Religious freedom vs. human rights?

The rise of religion globally threatens human rights, according to British academic Stephen Hopgood in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post.  After the jump, read his argument and consider the thoughts I raise. [Read more...]

The world’s worst violators of religious freedom

The worst countries for religious freedom are either Muslim or atheist.  (Burma is Buddhist.)  We understand about Islam, but atheists like to present themselves as tolerant.  What does it tell us that no countries of Christian heritage are on the list?  (After the jump: the 15 countries currently on the official list of the worst religious rights violators.) [Read more...]

The penalty if religious institutions won’t comply

So what will happen if religious and other pro-life institutions refuse to go along with the Obamacare contraceptive and abortifacient mandate?

Under President Obama’s healthcare law, the HHS can levy $100 per employee, per day against institutions that won’t comply with the mandate.

Therefore, religious employers with hundreds of employees could be fined millions of dollars each year. A 50-employee institution, for example, would face a penalty of $1,825,000 each year.

“ObamaCare gives the federal government the tools to tax religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, universities and soup kitchens right out of existence,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), sponsor of the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act.

Using the language that the Supreme Court recently decided covered the penalties in ObamaCare, Sensenbrenner cites a February report by the Congressional Research Service that adds up the noncompliance tax to $36,500 annually per employee. Any group health plan and health insurance issuer subject to insurance market reforms in Title I of the Affordable Care Act that objects to coverage requirements based on religious and moral convictions does not qualify for an exemption.

via PJ Media » ‘ObamaCare Catch-22′: Crushing Fines for Religious Entities in Mandate.

Danish law mandates church weddings for gays

Denmark has passed a law requiring the state Lutheran church to hold church weddings for gay couples.  It allows pastors who don’t believe in gay marriage–from one-third to one-half of the clergy–to opt out, but bishops must provide a replacement pastor to preside over the wedding.

It isn’t clear to me from the news stories how this will affect other church bodies than the state church.  Reuters says, “The new law permits homosexual marriages in the Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as churches of other faiths, depending on those churches’ own rules.”  So are Roman Catholics, who have “rules” against this sort of thing, excused?  Or must they allow gays to use their facilities for church weddings, though they are not obliged to perform the ceremony?

Still, this shows that the assurance that churches won’t be forced to perform gay weddings, should gay marriage be legalized, may well last only as long as the government wants it to. 

Is it realistic to think that once gay marriage becomes the law that churches who don’t go along won’t eventually be targeted as discriminatory and forced to go along?  Or is this simply the jeopardy of a state church, with American traditions of religious freedom able to resist that kind of legal mandate?

New Danish law lets homosexuals wed in church | Reuters.

Discrimination charges against religions?

Journalist Asra Q. Nomani, writing in USA Today, is calling for the government to enforce anti-discrimination laws against religious organizations, denying them tax-exempt status if they discriminate against women.  She is thinking of her fellow Muslims, but the proposal also would apply to Christians.  Her article specifically mentions the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod:

As much of the world cheers the rise of democracy in the public square of the Middle East, it’s time that we see the Arab Spring bloom somewhere equally important: mosques. We should start with mosques in the U.S., and the government should help promote democracy in places of worship by denying non-profit tax-exempt status — called 501(c)3 designation — to places of worship that practice gender inequity, just as they can deny tax-exempt status to places of worship that engage in political activity. . . .

The IRS has ruled that “tax exempt organizations may jeopardize their exempt status if they engage in illegal activity.” Political activity is covered in the “illegal activity” doctrine. Applying this doctrine in 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the IRS could deny Bob Jones University tax exemption because of racial policies at the evangelical Christian university (kicking students out for interracial dating). Tax attorneys say the ruling established public policy that tax-exempt organizations can’t racially discriminate in educational institutions.Meanwhile, in 1984, in a case against the Jaycees civic organization, the Supreme Court held that a private organization cannot discriminate based on gender.

So far, though, gender rights aren’t protected at places of worship. . . .

Who would stand in the way of reform? Catholic churches, for one, and other places that get exemptions in employment law so they can practice gender inequity (think priest jobs). Alan Goldberger, a non-profit attorney in Millburn, N.J., is a former member of a conservative synagogue that integrates women, but he has attended orthodox Jewish synagogues that segregate women and says that it could be “more prudent with public policy” to enforce non-discrimination in places of worship, but the courts “like to stay away from intervening in the affairs of a private organization.”

Daniel Dalton, 46, a non-profit attorney in Farmington Hills, Mich., says the IRS has taken the position “it’s not going to look at ecclesiastical, doctrinal issues.” He grew up in the Missouri Lutheran Church, which limits women’s roles in leadership positions. “I don’t understand it. I don’t agree with it,” says Dalton. “But that’s a doctrinal issue.”

I understand the difficulties in having the state intervene in worship issues. I believe in a separation of church and state, but I’ve come to the difficult decision that women must use the legal system to restore rights in places of worship, particularly when intimidation is used to enforce unfair rules.

via End gender apartheid in U.S. mosques – USATODAY.com.

We need to realize that if religious freedom is taken away, it will begin with unpopular religions.

A Lutheran church & school before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is taking up what some are describing as the most important religious liberty case in decades.  And it involves a Lutheran school whose church fired a called teacher.  From Notre Dame law school professor Richard Garnett:

In a nutshell, Hosanna-Tabor is a lawsuit brought by Cheryl Perich, a former teacher at a church-run Lutheran grade school who argues that the church violated a federal law against disability-based discrimination when it rescinded her “call” as a “commissioned minister” — and fired her as a third- and fourth-grade teacher, after a disability-related leave of absence.

A federal trial court in Michigan dismissed the teacher’s claim, insisting that the “ministerial” nature of her position and the religious dimensions of the church’s decision made it inappropriate to apply the anti-discrimination law. But the court of appeals disagreed and concluded that her “primary duties” — as a “commissioned minister” at a school that aims to provide a “Christ-centered education” from teachers who “integrate faith into all subjects” — were secular, and not religious.

The court gave little weight to the facts that the teacher led her students in prayer several times a day and taught religion classes four days a week, and instead simply compared the minutes she spent on religious formation with those she spent teaching “secular subjects.”

The Supreme Court should reverse this decision, and it is important to understand why.

For starters, it is well established that a “ministerial exception” to job-discrimination laws prevents secular courts from jumping into religious disputes that they lack the authority to address or the competence to solve. The question in the Hosanna-Tabor case is not so much whether the exception exists — it does, and it should — as how it should be understood and applied.

As the court of appeals recognized, this exception is “rooted in the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom.” Indeed, a religious-liberty promise that allowed governments to second-guess religious communities’ decisions about what should be their teachings or who should be their teachers would be a hollow one.

via Hosanna-Tabor case to test our church-state divide – USATODAY.com.

Frankly, I’m confused about this, both legally and theologically.  Is the church running roughshod over its own doctrine of the call, in effect demanding the religious liberty to ignore its own religious teaching?  Is the state doing what the church should be doing, in enforcing the binding nature of the call?  Would a legal win on the part of the church be a theological defeat?  Or does this legal challenge unmask the confusion between the teaching office and the pastoral ministry?  And should the state presume to define “church work” and “ministry,” denying the teacher that status because she teaches “secular” subjects?

Can anyone untangle these issues?  And does anyone know anything about the disability issues being raised?  Were there other factors in the congregation’s desire to dismiss this teacher?  (Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church is an LCMS congregation in Redford, Michigan.)  I mean, I can’t help but sympathize with the congregation being dragged before the court, but help me sort out not only the law but the theology and the church practice.


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