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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label religious liberty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religious liberty. Show all posts

Monday, June 26, 2017

Identity vs. Use: What Is Religious Prejudice?

Imagine you are part of a church with a preschool and daycare center. You enroll children of any religion, and the townspeople rely upon to make ends meet. The preschool qualifies in every way for a state program to resurface your playground, but its application is denied simply because it is a church. Is that prejudice or simply the separation of church and state?

In the Supreme Court decision handed down for Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, seven of the nine justices agreed that the state of Missouri was discriminating against Trinity Lutheran Church by denying its application to participate in the state's successful Scrap Tire Program, where the school would be reimbursed for using ground up old tires as playground cover. Written by Chief Justice Roberts, the opinion states:
Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It is asserting a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character. The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant.1
So far so good. However, three of the concurring justices objected to a single footnote of Chief Justice Roberts's opinion enough to note it in their concurring statements. The footnote read “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”2 In other words, Roberts narrowed the ruling.

Don't be surprised if people act according to their beliefs.

Justice Gorsuch, in writing his concurring-in-part statement, raises some important points, notably that the opinion is trying to make a distinction between what constitutes religious status and what makes up religious use. He then asks:
Does a religious man say grace before dinner? Or does a man begin his meal in a religious manner? Is it a religious group that built the playground? Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission? The distinction blurs in much the same way the line between acts and omissions can blur when stared at too long, leaving us to ask (for example) whether the man who drowns by awaiting the incoming tide does so by act (coming upon the sea) or omission (allowing the sea to come upon him).

I don't see why it should matter whether we describe that benefit, say, as closed to Lutherans (status) or closed to people who do Lutheran things (use). It is free exercise either way. 3
Justice Gorsuch's question is a good one. A person's beliefs should and will affect his or her actions. It shouldn't be surprising that Christian will do Christian things as a part of living life. He will hold to Christian beliefs and he may even write about those beliefs, as White House nominee Russell Vought has done. Yet, just two weeks ago, Senator Bernie Sanders redressed Vought for doing just that, blustering “this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

Sander's statement is a great example of why Gorsuch, Thomas, and even Justice Breyer had a problem with that little footnote. This isn't only about playground resurfacing. Discrimination against religious believers is become more and more common, and we need a strong opinion to halt it in its track or we may lose the very essence of the First Amendment protections for faith. That is truly what this country is not about.


1. TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH OF COLUMBIA, INC. v. COMER. Supreme Court of The United States. 26 June 2017. SCOTUS Blog. Supreme Court of the United States, 26 June 2017. Web. 26 June 2017.
2. Trinity, 2017. 14. Footnote 3.
3. Trinity, 2017. Gorsuch Concurring in Part.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Ignore the Right of Conscience at Your Peril

At the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, we are treated to an ominous scene. Dozens of subjects are marched to the gallows and hanged as an official reads an edict from the local magistrate declaring:
In order to affect a timely halt to deteriorating conditions and to ensure the common good, a state of emergency is declared for these territories by decree of Lord Cutler Beckett, duly appointed representative of His Majesty, the king.

By decree, according to martial law, the following statutes are temporarily amended:
  • Right to assembly, suspended.
  • Right to habeas corpus, suspended.
  • Right to legal counsel, suspended.
  • Right to verdict by a jury of peers, suspended.
By decree, all persons found guilty of piracy, or aiding a person convicted of piracy, or associating with a person convicted of piracy shall be sentenced to hang by the neck until dead.
The message the filmmaker wants to communicate is unmistakable. Unilaterally jettisoning the rights of the people allows despotism to flourish. As we watch even a young boy approach the hangman's noose, we are to recoil at the injustice of it all. We are to understand Lord Beckett as evil.

What About the Greater Good?

The film's portrayal of such measures is ham-fisted, which is to be expected when the heroes are the pirates. In reality, pirates have been and still are real menaces to society. They threatened life, peace, and property. So, would declaring a suspension of rights for the general safety of the colony and the colonists be the right thing to do? I guess it depends on the rights in question and the circumstances necessitating it, but such actions prove to be dangerous.
At the beginning of the Civil War in the U.S., President Lincoln suspended the right to trial for Southern sympathizers in the North who were sabotaging telegraph cables and attacking troops. A U.S. News and World Report article reports how Lincoln believed such drastic action would be limited and for a very short period, with no long-term effects.1 However, the powers in the state of Missouri took martial law to new levels and greedily clung to the efficient effectivelness of forcing the citizenry to its own point of view:
In March 1865, a newspaper correspondent in St. Louis reported that many Republicans in Missouri—not just the state's leaders—had come to admire the efficiency of martial law: "So far from being unpopular, it is believed that a large portion of our loyal people are willing to see a provision incorporated in the charter of the city, requiring six months of martial law to be imposed . . . every five years to clean up all the little cases of outraged justice, loose indictments, public corruption and private peculation, which the ordinary courts cannot reach.2
The article quotes historian Eric Foner that Lincoln found "It is much easier to put these restrictions in place than it is to stop them."3

The Danger of Losing Our Right to Conscience Today

Today, there is a mindset gaining ground in our courts and among our politicians that certain rights are less important than what they perceive as the good of the public. The rights of individuals to exercise his or her sincerely held religious convictions by refusing to participate in same sex union ceremonies has come under attack. Small business owners, like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, Aaron and Melissa Klein, and a bevy of others have felt the power and pressure of the state to violate their beliefs and their consciences in order to two what those in power perceive as an appropriate line.

What makes the states' actions all the more insidious is the fact that there is no imminent threat of "rebellion or invasion" which Lincoln pointed to when issuing his suspension of the law. There aren't even any pirates that threaten one's life, peace, and property. There are only those who assert they must quash such acts of defiance in order to fight "discrimination," as Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice declared in ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop:
Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be — I mean, we — we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others.4
To see the irony of Rice's statement, you should probably read the article "How a Cakebaker Became an Enemy of the State" over at The Federalist. It is Rice and those who think like her who are actually the ones justifying discriminative policies that jeopardize the rights of the citizenry. She sounds very much like the Lord Beckett character, declaring the curtailment of rights simply to "affect a timely halt to deteriorating conditions and to ensure the common good." But what happens when that power is targeted towards other ideas, perhaps ideas that Rice herself holds? She may find that it is much easier to put these powers into place than it is to get rid of them.


1. Ewers, Justin. "Revoking Civil Liberties: Lincoln's Constitutional Dilemma." U.S.News & World Report. U.S.News & World Report. LP, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
2. Ewers, Justin. 2009.
3. Ewers, Justin. 2009.
4. Harsanyi, David. "How A Cakemaker Became An Enemy Of The State." The Federalist. The Federalist, 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Morality: Answering "What Makes You Think You Know Better?"

When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling on Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, they tacitly approved the actions of the state of Washington, who is forcing pharmacy owners to sell abortifacient drugs against their religious beliefs. In that case, the Storman family would not stock two drugs that would cause abortion either days after or weeks after conception in their general stores, which included pharmacies because they held life begins at conception.1 However, Washington state passed laws specifically targeting religious pharmacy owners, forcing them to sell the drugs according to a 2012 Federal court ruling.2

The Stormans' case has its critics. Someone recently commented on an article I wrote concerning the case. She felt that the choice of the pharmacy to not stock the drugs was what was limiting freedom:
How is it that you see it as ok for a pharmacist to second guess a prescription ordered by a doctor? The pharmacist is not the one treating the patient, he has not evaluated the patient and likely has no knowledge of other conditions the patient may have. If the pharmacist has a problem with a d[r]ug a doctor prescribes he should discuss it with the doctor, just as he does when he catches a potentially dangerous drug interaction that the doctor may have missed. It seems highly unprofessional to just refuse to fill the prescription.
I simply replied that her description of the situation was euphemistic. I noted the drugs weren't simply a "prescription ordered by a doctor." They were designed for a very specific purpose: to cause an abortion. I also noted that a prescription is not sacrosanct. I would have a problem selling drugs designed for the purpose of euthanasia, which is also wrong. She challenged my objection, stating:
When a person, in consultation with their doctor, decides that ending their own life or terminating a pregnancy is the best course of action for their unique situation, what make you think that you know better?
There are two problems with such a question. First, it seems to assume that ethics are only situational and closed to only those who know the intimate details of the situation. But that isn't true at all. Imagine if I were to say "If a person in consultation with their doctor decides that killing their two year old is the best course of action for their unique situation, what makes you think that you know better?" Such a question would rightly be considered absurd. In such a circumstance it isn't necessary we know all the details; killing an innocent human being is wrong full stop. Unique circumstances don't change that.

Who Gets to Decide What's Moral?

But this isn't even the main problem in the Stormans' case. I get that my interlocutor holds a different points of view on abortion. At issue in the Stormans' case is the right of individuals to freely follow their consciences and their religious beliefs. By forcing them to sell drugs they see as immorally ending a life, the state deems its own interpretation of morality more valid than that of its constituents. This is wrong. It is well within one's rights to not engage in commerce when it violates one's conscience on clear grounds.

I can offer a real world example to make my point. Capital punishment has been authorized in 31 states with lethal injection being the primary way the sentence is carried as the Supreme Court declared a three-drug cocktail as being legally acceptable.3 However, many activists both here and across Europe object to any form of capital punishment. Pressure from several European countries has led drug manufacturer Pfizer to not allow its drugs to be used in lethal injections.4

These are almost parallel situations. According to the logic of the 9th Circuit ruling, Pfizer should be legally compelled to sell its drugs to all states for use in lethal injections. Who is Pfizer to override the will of the people who voted in capital punishment? How can any activist who is believes capital punishment is morally wrong and applied pressure to Pfizer to stop selling the drugs to correctional facilities claim that other companies must be forced to sell abortifacients to whomever walks in off the street?

Should State Fiat Overrule Conscience?

Of course, even in this instance, Stormans' has the more defensible position. While Pfizer's primary motivation for banning the purchase of its drugs for lethal injection is economic (Pfizer doesn't want to lose the significant customers of several European national health systems), the motivation for the Stormans family is based on strongly held personal conviction which could actually cause them to lose money by not making a sale.

If the Washington case is indicative of how matters on conscience are to be treated in the future, all Americans can be forced to participate in actions they deem immoral. If the state gets to decide which moral issues may be worthy for objection and which hold mandatory participation, then it isn't our consciences that matter. We become the pawns of the state; which is the very thing our founders fought against.


1. Alliance Defending Freedom. "Stormans v. Wiesman." Alliance Defending Freedom, 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
2. Harkness, Kelsey. "Alito: Value Religious Freedom? You Should Be Worried." The Daily Signal. The Heritage Foundation, 28 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
3. "States and Capital Punishment." National Conference of State Legislatures. National Conference of State Legislatures, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 28 July 2016.
4. Eckholm, Eric. "Pfizer Blocks the Use of Its Drugs in Executions." New York Times. The New York Times Company HomeSearchAccessibility Concerns? Email Us at We Would Love to Hear from You., 13 May 2016. Web. 28 July 2016.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SCOTUS Ignoring the Constitution

It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions have been released. One of the biggest decisions getting press is the finding in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, where the Court overturned a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgical centers in the state. Because this is the first Supreme Court ruling on an abortion case in nearly 20 years, it has gotten a lot of press. However, the bigger story is the decision the Court made to not hear a case.

Today, the Court's majority denied a hearing for the owners of a Washington State pharmacy who are resisting being compelled by state law to sell abortifacient drugs at their business. This is a terrifying decision, and not simply because it involves abortion. The case hung on the fact that compelling someone to engage in commerce against their convictions and religious beliefs is unconstitutional. That's what free exercise of religion means. That's why the Pilgrims left for America and it's why religious freedom was demanded as the first of the amendments guaranteed in the Constitution. To simply ignore that now is to gut the very freedom upon which our country is built.

Lest anyone think I'm exaggerating, I offer this quote from James Madison on the need for religious liberty separate from any state compulsion:
Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

2. Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves (emphasis added).1
What makes Madison's arguments even more interesting is in this instance he was arguing against compulsion from the state to subsidize a particular form of Christianity, but he anchored his arguments in the understanding that personal conviction takes precedence over the state's desire. It is the guarantee that the people have the right of conscience to live out their beliefs to the Governor of the Universe first that is inalienable. In denying the hearing, the Court 's majority is denying that any such right exists.

Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito understood the problem rejecting the case poses for religious liberty. In their dissenting opinion, they call this “an ominous sign” and conclude “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” 2

I'm concerned. I'm deeply concerned that judicial reinterpretation is erasing the very rights upon which this country was built and why it should exist. Madison thought it was a big deal, maybe our judiciary should, too.


1. Madison, James. "Amendment I (Religion): James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments." The Founder's Constitution. The University of Chicago, 1987. Web. 28 June 2016.
2. Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman. Supreme Court of the United States. 28 June 2016. Supreme Court of the United States. Supreme Court of the United States, 28 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jesus Ate with Criminals; Why Wouldn't He Bake a Cake for a Gay Person?

The radical shift in society's understanding of homosexual unions has caused a sort of whiplash in our culture. Homosexual activists see any resistance to their agenda as bigotry, yet Christians are caught between the teaching of scripture on homosexual activities and the command of Jesus to love one's enemies. Further, Jesus seemed to embrace people who were marginalized by the religious conservatives of his day. What's a Christian to do?

This tension has played out fairly visibly in the news and in the courts with Christians such as florist Barronelle Stutzman who refused to provide flowers for her longtime customer Rob Ingersoll because those arrangements were intended to celebrate Ingersoll's union with another man or photographer Elane Huguenin, who was told by the New Mexico Supreme Court her free speech rights were secondary to the state's non-discrimination laws when she turned down photographing a lesbian couple's ceremony. Aaron and Melissa Klein's story is perhaps more notable. The Kleins were ordered to pay a $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple.

Was Jesus an Enabler?

The legal bludgeoning of Christians who as a matter of conscience wish to not celebrate a ceremony that stands in direct opposition to their beliefs is alarming. It has sparked several states to try and balance the anti-discrimination laws which most believe are good things with accommodations for matters of conscience where one may disagree with the message one is being forced to send.

Even here, such moves have prompted a considerable backlash, even among Christians. I recently saw a tweet that tried to argue in just that way. Showing a picture of Florida Governor Rick Scott signing a law protecting pastors, she tweeted: "Jesus ate dinner with criminals and prostitutes and you're telling me you can't bake a cake for a gay person?"

Drury is alluding to the times in the Gospels where Jesus asks to dine with people like Zaccheus (Luke 19:18) and Levi, tax collectors who had a habit of overcharging the citizenry so they could pocket the excess. Mark tells the story: "When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?' And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners'" (Mark 2:16-17, ESV).

I think Drury is simply wrong in trying to claim this incident is a parallel. Certainly, Jesus reached out to those with whom he disagreed and he even ate with them, which would be considered an act of friendship in that culture. However, Jesus very clearly stated why he did these things. He came to call sinners to repentance. In other words, Jesus was trying to get them to change their ways.

Now, imagine a different scenario. After dinner, instead of Zaccheus telling Jesus "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much" he asks, "Jesus, since you are a carpenter by trade, I wish to hire you to build me a tax collection booth so I can continue with my chosen lifestyle. Since your services are available for public consumption, I think you should make my job collecting money from the people easier, even if you disagree with what I'm doing." That's the equivalent scenario. Does anyone believe that Jesus would acquiesce to such a demand?

Forcing one to violate conviction means forcing group-think

In the florist case above, Stutzman never refused to sell to Ingersoll because he was homosexual. He was a regular customer. Instead, she refused to draw upon her artistic talent to celebrate an event she considered to violate here convictions. To participate in a celebration is tantamount to endorsing it. The Kleins were in a similar situation. Huguenin's work included crafting a book that would evoke feelings of warmth and celebration as part of her services. It was a story that she simply didn't believe and therefore wished to refuse.

Beliefs and convictions are important. They matter as they shape who we are. If any of these folks were operating a grocery store and those couples came in to buy film or cake mix or even pre-cut flowers from the store's cart I would say they were wrong in their refusal. But that isn't the situation here. In each of these cases, the business provider would have to participate in some meaningful way in the celebration of the event. It's asking someone to participate in what they think is wrong that is the true violation here. To force someone to violate their convictions is to impose a form of group-think upon those with whom one disagrees. That isn't only wrong, but dangerous for society.

Jesus did eat with sinners, but he never made it easier for them to continue in their sins. He may have healed the woman caught in adultery, but he also commanded her to go and sin no more.

Image courtesy Stephanie Astono Salim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Undermining Morality in Medical Care

Yesterday, I wrote an article on the necessity of religious freedom to exist for freedom to exist at all. If one cannot live according to his or her values and are forced to adopt the values of another, then that person is not living in freedom. It is exactly this kind of oppression that Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the Constitution took pains to prohibit.

However, the culture of today has devalued conscience and religious freedom so much that people complain about anyone who tries to exercise their religious freedom when it comes in conflict with the desires of another. One can simply point to the recent lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union against Mercy Medical Center in Redding, CA for refusing to perform a tubal ligation on a patient during a C-section delivery. According to the Sacramento Bee, the Dignity Health, which is the group who manages the Roman Catholic hospital was simply following their policy "'not to provide sterilization services at Dignity Health's Catholic facilities,' in accordance with guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops." 1

Given that 1) Mercy Medical Center is a Catholic institution 2) the procedure is elective and in no way necessary and 3) Catholic doctrine does teach sterilization are interfering with the proper function of reproductive systems as God designed them, their denial shouldn't have been a surprise at all. One should no more expect a Roman Catholic hospital to perform sterilization surgery than to expect a Muslim restaurateur to serve alcohol or an Orthodox Jewish Deli to offer a ham and cheese sandwich. If you want that, you may have to go elsewhere.

Who Gets Priority?

The central issue in this fight is one of priority. No one is advocating legislating a ban on tubal ligation procedures. In fact, Dignity Health manages other hospitals that are non-Catholic and performs the procedure at those.  The policy of the company is simply to honor the wishes of the institution it serves. The question is does the desires of the patient take precedence over the moral values the organization wishes to practice? Whose desires take priority?

In his recent commentary on the case, Charles C. Camosy correctly noted that medical care needs to hold to a higher moral standard than, say, a fast-food restaurant:
Alarmingly, this understanding of medicine is coming under tremendous pressure from what Mark Mercurio, a professor of pediatrics and ethics at Yale University's medical school, calls "the Burger King model." Instead of medicine being treated as a profession governed by internal norms and values, it's increasingly seen as market-based, with patients as customers who come in and "Have It Their Way."

But if you take a professional view of medicine, the following question must be asked: Is intentionally interfering with someone's reproductive system (in ways which do not address some injury or disease) an act of healthcare? This is a disputed question, of course, and one's answer depends on one's particular value system. From the Catholic Church's perspective, it is not. 2
Camosy is right here. We hear complaints all the time that corporations are greedy; they shouldn't be in it only for the money but make corporate decisions in way that are morally upright, too. This is much more important for healthcare organizations where the bottom line can include pulling life support in order to save costs on a viable patient. But one cannot have it both ways. You can't demand a corporation adopt a moral framework then ask them to violate it because it conflicts with the desires of a few individuals who don't want to travel to another location. I would rather know a hospital has a strong moral stand towards the preservation of human life in both its existing and potential forms than seek treatment at an avowedly amoral institution.

Camosy concludes "When healthcare providers are forced by law to violate the values that make them who they are — because of the request of customers demanding goods and services in the free market — it signals the end of medicine as a professional practice."3 If medicine becomes a "whatever the buyer wants" business, it loses any moral compunction to do the right thing. In matters of life and death, I'm not willing to make that trade.

The ACLU, an organization claiming to uphold religious liberty, is the agency bringing the lawsuit. Clearly, this institution is more concerned about being on the left side of the political spectrum rather than the right side of conscience.


1.Buck, Claudia. "ACLU Sues Dignity Health over Redding Hospital's Refusal to Perform Contraception Surgery." The Sacramento Bee, 29 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
2.Camosy, Charles C. "Why a Catholic Hospital Shouldn't Be Obliged to Do a Tubal Ligation." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
3.Camosy, 2016.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Keeping Crosses on Public Lands (audio debate)

Within the last ten years or so groups like the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have brought lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to remove crosses from various public lands. One recent skirmish hit very close to home for me, as AU attorneys sought to remove the historic Mt. Rubidoux cross in my home town of Riverside, CA.

When the cross was threatened, I was asked by radio host Lou Desmond to appear on his show and go toe to toe with the secularist attorney seeking to sue the city of Riverside. Listen in as we discuss the historic background that roots the cross in culture and see why arguments like those made by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are inconsistent and ultimately unconvincing.

Download the mp3 file here.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Beware the Thought Police Against Religion!

Although I'm considered an early-adopter on the technology front, I still subscribe to the newspaper and read it every day at breakfast. A story in this morning's Los Angeles Times almost made me spill my cereal. The Public Health Director for the city of Pasadena, Eric Walsh, was placed on administrative leave by city officials because the officials learned of "controversial statements" Walsh had made about evolution and homosexuality online.

It seems that Walsh, who also serves as a minister in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, has some prior sermons that speak against homosexuality as a sin and evolution "the religion of Satan" that are available to watch on YouTube. That was supposedly too much for a city official to believe and the city said they needed "to assess the impact those statements might have on his ability to effectively lead the city's Public Health Department." Forget the fact that Walsh has been effective at leading the department, even providing needed services to those in the community diagnosed with AIDS.

Of course, Walsh is only the latest in an increasingly long line of people who either have or are in danger of losing their jobs because their beliefs were not considered politically correct. Mozilla Corporation fired its CEO Brendan Eich not for anything he said, but simply because he gave money to support a proposition that the majority of California voters favored—and he did so six years before the dismissal. Frank Turek's consulting contracts with both Bank of America and Cisco Systems were terminated because of his pro-natural marriage views. And of course the whole Phil Robertson fiasco had A&E networks firing then backstepping quickly as they were threatened by the Robertson family with losing their cash cow entirely.

When did the First Amendment Require an Asterisk?

This whole idea deeply concerns me. Even the NBA's actions against Donald Sterling are troubling. Lest this be taken out of context, let me say that I find Sterling's comments repugnant. Most who knew the movers and shakers in L.A. will tell you that Sterling's racism was no secret. He's a pig. But, should a pig be denied their business when his comments were made in the privacy of his own home? Should those who disagree with the politically correct view of homosexuality or evolution when their track record shows they are more than capable of executing their positions effectively? When did the First Amendment require an asterisk linked to a disclaimer?

The concept of freedom of speech has been misunderstood by people today, partly because people are ignorant of the historical roots of the concept and partly because our society has been so awash in free speech that no one knows what the alternative looks like. In the united States, our Constitutional protection of freedom of speech is an outgrowth of John Locke's philosophy. His book On Liberty makes a great argument for even why opinions that are considered wrong need to be open and accessible:
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism (emphasis added).[1]
Locke is right in this. Free speech means more than "protection against the tyranny of the magistrate." It also means keeping ideas other than the politically correct ones available without the threat of loss on wages. It means weighing the ideas and views of diverse opinions in a thoughtful manner, but always with a goal of finding truth, not silencing dissent.

Perhaps the most poignant comment came from @naughtnorris on Twitter. "Maybe Dr. Eric Walsh shouldn't preach personal beliefs on his own time. Maybe he shouldn't even have his own beliefs & he should have yours."

This is to what our culture has sunk.


1. Locke, John. On Liberty. The University of Adelaide Library.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

C.S. Lewis on the Oppression of "The Good"

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may 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. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."
C.S. Lewis "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" AMCAP Journal Vol.13 No1. 1987. 151.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Does Religious Liberty End When Business Begins?

Recently, the Los Angeles Times ran an Op-Ed piece once again denouncing the idea that privately-owned companies such as Hobby Lobby can set policy that reflects their deeply held moral convictions when that conviction is set at odds with some government mandate. Of course, the question wasn't phrased that way. David Gans wrote "Are secular, for-profit corporations free to violate the rights of their employees by claiming that the law violates their corporate religious conscience? That's the big question at the heart of the two blockbuster challenges to a key provision of Obamacare that will be heard by the Supreme Court next week."

As you can see, there's bias even in the way Gans chose to word the question. There is no violation of employees rights if one works for Hobby Lobby. Their employees are completely free to exercise any right they have, including their choice to use abortifacient drugs. They simply have to pay of that right themselves, instead of asking the company to do so.

While I hold a very firm stand on the immorality of elective abortion, that isn't the main idea I am concerned about in this article. My bigger concern is that much of the Western world has bought into the idea that religious beliefs are not anything truly important. Most people think that while individuals may feel passionately about their religious convictions, such beliefs are akin to the passion other people feel for a favorite sports team or music artist. These fan-addicts see themselves through their fandom and any criticism of their object of adoration will lead to hard feelings and harsh words.

Such thinking is ignorant in the extreme. No matter what one's religious persuasion is, one's understanding of truth and morality are shaped by one's religious views. This includes even those who would say they are "nones, " atheists, or humanists. As I've explained before, in order to make sense of the world, everyone has some kind of worldview. Thus, an atheists lack of belief in God will color his understanding of right and wrong as much as a Christian's understanding of God will color his. No one is immune to this.

The crucial respect for religious beliefs is why the pilgrims left Europe and endured suffering and pain to establish a society that would recognize that respect. It is why when the United States was founded the people demanded that the Constitution contain a statement guaranteeing the free exercise of religion without government intrusion.

The problem becomes when people trivialize those foundations of right and wrong, especially when it comes to business owners. In the article above, Gans claims "Corporations lack the basic human capacities — reason, dignity and conscience — at the core of the free exercise right. Corporations cannot pray, do not express devotion to God and do not have a religious conscience." I think Gans claims too much here. If corporations don't have religious conscience, then they have no conscience at all. There is no distinction between a religious conscience and a secular one, except for the basis of the worldview from which it is based. Therefore, if one were to take Gans' view of corporations as automatons that lack any kind of reason, dignity, and conscience, then Enron is morally equal to Tom's Shoes and we should quit pressuring manufacturers to care about pollution. A corporation is equal to the machines that it employs and nothing more.

Of course, no one would hold to such ridiculous views. We understand that behind corporations there are real people and those people don't become autonomous simply because they own a company. To cheer the principled ecological convictions of a company and then turn around and decry the principled religious convictions of another is contradictory. Both are morality based and both flow from the worldview of the company's owners. By seeking to gut Hobby Lobby's stance against paying for abortifacient drugs, we are in danger of gutting any grounding for holding companies accountable at all.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Banning Religious Books in Prison

Have you ever heard those "scare stories" of how believers will one day have most of their books banned by overreaching zealots? Normally, Christians think "well, I can see that coming down the line, when Christianity is outlawed in this country and Christians have to hide underground. Today, in countries like China, such things go on all the time, but in most Western nations we believe that we're decades away from such actions. Well, that time has arrived.

The New York Times recently reported that earlier this year the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons have banned most religious texts from all its chapel libraries. According to the Times, the chaplains were instructed to "the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources." The goal, according to BOP spokesperson Traci Billingsley is to deny access to materials that may "discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize."

Immediately, my reaction is one of amazement. Limiting access to thousands of titles of religious literature in case a title may incite terrorism or violence? I understand that the Department of Justice needs to be careful and control some of the materials that prisoners have access to. I mean, I understand books promoting governmental overthrow or how to build a bomb wouldn't be made readily available to convicted felons.

However, it seems to me that we shouldn't ban everything then create a list of approved books for access. Instead, ban the problematic titles. Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley summed it up when he said "It's swatting a fly with a sledgehammer. There's no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism."

As an apologist, I always encourage the examination of ideas. Truth has a way of holding up under scrutiny. Granted, sometimes you need a guide, but barring works that show the weaknesses within a belief system gives you a warped view of that system. Similarly, what about new titles? Why should prisoners have to wait to read the newest Lee Strobel book until some committee approves it?

Of course, the bigger issue is, if this type of screening exists today then what's down the road?

Photo courtesy and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
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