Religious Liberty Advocates Conflicted About Executive Order

donald-trump-libertyAffirming that our liberties are a gift of God that no government can rightfully take away, President Donald Trump today signed the long-awaited executive order on religious liberty.

The executive order has two main components. First, it directs government officials to consider changing regulations to allow conscience-based objections to the contraceptive mandate, which requires insurance plans to cover contraceptives and abortifacients.

Second, it instructs federal agencies to avoid penalizing tax-exempt organizations, including churches, that “speak about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Speaking to the press in the White House Rose Garden before signing the executive order, the president reiterated his belief that “for too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs.”

While there is hope that today’s executive order will be a first step to restoring religious liberty, there remain grave threats to the fundamental freedom to live according to the dictates of one’s faith and conscience.

Joseph Backholm, President of FPIW, says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the executive order, calling it “a step in the right direction.”

Backholm hopes the executive order will be used by federal agencies to “develop comprehensive rules protecting religious liberties.”

Some religious liberty advocates, including the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson, expressed their concern that the executive order fails to make substantive reforms protecting religious liberty. In a press release today, Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Ferris said the executive order amounts to “vague instructions to federal agencies [that] simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore [the] gesture.”

A draft of the executive order released in February included far greater protections for religious liberty. That draft protected the rights of those—including federal employees, religious organizations, and some businesses—who believe in traditional marriage and the traditional conception of two genders, male and female. These protections were not included in the executive order signed today.

“Our founding fathers believed that religious liberty was so fundamental that they enshrined it in the very first amendment of our great and beloved constitution,” President Trump said in the Rose Garden press conference today. “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.”

On that, Mr. President, we wholeheartedly agree.


This was originally written for Family Policy Institute of Washington.

Washington Human Trafficking Sting Highlights Importance of New State Law

WSPA recent human trafficking sting in Washington State led to the arrest of 12 men, all of whom are being accused of trying to sexually exploit children.

The charges include attempted child rape, communication with a minor for immoral purposes, and commercial sex abuse of a minor.

The sting, which was conducted in Pierce County by Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children’s Task Force, involved officers posting and responding to sexual ads online, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. The officers impersonated “preteens or parents offering their children for sex.”

Officers say they rescued two children during the latest sting. Detective Sergeant Carlos Rodriguez, who runs the task force, told the Tacoma News Tribune that suspects who unknowingly meet with undercover officers often bring along children.

The recent sting highlights the need for recently passed legislation that helps protect those who are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

In addition to experiencing inconceivable trauma, victims of sex trafficking often find themselves with criminal records after being convicted of engaging in prostitution and other crimes.

Thankfully, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation earlier this week that allows victims of sex trafficking to petition the court to vacate their convictions stemming from their time being trafficked.

The new law empowers victims of sexual exploitation to begin the arduous process of rebuilding their lives free the criminal records resulting from their time as sex slaves.

Although most Americans mistakenly assume that slavery has been eradicated in the United States and throughout most of the world, “sex trafficking in the U.S. a ‘problem of epidemic proportion,’” according to an FBI law enforcement bulletin quoted in the Washington Times.

Human trafficking victims are often prostituted or forced to participate in pornographic videos distributed online. It is believed that there exists an “inseparable link” between porn and sex slavery:

“The truth is, there is no way for [viewers of pornography] to tell if what they are watching was made illegally or if all parties are there willingly. And even if they’re there willingly, performing on camera, were they coerced or threatened into agreement? For this reason, clicking porn directly fuels the demand for sex traffickers to make money by selling video of their sex slaves to porn sites.”

Washingtonians need to be aware that human trafficking for sexual exploitation is occurring in their communities. Any progress against human trafficking in our beloved state will need to come through a concerted effort by law enforcement, legislators, and concerned citizens to prevent exploitation, punish traffickers, and protect victims.


This article was originally written for Family Policy Institute of Washington.

North Carolina Caves to Moneyed Interests, Abandons Women and Children

Carolina_DukeNorth 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 only use 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.


This article was originally written for Family Policy Institute of Washington.

New York’s War on Parents

NYAmericans have traditionally understood that parents, not the state, have been delegated the responsibility to raise their children. But government officials in the Big Apple state are not afraid of running roughshod over parental rights, especially when it comes to a parent’s decisions about their children’s education.

Last week, the story of Kiarre Harris gained national attention. Harris, a single mother, felt her two children weren’t experiencing success in the Buffalo Public Schools they attended. Like many parents concerned about their children’s education, she decided to exercise her right to homeschool.

Harris filed paperwork to unenroll her children from public school, complying with the notoriously burdensome rules governing homeschooling families in New York. Working with a homeschool coordinator, Harris successfully completed the process on December 7, 2016.

A week after obtaining confirmation that she had successfully withdrawn her kids from public school, Harris received a phone call from a Child Protective Services representative, demanding to know why her children had been absent from school. She informed the CPS official that her children were now being homeschooled and offered to furnish copies of the paperwork that had been filed with the school district.

Harris thought the issue had been resolved – that is, until one month later, when CPS officials and police came to her home with a court order to remove her children, accusing her of “educational neglect.” When she refused to comply, police arrested her for obstruction. She was jailed and has been unable to see her children, who are now in foster care, for weeks.

Harris blames Buffalo Public Schools for not properly processing the paperwork unenrolling her children.

Buffalo Public Schools denies Harris’ claim. The district alleges that Harris had an encounter with CPS before making the decision to homeschool her kids. Their statement also implies that Harris did not have full custody of her kids, which is a requirement for parents making the decision to homeschool, but Harris contends that she does in fact have full legal custody.

“As we learn more, we realize [what has happened to Harris and her children] is happening a lot more than we realized,” said Samuel L. Radford, president of the District Parents Coordinating Council.

Unfortunately, Radford’s analysis seems to be right. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, New York has earned a reputation for “their systematic mistreatment of homeschooling families.”

HSLDA is a non-profit advocacy organization that provides homeschooling families with legal services. It is suing New York City on behalf of Tanya Acevedo, a homeschooling mom. Like Harris, Acevedo was accused of “educational neglect” and was subjected to an invasive CPS investigation after New York City failed to properly process her paperwork withdrawing her son from his public school.

Jim Mason, HSLDA’s Vice President of Litigation, worked with Tanya as she battled CPS and New York City to exercise her right to homeschool her child. He published the following statement on December 5, 2016:

“After Tanya [Acevedo’s] situation was resolved, I asked other NYC homeschooling families for their stories. What I found appalled me.

“Family after family have found themselves in legal limbo because [New York City’s Central Office of Homeschooling] simply cannot or will not follow the timelines in the regulation. More than one homeschooling family told me they had been turned over to CPS because of the office’s delayed handling of the homeschooling paperwork.

“The injustice against homeschooling families in New York City can no longer be tolerated. On December 5, HSLDA filed a civil rights lawsuit against New York City public schools over their systematic mistreatment of homeschooling families. We are asking for money damages and for a court to order the New York City bureaucracy to simply follow New York’s homeschooling regulation.”

Harris and Acevedo’s regrettable experiences shed light on the difficulties homeschooling families face. Despite the Supreme Court’s recognition that parents have a fundamental right to “establish a home and bring up children” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 1923), some elitist bureaucrats feel they can make better decisions than parents about what is best for children .

The family is society’s first and most important institution, and the parent-child relationship is sacrosanct. Parents are ultimately responsible for the education and well-being of their children. As long as parents comply with reasonable expectations, government shouldn’t interfere with this sacred relationship unless the child’s health or safety is at risk.

At present, Harris’ kids are still in foster care. New York officials should wise up, realize they aren’t the parents, and stop violating the rights of those who are.


This article was originally written for Family Policy Institute of Washington.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Betsy DeVos and School Choice

220px-school-education-learning-1750587-hThe liberal media pounced on Betsy DeVos after her confirmation hearing last week, alleging that Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education is a radical Christian who supports “dismantling” public schools.

I teach at one of those private, for-profit, Christian schools that Democrats and their allies in the media are vilifying as one of the greatest threats to our nation’s youth and education system.

Although those opposed to DeVos’ nomination would like to convince you that private and charter schools are designed to serve only affluent whites, in reality, my school’s student body is majority-minority. Many of these kids come from broken homes on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

This isn’t as rare as the media would lead you to believe. Scholarships and voucher systems, whether privately or publicly funded, allow children to succeed in schools their families would otherwise have been unable to afford. In fact, empirical evidence overwhelmingly indicates that voucher programs improve racial integration in schools.

Many of my students were unable to achieve their full potential in their neighborhood public schools. Their parents were growing frustrated with what their children’s schools were teaching and were growing worried about the culture of drugs, promiscuity, and insubordination.

In my experience, low-income and minority families who are given the opportunity to attend schools like the one where I teach are so thankful their kids are able to receive a quality education in a safe and edifying environment.

Some of my students have shared with me their experiences attending local public schools. One of my black students carried a gun with him to school as an early teenager to keep himself safe from gang activity. Drug dogs sweep the halls of local public high schools, which also sometimes use metal detectors to check students for weapons.

Apart from concerns about their children’s safety, many families also feel uneasy about the content of their children’s education. In Washington State, for example, schools are now teaching elementary school children that they can choose their gender. Sexual education curricula teach students to use methods of birth control many parents find morally objectionable. And some teachers, schools, and educational standards distort history and science to promote their pet political agendas.

Many of the most vocal critics of DeVos and the educational philosophy she represents contend that the very existence of private schools with different educational philosophies threatens public schools and our social order. These critics oppose any system of school choice that allows parents to choose the school they want to educate their children.

Contrary to the baseless claims of her critics, Betsy DeVos has never supported “dismantling” the public school system. Instead, she is simply working to ensure that those low- and middle-income families who find their local public schools inadequate can have the same opportunities as wealthier families.

Providing more alternatives to public schools wouldn’t necessarily cause an exodus of children from public to private schools, nor would it require that public schools be “dismantled.”

If, in fact, most public schools offer an education superior to that of comparable private schools, families will decide to leave their kids in the public school to which they’ve been assigned. On the other hand, families who worry about their son or daughter attending public school would be able to move him or her to a school that better meets their needs and reflects their values.

No school or educational philosophy is perfect, and a one-size-fits-all system doesn’t really fit all families and students. That’s why choice is so necessary and important.

I’m especially thankful schools like mine exist to provide families an alternative to unsafe, failing schools that teach an educational philosophy antithetical to traditional Judeo-Christian values. Voucher programs like those supported by Betsy DeVos enable families to pursue whatever means of education works best for their children – and that’s something we should all celebrate.


This op-ed was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

Gig Harbor Caves to Radical Atheist Group, Removes Nativity Scene

f08d509c68b0858e5bae8ac08004cd45The overwhelming majority of American adults (72%) believe that nativity scenes should be allowed on government property, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. But that doesn’t stop atheist organizations from bullying governments into secularizing Christmas and fully untethering the national holiday from its religious origins.

Gig Harbor, WA, is the latest target of such attacks. The city recently decided not to allow a privately owned nativity display at one of its parks after receiving a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The letter threatened legal action if the city refused to comply with its demands to remove the display, which is usually erected at Skansie Brothers Park.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is a radical atheist and anti-Christian organization best known for targeting prayer at school graduation ceremonies and military events. It has also threatened legal action against other cities over nativity scene displays.

“We don’t think religion or irreligion should be on public property,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF’s founder and president, said to the Tacoma News Tribune.

While some modern court decisions have reinterpreted the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as prohibiting governmental encouragement of religion, this interpretation is faulty and contrary to the intent of the Establishment Clause’s framers.

In his Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story (a Madison nominee) wrote that the original intent of the First Amendment appropriately allowed for the encouragement of Christianity:

“Probably at the time of the adoption of the [U.S.] constitution, and of the [First] amendment to it… the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship.”

However, Gig Harbor’s nativity scene still meets the Court’s arbitrarily high modern standards for public religious displays. Since the nativity scene is privately owned, and because the city would presumably allow other private citizens’ holiday displays to be exhibited at its parks, it fulfills the Supreme Court’s test and thus qualifies as a legal display.

Modern case law affirms that cities may display nativity scenes provided that they respect these general rules:

  • Privately owned religious displays, including nativity scenes, can be displayed in public forums so long as the city also allows displays from other groups and individuals. (Pinette, 1995).
  • City-owned religious displays like crèches and nativity displays are permitted since they depict an historical religious event, long celebrated in the Western world and acknowledged by all three branches of government (Pleasant Grove v. Summum, 2009; Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984; Van Orden v. Perry, 2005).
  • City-owned nativity scenes can be displayed so long as the religious displays are accompanied by secular symbols. If the nativity scene is city-owned, the city can still reject the requests of private organizations to erect alternative displays. Secular symbols include candy canes, portrayals of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, etc. (FFRF v. City of Warren, 2013).

Moreover, Gig Harbor cannot rest upon the excuse that it made the decision to avoid costly litigation. Religious liberty organizations like Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, the ACLJ, and the Thomas More Society have all offered to provide pro-bono legal support to cities and states in similar situations.

It is lamentable that Gig Harbor yielded to FFRF’s toothless legal threats and meritless legal arguments. The Constitution protects the right of private individuals and local governments to proclaim our shared Judeo-Christian national heritage by displaying nativity scenes in public forums.

We shouldn’t surrender to the radicals who say otherwise and misrepresent the First Amendment in their efforts to eradicate the message of one of our most treasured national holidays.


Liberty Counsel and the ACLJ have both published helpful memoranda explaining the case law applicable to public nativity scenes and other forms of religious expression during the Christmas season.


This article was originally published by the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

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.


This article was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.