopted their own state version.

However, when the Washington State Senate began a debate over RFRA-like language two weeks ago, it was apparent that it will be controversial.

Questions during the hearing indicated that the proposal will face significant, if not insurmountable opposition, in the legislature.

This begs the question, what exactly has changed since 1993 that makes a formerly uncontroversial proposal suddenly so controversial?  If RFRA was supported by Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, why can’t they support it today?

In 1993, the left still cared about individual rights.

They could still remember the 1970’s when modern liberalism cut its teeth on the idea that it is better to allow people to be offensive (e.g., burn flags, be profane, create and distribute pornography) than to allow the government be the judge of what kind of speech or behavior was acceptable.

Freedom, they argued, is the right to do and say things other people disagree with.

While a belief in individual rights used to be the hallmark of liberalism, it has since been replaced by a commitment to amorphous concepts like “equality” and ending “discrimination”. While they never define those terms in a way they could be held accountable for, what is obvious is that their pursuit of those values leaves no room for people to disagree.  After all, how can we have a tolerant world if people are allowed to do things that are intolerant?

The new left wants government to officiate all of our interactions to make sure no one “discriminates”.

This explains why, in 1993, Chuck Schumer was the prime sponsor of the RFRA, but in 2013, he is a vocal opponent of efforts that would allow the Catholic Church not to pay for contraception in violation of its beliefs.

It also explains why in 1993, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), co-chaired the lobby committee that helped make RFRA federal law.  However, in 2013, they filed a lawsuit against a florist in Washington State because they did not want to provide floral services for a same-sex “wedding”.  The ACLU now opposes RFRA language in Washington State specifically because it could allow business owners the freedom to make decisions consistent with their religious beliefs.

Going back even further to 1973, abortion advocates argued for an understanding of the right to privacy that would allow a woman to have an abortion.  In 2013 they argue for the right to force other people to pay for their abortions and the right to demand professional services from people who are morally opposed to it.

They used to support people’s right to buy a car. Now they argue for the right to hijack someone else’s car and force the owner to take them where they need to go because they believe the destination is that important.

Of course the loss of individual freedom is only a regrettable and temporary means to an end. Once everyone agrees with them, individual rights won’t be quite as dangerous as they are right now.

Still, the fact that they now value a “tolerant” world free of “discrimination” more than individual rights explains why previously uncontroversial concepts like religious freedom are now viewed so skeptically.  Their value system has changed.

As a result, during the hearing in the Washington State Senate Law and Justice Committee two weeks ago, two State Senators expressed serious concern that such a bill would allow pharmacists not to sell abortion drugs or a florist not to provide floral services for a same-sex “wedding”.

Some legislators now believe it is their job to make sure businesses owners are not free to do things they find intolerant.

In the process, those who support religious freedom protections are being characterized as people simply looking for a license to hate.

The problem with this position is that the same religious freedom protections being asked for today were once supported by less than rabid conservatives like Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Paul Wellstone.

The fact that religious freedom is now a controversial topic is not because prominent, new sects of dangerous, religious extremism have formed. To the contrary, religious freedom is now controversial because the voices in culture that have always said that not every impulse should be indulged are the enemy of their well-intentioned but entirely subjective concept of tolerance.

So in pursuit of a more tolerant world, they ironically seek to arm government with the power to decide which ideas are acceptable and which are not. That puts them in historically uncomfortable company where typically everyone’s ox is gored.

We need not follow that path, but we’d be foolish to deny how close we are to it.

In the process of looking for religious freedom protections, we don’t need to convince everyone to see the world like we do. What we are really doing is asking liberals to be liberals again.

To share your thoughts on religious freedom with your state legislators click here, or call the Legislative Hotline at 1.800.562.6000.