Top Religious Liberty Stories from 2013
by Steve Allred
Survey the news, and I think you’ll agree that, were he with us today, the Apostle Paul would probably conclude that we are living in the “last days”, if the passage below is any indication of what he thought. Here’s what he wrote:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4, KJV).
And in fact, the year 2013 was a particularly “perilous” one for people of faith in our world – most of the danger and persecution caused by people fitting the description in Paul’s epistle. Religious freedom and liberty of conscience suffered. Christians were persecuted and killed.
Religious Liberty on the International Scene
In an interview late last year, John Allen noted that to “the ordinary American, when you talk about religious persecution, they think it’s about whether you can pray before a football game. The global situation is something most folks never thought about before…” Is there a war on Christians in America? Allen replies,
“To the extent that there is a war on religion in America, it’s a metaphorical war — in court, pop culture, on front pages. There is a lot of stuff religious believers find worrying and threatening, but no one is getting shot for their faith. What frustrates me is, there are really people being shot for their faith. In the States, a threat to your religious freedom means you might get sued. In the rest of the world, you might get shot.”1
Kristen Powers expressed her alarm at the lack of “anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians” when it comes to real persecution in the rest of the world. She notes that
“American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.”2
Meanwhile, Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen of Persian descent, languishes in an Iranian prison. Despite efforts even by President Obama, Abedini is still serving his life sentence for the crime of being a Muslim and converting to Christianity.3 Not far away in Pakistan, “a court in Pakistan’s Punjab province has sentenced a Christian man to life imprisonment and a fine of $2,000 for sending blasphemous text messages to Muslim clerics to seek revenge from his ex-fiancée.”4
But Islamic countries aren’t the only ones in which Christians suffer persecution. In the African nation of Togo,
“[Pastor] Antonio dos Anjos Monteiro was detained in March  for conspiracy to commit murder after a Togolese man implicated him and two other Christians, one an Adventist, as conspirators in an alleged blood trafficking network.”
Pastor Monteiro remains imprisoned today.5 (See the footnote for ways to help).6
Culture Wars in America
In America, religious people fared much better than Christians in other parts of the world in 2013. Yet despite the freedom enjoyed by religious Americans, the “culture war” between traditional religious values and progressive civil rights raged on.
To be precise, the real issue bubbling below the surface of the recent American religious-secular culture war was the question of whether religious rights are superior to – or maybe just equal with – other kinds of civil rights. This issue was brought to the forefront in 2013 when religious convictions and traditions collided with gay rights and women’s reproductive health rights. Some felt that religious rights suffered in the end. Others said that religious rights didn’t suffer at all, what suffered was simply the ability to impose ones religious views on others.
The Same-Sex Marriage Cases
On the gay marriage front, in June of 2013, the Supreme Court decided two cases involving the question of whether people of the same gender who wish to marry should enjoy equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. In both cases, the Court effectively ruled in favor of expanding the right to marry. Michael Peabody aptly described why the lower federal court came to the conclusion that Proposition 8, one of the challenged laws, was invalid:
“For millennia the concept that marriage is between a man and a woman has been a ‘given,’ with no explanation needed, but now that this basic premise has been called into question, it is necessary to articulate why it is this way to a secular society. In reality, apart from a scriptural basis for opposing same- sex marriage, or homosexual behavior in general, it has been difficult for same-sex marriage opponents to come up with convincing secular arguments that work as well in courts as in churches.”7
However, for some religious people this was a troubling development. Peabody noted these concerns as well:
“At the same time, for those who want to uphold traditional standards in their homes and churches, and teach them in their communities, the fact is that the governmental recognition and protection of same-sex marriages may lead to litigation and financial pressures. In some places it could even lead to persecution against those who continue to oppose same-sex marriage on moral or religious grounds as the freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and the emerging freedom to marry any other consenting adult come into conflict.
…As the definition of marriage inevitably expands, religious groups, families, and individuals for whom homosexual conduct conflicts with their own moral beliefs will need to seek and maintain zones of legal protection, and recognize that they cannot depend upon the state to act as the guardian of morality.”8
At least a few Christian business people have experienced these “pressures” that Peabody mentions. In New Mexico, a commercial photographer refused to take pictures of a same-sex couple’s wedding.
“The (New Mexico) Supreme Court agreed with the lesbians, writing that ‘a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the anti- discrimination provisions of the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples.’
The legal battle has also drawn comparisons to civil rights struggles by blacks, where some arbitrators have concluded that refusing to serve gay couples is the same as lunch counters refusing to serve blacks in the Jim Crow era.”9
The Contraception Mandate Controversy
On the healthcare front, Hobby Lobby and various other for-profit entities challenged the Affordable Care Act’s provision that (most) employers who provide health insurance to their employees must provide access to contraceptives, including Plan B-type contraceptives that can cause a pregnant woman to abort. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear their challenge and it remains to be seen what will be the outcome.10
As Robert J. Ray has noted, however, the Hobby Lobby case brings up many complicated issues:
“Hobby Lobby and all of us as individuals are required to pay taxes. And taxes 3
fund the military, which kills people. But there’s no exemption from any taxation requirements for those who don’t want to help bankroll the taking of human life.
No one is forced to personally bear arms in the military. But I repeat, taxpayers aren’t excluded from helping to bankroll the military — despite any moral objections they may have.
Similarly, in the case of the Affordable Care Act, no one is forced to use birth control. But the law says an employer’s insurance must include that option….
If an evangelical employer is exempted from providing coverage for birth control, what about a Jehovah’s Witness employer who believes that blood transfusions are immoral?”11
The mandate to provide contraceptives was also challenged by the Little Sisters of Charity in Colorado.12 Even though the Affordable Care Act exempted religious charities like the Little Sisters from having to provide contraceptives to their employees, they objected to having to “certify” their religious belief by signing a form the government required, saying they would be “complicit in providing contraceptive coverage” were they to do so.13 Late last year, Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the Little Sisters an injunction temporarily enabling them to avoid compliance with the mandate.
The government argued that
“the Denver-based Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor is already eligible for a religious exemption under the new health care law…Therefore, they are not required to ‘contract, arrange, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage,’ according to the memorandum filed by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.”14
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and attorney representing the Little Sisters, countered that “the government’s brief offers no explanation for its surprising insistence on making the Little Sisters sign a form the government now says is meaningless.”15
Other Religious Liberty News from 2013
Two Muslim young ladies gained victories in their quest to be able to wear religious garb at their place of employment. Hani Khan, one of the women, was fired from Abercrombie & Fitch for wearing a head scarf as a part of her religious practice.16
The case was settled in Khan’s favor with Abercrombie & Fitch agreeing “to make religious accommodations and allow workers to wear head scarves… The retailer will now allow hijabs, the traditional head scarves worn by many Muslim women when in public.17
Some state lawmakers in North Carolina tried to make Christianity the official religion of the state. After the defeat of the bill, the Forbes headline read:
“North Carolina Religion Bill Killed-But One Third Of Americans Want Christianity As Official Religion Of USA.”
The article quoted Founding Father James Madison, noting that America had faced this question of mixing government and religion before and had chosen to keep church and state separate. Madison’s words:
“We [Americans] are teaching the world the great truth, that Governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson: the Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of Government.”18
West Virginia’s Sunday blue laws were relaxed this past year and have almost disappeared.19 But North Dakota, with the strictest Sunday blue laws in the United States, still requires certain stores to be closed on Sunday mornings. An unsuspecting Minnesotan who travelled to visit her college student son in North Dakota one Sunday morning, realized the strangeness of this archaic law. She writes,
“Finally, can anyone explain the origin of the Blue Law in North Dakota? I expect it dates back to Sunday as a day of rest, as the Lord’s Day. I respect that and hope that most would choose worship over shopping. Yet, times have changed and church services are held on Saturdays too and, well, you know…”20
Looking Forward to 2014
When all was said and done this last year, Adventist church president Ted Wilson nailed it when he summed up a very nuanced and balanced approach that can be used going forward to honor both the rights of religious people and those of other interest groups:
“…Will government ever make laws with which we as a church strongly disagree? Yes, absolutely. Like many other faiths, the Seventh-day Adventist church subscribes to the Biblical definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, for example. But where we differ from some of our peers is that we acknowledge that there’s a difference between government allowing certain actions with which we might disagree on moral grounds … as opposed to compelling them. That is the fine line that is religious liberty.”21
Well said, Ted Wilson.
Ultimately, 2013 was a rough year for Christians in many parts of the world who were harassed, raped, murdered and persecuted on account of their faith. In comparison, American Christians, though they faced some challenges, fared rather well.
My prayer for the Christian church in 2014 is twofold: first, that we will pray and act on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters (see footnote for ways to help22); secondly, that we will answer the increasing iniquity in our world by living out and sharing the irresistible love of Christ with the people around us.
1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-worst-victims-of-christian-persecution-look- beyond-america-author-says/2014/01/02/2986b84c-7276-11e3-8def- a33011492df2_story.html
4 http://www.christianpost.com/news/pakistani-christian-gets-life-in-prison-for- blasphemous-text-messages-100051/
5 http://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2012-09-27/in-togo-cape-verdean- adventist-pastor-imprisoned-on-dubious-charges/
6 The following website has ways to help in the Pastor Monteiro case: http://pray4togo.com/en/
9 http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2013/1207/Colo.-judge-orders-Christian- baker-to-bake-gay-wedding-cake.-Will-he-say-no-video
10 http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/faith-and-morals/item/17055-supreme- court-will-consider-hobby-lobby-contraception-mandate-case
11 http://religiousliberty.tv/guest-opinion-endless-exemptions-faith-hobby-lobby-case- simple-one.html 12http://www.salon.com/2014/01/06/5_reasons_the_contraception_mandate_matters_for_ everyone/
13 http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_24839740/feds-oppose-injunction-denver- charity-case-challenging-obamacare
16 http://abcnews.go.com/Business/muslim-fired-abercrombie-head-scarf-policy- unfair/story?id=20208124
17 http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/23/clothing-retailer-abercrombie-settles- lawsuits-over-muslim-head-scarves-filed/
18 http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/04/07/north-carolina-religion-bill- killed-but-one-third-of-americans-want-christianity-as-official-religion-of-usa/
20 http://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-blog-cabin/2012/11/forget-shopping-north- dakota-sunday-morning
21 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ted-nc-wilson/keeping-church-at-arms- le_b_4226809.html
22 Here are some ideas of how you can help persecuted Christians around the world: http://www.christianfreedom.org/help-persecuted-christians/