“Marriage and Religious Freedom Act” introduced in Congress
On September 19, a bipartisan group introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prevent the federal government from discriminating through the tax code against individual religious believers who hold the principle that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. According to bill author, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID)H.R. 3133, the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act,” “will ensure tolerance for individuals and organizations that affirm traditional marriage, protecting them from adverse federal action.” The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Scalise, Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL). The underlying issue that the bill asks Congress to consider is whether religious freedom protections on marriage issues apply not only to religious institutions but also to individuals. (The bill can be tracked at http://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th/house-bill/3133)
Many Americans support legal recognition for same-sex marriage even though it is contrary to their religious beliefs. But as Mollie Ziegler Hemingway writes in the Wall Street Journal, tolerance of same-sex marriage “isn’t turning out to be a two-way street.” Citing cases such as an Oregon bakery that closed following a state investigation into the owners’ religious objections to catering same-sex union celebrations and a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling against a photographer who refused to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony, Hemmingway concludes that, in contrast to the protections provided to churches, there is very little protection for personal religious beliefs.
The concept that religious freedom only belongs to institutions and not to individuals was underscored by the California Supreme Court decision in 2008 that suggested that religious freedom would be protected because “no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.” In contrast, gay rights proponents argue that if religious and sexual liberty come into conflict, sexual liberty should prevail.
This conflict of whether individuals really have religious freedom outside the walls of churches will become the American religious liberty battleground of the next decade, not only on issues of marriage but in almost every area of personal religious practice.
Michigan Legislature Considers Religious Exception for Faith-Based Adoption Services
The Michigan legislature is considering a bill that will allow faith-based adoption services to refuse to place a child with a couple if doing so would violate the agency’s religious beliefs. House Bill 4927 is available here.
India’s “Missing Girls”
On September 10, the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs considered the issue of India’s “missing girls.” Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) opened the discussion (watch on YouTube). Smith said, “sex-selective abortion and female infanticide have led to lopsided sex ratios. In parts of India, for example, 126 boys are born for every 100 girls. This in turn leads to a shortage of marriageable women, which then leads to trafficking in persons, bride-selling, and prostitution.” According to the 2011 census for India, there are 37 million more men than women in the country. Studies show that families that do not have enough food are feeding boys before girls, and the mortality rate for children under age 5 is 75% higher for girls than boys.
Abortion Clinic Numbers Declining in U.S.
Bloomberg reports that since 2011 at least 58 abortion clinics in the United States have closed or stopped providing abortion services. The article attributes this to a combination of regulations, declining demand, doctor retirements, industry consolidation, and “crackdowns on unfit providers” such as Dr. Kermit Gosnell who is presently serving a prison sentence. According to AbortionDocs.org, the source cited by Bloomberg, this is part of a general trend of decline in numbers of abortion clinics. In 1991, there were 2,176 abortion clinics in the United States and at present, the numbers are down to 621 surgical abortion clinics and 167 abortion pill clinics.
Animal Rights v. Religious Rights: Ritual Slaughter of Chickens in Los Angeles
Last week in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles, Orthodox Jews and animal rights activists faced off over a ritual practice involving the slaughter of thousands of chickens in makeshift stands. Known as Kaparot, the practice, which began in the 16th century, involves the ritual killing of chickens in the week leading up to Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bait Aaron, a Sephardic Orthodox outreach organization set up a tent in a parking lot and had stacked wire cages of chickens. After each slaughter, the blood was drained and butchers plucked and dressed the birds. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is reluctant to get involved unless the practice presents health and safety issues.
Rhode Island to Vote on Forced Unionization Which Would Turn Home Child Care Providers into State Employees
In Rhode Island, the Service Employees International Union has reached an agreement with the legislature and the governor to set the stage for a vote on unionizing 580 private contractors who provide state-subsidized child care in their homes. This is one of several attempts to unionize home-based child care providers across the United States. On June 5, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation filed a federal lawsuit challenging a similar law in Minnesota on the grounds that it violates the 1st Amendment rights of family child care providers “to individually choose with whom they associate to petition the government for redress of grievances.” The workers bringing the challenge have objected to being forced to “financially support” through required dues, “a mandatory exclusive representation for purposes of petitioning the state.” A legal challenge to forced unionization is forming in Rhode Island. According to the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, “Childcare providers are small, independent business owners. They set their own working conditions and hours and hire their own employees. Caring for children on state assistance does not transform them into public employees, nor does it create an employment relationship with the state government.”
Muslim Group Sues for Zoning Law Discrimination
A Muslim group has filed a federal complaint against the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, Illinois which last month rejected a proposed religion center in an area zoned for manufacturing. The suit claims that the city violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by denying the permit in a manner which treated the group differently from other similarly situated groups. The 1.8-acre site was formerly occupied by an insurance company.
Hungarian Law Makes it Hard for Religious Groups to Gain Recognition
Jura Nanuk, president and founder of the Central-European Religious Freedom (CERF) Institute, reports on the effects of a 2011 Hungarian law on churches and its implications on freedom of religion. When the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religion and the Legal Status of Churches, Denominations and Religious Communities was first passed, only fourteen religious communities, 12 Christian and two Jewish, were granted the status of “religion” but Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and most Christian denominations were rejected. This list was later expanded but there was no guarantee of freedom of religion. Religious groups still must meet arbitrary standards and receive a 2/3 majority vote by members of the Hungarian Parliament to be recognized. CERF is calling for Hungary to restore its religious freedom to the pre-2011 level and that legislation involving freedom of religion be adjusted with European and UN guidelines and recommendations.
Persecution on Increase in Eastern Europe
The European Parliament in Brussels recently debated the threat to religious freedom in Eastern Europe, including countries such as Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova which are restricting the ability of citizens to practice their religion. According to CERF, religious minorities are facing significant persecution and discrimination because of their beliefs. For instance, in Georgia, religious groups are reporting that Georgian Orthodox priests were warning leaders of minority congregations that after the October 1 parliamentary elections they would no longer be able to hold services in their villages. Reports of anti-Semitism are also increasing in Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine.
Adventist Church Sues City for Discretionary Review Ordinance
Las Cruces, New Mexico has an unusual ordinance (No. 16–131) that requires churches to register with the city, pay a fee and pass a discretionary review process before gaining approval to conduct worship services or provide pastoral care. There is no realistic appeal process if the city denies the application. In response to a demand from the city that the Las Cruces Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church comply with the requirements in seven days or face “court action,” the Seventh-day Adventist Church filed suit in federal court arguing that the ordinance is “impermissibly vague” and violates the New Mexico Constitution. The ordinance provides exceptions to secular artists and athletic officials, but there are no religious exceptions. In response, the City of Las Cruces argues that the ordinance is designed to protect citizens and provide fire and police protection.
Adventist Peace Fellowship Launches New Website
Adventist Peace Fellowship, founded in 2001, has launched a new website. APF is a 501c3 non-profit organization, not officially associated with the church, that seeks to raise consciousness about the centrality of peacemaking and social justice to the beliefs and heritage of Seventh-day Adventists. The organization works on peacemaking and reconciliation projects, environmental projects, freedom of conscience, and health and human rights among others. ###