Public School Employee Threatened With Discipline After Offering to Pray for Coworkers

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Private expression of religious faith is under attack in public schools.

Toni Richardson, who works with special needs children at a Maine high school, was approached by school officials for allegedly violating the First Amendment and the “separation of church and state.”

What misdeeds had she committed? She had told a Christian coworker that she was praying for him or her and used phrases including “That’s such a blessing.”

After learning of these supposedly grave violations, school officials told Richardson that telling other teachers “‘I will pray for you’, and ‘you were in my prayers’ is not acceptable—even if that other person attends the same church as you.” She was informed that continuing to “use phrases that integrate private and public beliefs when in public schools” would result in “discipline or dismissal in the future.”

Thankfully, our friends at First Liberty accepted Richardson’s case and filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on her behalf. School officials have since backed off their original claim that Richardson must give up her First Amendment right to free religious expression when she enters school each morning. In an updated memo, they now affirm that “comments such as ‘God Bless You’ or ‘I am praying for you’ are permissible when made to co-workers outside of the hearing of students.”

The Constitution protects a person’s right to express their faith. Public school teachers shouldn’t be forced to pretend as if they aren’t Christians at their workplace. Unfortunately, more and more Christians are finding themselves in the crosshairs of school officials who are armed with a dangerous misinterpretation of the First Amendment and ignorance of the true meaning of “separation of church and state.”

The founding fathers who framed the U.S. Constitution believed that our nation’s schools should teach the Bible and Christian morality. Prayer and Bible classes were once common in public schools. Yet our school system, aided by the Supreme Court, has strayed from this founding conviction.

We’ve not only forgotten the central importance of teaching the Bible and Christian morality to the next generation so that they may faithfully fulfill their obligations as free citizens, but we’ve also begun targeting Christians within the public school system.

Fortunately, Richardson is no longer at risk of losing her job for showing Christian love and care to her coworkers, a privilege many other Christians in public schools currently lack.


This article was originally written for the Indiana Family Institute.


 

Would the Johnson Amendment Have Stopped the War for Independence and the Abolitionist Movement?

250px-First_Baptist_Meetinghouse,_Providence,_RIHad the Johnson Amendment been in effect prior to 1954, the American War for Independence and the abolitionist movement may have never happened.

The Johnson Amendment to the federal tax code prohibits nonprofit, tax-exempt entities from participating in, or intervening in, “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” This prohibition includes “the publishing or distributing of statements” on behalf of candidates, legislation, or political parties.

The amendment was originally proposed by Texas Senator (and future President) Lyndon B. Johnson to silence and retaliate against the nonprofit political organizations that had been created to support his primary opponent. It was passed in 1954 by a unanimous voice vote without debate.

Although Congress never intended to include churches in the prohibition, “the I.R.S. has steadfastly maintained that any speech by churches that the IRS could construe as supporting or opposing candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Johnson Amendment has had a chilling effect on American churches. Radical atheist organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have mounted public relations campaigns to intimidate churches and pastors. Not only do they spread misinformation about what churches and pastors can/cannot do regarding political involvement, but they have also reported to the IRS those churches who refused to remain silent about issues relating to government.

However, American pulpits have not always been censored by the federal government. Before the enactment of the Johnson Amendment, churches and pastors used their moral authority to speak prophetically to members and the culture about political issues.

From colonial times until the twentieth century, American churches often used their trusted social position to proclaim the Bible’s truth about issues being debated in public.

For example, pastors would frequently endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office, and they shared with their congregations whether a piece of legislation or a candidate’s positions were compatible with biblical principles. Pastors also commonly preached “Election Sermons,” which were given in the audience of public officials to exhort them to govern according to God’s truth and design for society.

Recognizing that a faithful exposition of God’s Word demanded that they preach about political issues, churches and pastors spoke into the civil arena and helped shape the American political debate for centuries. Perhaps this is no more apparent than the indispensable role churches played in the War for Independence, the abolition movement, and early civil rights movements.

John Adams, himself a central figure in the independence movement and the early republic, pointed to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew as having had a “great influence in the commencement” of the American War for Independence. Like many of his contemporaries, Mayhew preached and published sermons that seemed to “revive… animosity against tyranny in church and state.”

It was in church that early Americans learned of their inalienable rights and the proper jurisdiction and role of civil government. According to Adams, the Spirit of 1776 ripened, in part, because “the pulpits thundered!”

Leading up to the Civil War, churches also played a key role in the movement to abolish slavery. Quakers, Wesleyans, American Baptists, Congregationalists, and some Methodists stridently opposed the peculiar institution and mobilized political and social efforts against it, with their churches serving as the center of the action. Churches comprised many of the stops along the “Underground Railroad,” offering their sanctuaries as hiding places for those escaping slavery.

It is no wonder that the abolition of slavery came on the heels of the Second Great Awakening, an Evangelical religious revival during the early nineteenth century that stressed the importance of a personal relationship with Christ and propelled efforts to reform society according to biblical precepts.

Imagine if the Johnson Amendment had been around during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Would American churches have assumed their role as agents of social change in the movements for independence, abolition, and civil rights if their free speech had been muzzled by the federal government?

Churches and pastors have a biblical obligation to share biblical positions on political issues with their members and their communities. Throughout this nation’s history, churches have acted as champions of justice.

Although President Trump campaigned on “totally destroying” the Johnson Amendment, his religious liberty executive order last month failed to make any substantive changes to IRS policy. The ACLU called the executive order a “faux sop to religious conservatives” and an “elaborate photo-op” that “does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process.”

It is time to stop censoring the constitutionally protected religious speech of American pulpits. Pastors who preach and uphold the entirety of the Bible should no longer have to fear the IRS. Congress should not wait any longer to begin the process of repealing the Johnson Amendment.


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


 

In Defense of Bernie Sanders

Bernie_Sanders_(I-VT)I have long opposed Bernie Sanders’ socialist, anti-constitution, and anti-family agenda. Yet I feel the need to come to the senator’s defense on the issue of religious tests.

On Wednesday, the Senate Budget Committee held its confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s recent nominee for deputy budget director. Sanders aggressively interrogated the nominee during the hearing about an article he had written after his alma mater, Wheaton College, a private Evangelical college in Illinois, forced out a professor for making curiously unorthodox doctrinal statements about Islam. Specifically, Sanders found this excerpt from Vought’s article particularly offensive:

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

Sanders asked Vought whether he believed the statement was Islamophobic, to which the nominee responded by explaining that his article was written in accordance with Wheaton College’s statement of beliefs and traditional Christian doctrine. Vought then proceeded to clarify that he, as a Christian, believes Jesus Christ is central to salvation.

Sanders, clearly offended by Vought’s religious beliefs, told the committee that he would vote against confirming the nominee.

Many on the political left and right alike were horrified that Sanders would choose not to support a presidential nominee merely because of the nominee’s religious beliefs. In an article published by The Atlantic, Emma Green accuses Sanders of creating “a religious test for Christians in office.” Writing for National Review, David French commends Bernie Sanders “to brush up on his civic education and remember that religious freedom belongs even to citizens (and nominees) he doesn’t like.”

Despite these hyperbolic claims, it’s important to realize that Bernie Sanders isn’t creating a religious test by refusing to support Vought’s nomination.

It’s true that Article VI of the Constitution bans religious tests for “any office or public trust under the United States.” It certainly would be unconstitutional for Congress to pass a law prohibiting Christians from serving in elected federal offices. Similarly, Congress could not require that all elected officials belong to a particular denomination or ascribe to certain theological beliefs.

However, Bernie Sanders isn’t advocating the enactment of laws forbidding Christians from holding office. Instead, he is simply exercising his right as a citizen and senator to withhold his support for a presidential nominee with whom he disagrees, an action that is unquestionably allowable under Article VI.

An historical anecdote may better elucidate this point. When early Americans worried that Muslims, atheists, or pagans might be elected to federal office, Justice James Iredell, a George Washington appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, assured his apprehensive countrymen that it was unlikely that the voters would ever elect candidates with religious beliefs the voters believed to be aberrant:

“But it is objected that the people of America may perhaps choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and [Muslims] may be admitted into offices. . . . But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own.”

Although the Constitution forbids the federal government from employing religious tests for federal officeholders, the people are left free to support or oppose candidates on the basis of religious beliefs.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” during this last election cycle, Republican presidential nominee Dr. Ben Carson adamantly declared that he would not agree with “putting a Muslim in charge of this nation” because Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution. Unsurprisingly, hysterical liberal journalists began accusing Carson of imposing an unconstitutional religious test.

Just like Carson has the right to oppose a Muslim presidential candidate, Sanders has the right to object to a Christian presidential nominee, even if his only reason is because he finds Christian theology reprehensible. While our Constitution bans the federal government from implementing religious tests for officials, it thankfully allows the people and their representatives to consider whether someone’s religion makes him or her unfit for the office he or she is seeking.

Our nation’s founders unquestionably believed that the people’s right to judge a candidate’s religion is essential to their function as voters. We shouldn’t argue otherwise.


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


 

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.

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.

What Would Life for Christians Look Like Under a Clinton Presidency?

hillaryclintonwikileaks_c0-120-3829-2352_s885x516During the second presidential debate, Gorbah Hamed, a Muslim woman, asked Donald Trump to address her fears about living as a Muslim in the United States following the presidential election.

This isn’t the first time the media has asked questions about what life for Muslims would look like under a Trump presidency, and rightly so. Ever since Trump infamously proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, journalists have been eagerly raising questions about whether the Republican nominee is a closeted Islamophobe, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to deny Muslims their constitutional rights.

Ironically (or not, depending on your opinions about the news media), I haven’t yet heard journalists ask an analogous question of Secretary Clinton: What would life for Christians look like under a Clinton presidency?

What reasons has Mrs. Clinton given for Christians to be so concerned about their constitutional right to live according to the precepts of their faith and the dictates of their consciences?

First, Clinton supports coercive non-discrimination statutes that trample upon the consciences of religious organizations and Christian business owners.

In remarks made to an event hosted by the militantly anti-Christian Human Rights Campaign, Clinton voicedher support for the Federal Equality Act. Critics warn that the Federal Equality Act would dismantle the essential pillars of religious liberty protections by amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

If signed by President Clinton, the Federal Equality Act could be used to compel Christian colleges to allow transgender biological males to live in female dorms. Likewise, Christian ministries should expect penalties if they refuse to employ practicing homosexuals. And Catholic adoption agencies could lose their licenses to operate if they follow their Church’s teaching by refusing to provide their services to same-sex couples. (Catholic adoption agencies have already stopped operating in both Massachusetts and Illinois because of similar state non-discrimination laws – an unfortunate development for the tens of thousands of children waiting to be adopted every year).

Mrs. Clinton also decried the Supreme Court’s ruling that allows Christian-owned companies like Hobby Lobby to refrain from providing abortifacients to employees. She called the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the business owners’ right of conscience “deeply disturbing.”

Under a Clinton administration, religious organizations and Christian business owners who don’t agree with the federal government’s revolutionary legal assaults on life, marriage, and gender should anticipate being given two options: repudiate the doctrines of your faith or expect the fist of government to squash you.

Second, consider Hillary Clinton’s comments at the 2015 Women in the World Summit regarding abortion. In her keynote address, she expressed her regret that too many women are “denied” reproductive healthcare and expressly stated that “deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

Christians find Clinton’s radical positions on abortion even more frightening when they realize that the Progressive Left, which is financing Clinton’s candidacy, supports using the federal government to force Christian doctors and hospitals to provide abortions, violating the most sacred human right protected by the First Amendment.

Third, Mrs. Clinton would nominate far-left judges who share her vision to limit the constitutional rights of Christians. The battle for religious liberty will be fought in court – and if Hillary Clinton is able to nominate judges of her choosing, that battle for religious liberty will be lost.

Christians have a lot to fear from a Clinton administration concerning their rights. Mrs. Clinton has made it clear that she’s not going to respect the constitutional protections of religious liberty, freedom of conscience, free speech, free association, and liberty of contract.

The mainstream media’s silence about Mrs. Clinton’s hostility toward the rights of Christians is revealing. Muslims are justifiably concerned about Mr. Trump rising to our nation’s highest office, and it is appropriate for the media to share those concerns with the public. So, too, are Christians justifiably concerned about Mrs. Clinton winning the election – but their concerns are being dismissed and buried by journalists with a political agenda.


This op-ed was originally published by Family Policy Institute of Washington.

After School Satan Clubs in Public Schools? Hell No. Here’s Why

tst-baph-statueDo Satanists have an absolute right to teach their anti-Christian message to elementary students in public schools?

Earlier this summer, the Satanic Temple released this incredibly creepy promotional video to advertise its new After School Satan Clubs.

Shortly thereafter, Centennial Elementary School, a public school in Mount Vernon, Washington, decided to open its doors to the Satanic Temple, and is permitting an After School Satan Club chapter to hold meetings and events for students on school grounds this school year.

The Seattle Satanic Temple is also considering starting chapters of the club in the Tacoma and Puyallup school districts.

This is not the first time the Satanic Temple, known for their elaborate stunts of political theater, has raised the ire of traditional, God-fearing Americans. They won a court challenge allowing them to place a Satanic holiday display on Florida Capitol grounds in 2014, placed another Satanic “nativity” scene on Michigan Capitol grounds the next year, and successfully goaded a Florida School District into prohibiting the distribution of Christian materials in schools by threatening to distribute Satanic coloring books to students.

The Satanic Temple’s leadership is hoping their entry into public schools will result in the termination of Christian after school clubs by spooking school administrators into preventing all religious groups from hosting voluntary clubs in schools for students.

Every school approached by the atheist organization to start an After School Satan Club also hosts a Good News Club, an interdenominational Christian after school program that many principals credit with noticeably improving behavior among students.

The Satanic Temple – which assures parents it is atheistic despite its copious use of recognizable Satanic imagery and rhetorical appeals to Satan’s rebellion against God – is claiming the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom gives it the right to start after school clubs in public schools. This is especially ironic considering that the American founders who ratified the First Amendment believed that humans beings, created in the image of God, are given religious liberty by God – the same God that the Satanic Temple denies.

Federal courts have already decided that parody religions, which lack sincerely held religious beliefs and are used to advance political agendas, are not entitled to religious protections under the First Amendment. When a “Pastafarian” member of the Flying Spaghetti Monster religion (FSMism) sued the Nebraska State Penitentiary where he was a prisoner for refusing to accommodate his religious requests, the U.S. District Court of the District of Nebraska decided,

“The Court finds that FSMism is not a “religion” within the meaning of the relevant federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence. It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education. Those are important issues, and FSMism contains a serious argument—but that does not mean that the trappings of the satire used to make that argument are entitled to protection as a ‘religion.’”

The District Court refused to give religious protections to Flying Spaghetti Monster religion, which was formed for political advocacy with the intention of promoting militant atheism and a radical reinterpretation of separation of church and state.

Similarly, the Satanic Temple is a secular advocacy group that seeks to intolerantly mock and parody traditional religions and supplant our Judeo-Christian national heritage.

The “whole purpose” of the After School Satan Clubs “seems to be driven by an animosity toward Christian clubs; hence the provocative name,” said Family Research Council’s Travis Weber.

It is evident, then, that in the words of the U.S. District Court, the Satanic Temple is “not entitled to protection as a ‘religion’” because its brand of Satanism is not a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Additionally, the framers of the Constitution would likely find it inconceivable that the First Amendment is being used to defend the inclusion of atheistic clubs, using the name of Satan, in public schools.

Joseph Story, an early Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote in his Commentaries on the Constitution,

“The real object of the [First] amendment was, not to [encourage], much less advance [Islam], or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian [denominations], and to prevent national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.”

He later wrote that,

“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.”

In fact, the Supreme Court formally declared the United States a Christian nation, legally and historically speaking, in Holy Trinity Church v. United States (1892). And nearly five decades earlier in Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844), it stated that public schools have a responsibility to teach the Bible and the Christian religion.

These court cases and the intentions of our founders suggest that the Satanic Temple cannot justify its anti-Christian After School Satan Clubs by appealing to the First Amendment.

Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty law firm, says it will provide pro-bono legal counsel to public schools that refuse the Satanic Temple’s request to start After School Satan Clubs.

“School administrators do not have to tolerate groups that disrupt the school and target other legitimate clubs,” said Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel.

Schools would be wise to recognize that they are under no legal obligation to allow After School Satanic Clubs, and concerned parents should demand no less of their local schools.

This post was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington: http://www.fpiw.org/blog/2016/08/23/satanists-look-to-move-into-washington-elementary-schools/.