Posts Tagged ‘religious liberty’

Upcoming Supreme Court Case Could Greatly Impact the Church

April 6, 2010

On April 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in one of the most important religious liberty cases in years, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Attorneys with ADF and the Christian Legal Society represent a student chapter of CLS at the UC-Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The law school recognizes a wide array of student groups, but refuses to recognize the CLS group simply because it requires its voting members and officers to share its Christian beliefs.

This case will obviously have significant ramifications for Christian student groups around the country. But what you may not realize is that it could also have significant ramifications for churches and ministry organizations.

The law school’s basic argument is that when it opens up a forum for student groups, it should have the right to ban those groups who have religious-based standards for their leaders or members (as most churches and ministries do). If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, then these types of “non-discrimination” laws will not be limited to college campuses. They could be imposed on all sorts of public forums, including public facilities where churches commonly meet. In the end, thousands of churches around the country could be left scrambling to find new homes.

It is deeply troubling that non-discrimination laws, which were initially intended to protect religious freedom, are now being used to squelch it. Please pray for our team of attorneys as they prepare for this argument, for the Supreme Court Justices as they consider the case, and for the courageous law school students who are taking a stand for their rights.

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

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Government quits trying to run Bible schools

March 23, 2010

Government shouldn’t try to tell private Christian educators how to teach Christianity.

                In a decidedly unconstitutional turn of events in April of 2009, the state of Wyoming threatened to shut down a small but well-established Bible school because the school’s Bible classes weren’t state approved.  That the First Amendment prohibits government attempts to control religious education wasn’t enough to stop the state’s actions—at least not initially.  

                The school, Frontier School of the Bible, is a purely religious non-profit technical school that was founded over 40 years ago in LaGrange, Wyoming.  The school’s curriculum is solely aimed at preparing its students for Christian ministry, and the few non-Bible classes taught at the school—like English—are provided only because they aid effective teaching and interpretation of the Bible.  The school has over 1,600 alumni, most serving as missionaries, pastors, and youth ministers throughout the world.  Frontier exists for one purpose: preparing Christian leaders to teach others about God.

                But the state of Wyoming believed that the quality of Frontier’s Christian education might not be good enough for government work, so its education department sent the school a letter last April demanding that it either become approved by the state or close its doors.  And approval by the state didn’t present an attractive choice.  One way to become state-approved would have accreditation.  But for a school that didn’t pay salaries to its faculty or staff (instead, they all have to obtain voluntary financial support, much like missionaries do) in order to keep costs low so ministry-oriented students weren’t crushed by debt at graduation, the sky-high costs of accreditation wasn’t feasible.  Plus, other similar non-accredited Bible schools that have sought accreditation report that it often requires jettisoning the purely Bible-based teaching that was the sole reason for Frontier’s existence.

                The school’s second route to state approval was even worse: getting a state license.  But this would require ceasing to discriminate based on religion both in admitting students to the school and in hiring teachers for its Bible classes.  Nothing could be more destructive to school’s Christian identity and purpose than having its Christian curriculum taught by non-Christians to non-Christians.

                Thankfully, after being challenged on the many constitutional infirmities of demand to the school, the state made the right decisions to protect religious liberty, granting Frontier an interim exemption from the state’s regulations while legislators crafted a fix to the statute.  That fix was signed into law just this month.

                But what if Wyoming hadn’t made the right decision?  It would have set the State up as in authority over the Church to determine the content of theological instruction.  And “setting standards for a religious education is a religious exercise for which the State lacks not only authority but also competence.”  HEB Ministries v. Texas Higher Educ. Coordinating Board, 235 S.W.3d 627, 643 (Tex. 2007).  That is, having a bureaucrat determine the content of a quality Christian curriculum is like having your single neighbor tell you how to raise your children: not only does he not have any right to tell you what to do, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 

Christian education is too important to be left in the hands of government.

Is it Biblical for Christians to go to Court?

March 22, 2010

At ADF, our clients – especially pastors and churches – often question whether it is biblical for Christians to sue the government to protect their constitutional rights. This question stems from passages like Romans 13:1-7, which commands us to “submit [our]selves to the governing authorities,” because those authorities are established by God. Would a lawsuit against the government violate this command?

Perhaps the best way of answering this is to consider who the “government authorities” are. Our system of government features a series of authorities at different levels (e.g. local, state, and federal) and of different types (e.g. executive, legislative, and judicial). Yet one authority in our system stands above all others: the United States Constitution. By using the judicial system to insist that government officials follow the Constitution, a church is not resisting authority. It is simply using the established system of government to appeal to a higher authority.

Apostle Paul, the author of Romans, frequently appealed to higher authorities to protect his rights. For example, he invoked his Roman citizenship and Roman law to force magistrates to personally release him from a Philippi prison after he had been beaten illegally (Acts 16:16-40).  He later invoked his Roman citizenship in Jerusalem to prevent a centurion from flogging him (Acts 22:22-29). Then he defended himself against charges in a Roman court and ultimately appealed to Caesar (Acts 24:10-25:12). Clearly, Paul had no trouble appealing to higher authorities when government officials overstepped their bounds or did not do justice.

So invoking a higher authority is not the same as resisting authority. A lawsuit is neither revolution nor rebellion. It is simply a way to insist that government officials obey a higher legal authority. And by doing so, it helps uphold the rule of law, preserves our Constitution, and ensures that we all can continue to enjoy our first liberty – religious freedom.

If you’re interested in exploring these issues in more depth, ADF attorney Travis Barham has written an excellent essay that I recommend to any Christians who are faced with the possibility of going to court to protect their constitutional rights.

Oasis of Truth: Banning Bible Study in Your Backyard

March 18, 2010

Banning Bible Study in Your Backyard


Does your neighborhood need to be protected from dangerous small-group Bible studies?

Oasis of Truth Church in Gilbert, Arizona, has seven adult members.  It met on a rotating basis in the homes of its members for a few hours of church services and a weekly Bible study.  The maximum number of people who ever attended Oasis’ meetings was 15; even then, only one car had to be parked in the street to accommodate the vehicles of the attendees.

As is painfully obvious from this description, the church’s meetings in homes were a threat to the community and had to be stopped.  And stopped they were when, just a few months after it started meeting, a Gilbert zone enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order to Oasis.  And why were the meetings stopped?  Because they were too big?  Meeting too often?  Being too loud or attracting too much traffic?  Generating irate community complaints?

Try none of the above.  Rather, the church was targeted simply because it was a church.  Nothing more.  As the Town later acknowledged in an official zoning interpretation, it didn’t matter if the meeting in question was a one-time get-together of two people for a quiet prayer time.  If the meeting was a church meeting, it was banned.

By contrast, other types of meetings—like Cub Scouts, business parties, or Monday Night Football gatherings—were all acceptable.  In fact, some day cares are specifically allowed by the zoning code to be run from homes.

Such blatant discrimination against churches is unconstitutional.  Targeting churches for disfavor simultaneously violates the Free Exercise Clause, since it unfairly limits religious liberty, and the Establishment Clause, since it prefers non-religious gatherings to religious ones.

Of course, municipalities can make some reasonable regulations on how homes are used, preventing your next door neighbor’s duplex from being turned into a shopping mall or a convention center.  But such regulations are only legitimate as long as they are focused on concerns like traffic, parking, building code safety, and the like.  Where the law instead singles out religious activities for discrimination, it leaves behind all pretense of legitimate regulation and becomes a tool to silence the church.

Fortunately, Gilbert is fixing the problem.  It sent high-ranking officials to church services to apologize and is working with the church now to protect religious liberty.  Hopefully, Gilbert’s approach to fixing the problem can be a model to other municipalities on how never to have a problem in the first place.

When Good becomes Evil

March 3, 2010

Normalizing homosexuality generally means marginalizing Christianity.

One of the most eye-opening features of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial – the trial where a few people in California are trying to redefine marriage for the entire nation to include homosexual relationships – was its near daily insistence on attacking foundational Christian moral beliefs.  On a regular basis, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Position Statement on Sexuality or the Catechism of the Catholic Church – both of which, like all orthodox Christian teaching on the subject, recognize homosexual behavior as sinful – would be pulled out and subjected to ridicule.  Worse, these Christian teachings were used as evidence that the recently-enacted California definition of marriage was irrational because it may have been based in part on religious teachings.  In other words, if you vote your faith, your vote shouldn’t count.

As disturbing as such a direct attack on religious belief is, it is also instructive.  For a long time, proponents of homosexual behavior have argued that their cause was also about “tolerance.”  But it never has been.  For them, tolerance is a one way-street, where their actions must be tolerated, but your beliefs cannot be.  Perry makes this clear: normalizing homosexual behavior requires marginalizing your religious beliefs.

It’s not just Christians who are seeing this, either.  Chai Feldblum, President Obama’s new head of the powerful EEOC, has admitted that when religious liberty and homosexual behavior conflict, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”  Hear that, pastors?  Your ministries, your churches, your sermons – they’d better get in line or get out of town.

Perry is just one of the recent examples of the attack on Christianity from homosexual activists.   Catholic Charities in both Washington, D.C. and Boston were run out of the adoption business by aggressive city officials who wanted to force them to place children with same-sex parents.  A church campground in New Jersey was punished by the state for refusing to use its property to host same-sex “commitment ceremonies.” A Christian student in a public college in California was verbally attacked by his professor for respectfully speaking out in support of traditional marriage.

Isaiah tells us that when society starts calling evil “good,” it won’t be long before it calls good “evil.”  Is. 5:20.  Things have gotten to the point where being a Christian – particularly one of those kinds of Christians who actually lives what you believe – is “evil.”