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Randall Krause filed a lawsuit against the Tulsa County Library Commission. Evidently, the Commission maintains a recycling program and, according to Krause, it constitutes an undue burden on the Free Exercise of his environmentalism. Learn what criteria the court uses to decide what constitutes a religion at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

A Federal Court in Oklahoma has ruled that despite the religious ardor of some of its adherents, Environmentalism is not a religion.

Randall Krause filed a lawsuit against the Tulsa County Library Commission. Evidently, the Commission maintains a recycling program and according to Krause, it constitutes an undue burden on the free exercise of his “Environmentalism”.

Krause alleged that the Commission had placed “fake recycling bins” throughout town, victimizing him and other adherents to Environmentalism.

Well, the judge didn’t buy the argument.

Environmentalism is not a religion

Image: Chris White

Dismissing the case, the court explained that Krauss had failed to establish that his Environmentalism was anything more than personal preferences and secular believes without foundation in any religion. And, even if it were, the “fake recycling bins” placed around town did not amount to a course of law meriting protection by the First Amendment.

Determining what is religion is difficult for any court. But, as the Supreme Court has explained, religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.

But the court does require beliefs to be rooted in a religion in order to trigger protection under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

For now, at least in Tulsa, Environmentalism does not constitute a valid religion. But it leaves me with one nagging question: Is a “fake recycling bin” just a trash can? 

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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The Supreme Court declared that the Bible was “worthy of study” and could be “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education” in the public schools.

Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

Recently, we discussed the case of Abington vs. Schempp. I explained that the Supreme Court declared that the Bible was “worthy of study” and could be “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education in the public schools.”

But, as I said at the conclusion, exactly how that happens is a more difficult question.

Several groups, including the American Jewish Congress, National Bible Association, and the People for the American Way have agreed that the Constitution permits schools to teach about religion and the Bible without resorting to indoctrination in violation of the First Amendment.

How Public Schools Can Teach the Bible

Image: ABBY CARR

Here’s how:

  • The schools approach to religion should be academic not devotional.
  • The school should strive for student awareness of religions, but should not press for student acceptance of any religion.
  • The school may sponsor study about religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion.
  • The school may expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose, discourage, or encourage any particular view.
  • The school may educate about all religions, but may not promote or denigrate any religion.
  • The school may inform the student about various believes, but should not seek to conform him or her to any particular belief.

While it may be difficult to teach a course on the Bible at a public school, it is neither impossible nor illegal.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

 First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Many employers provide religious accommodation for their employees but are they required to? Learn about Linda Tisby’s case at FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.

Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

Linda Tisby worked as a corrections officer for the Camden County Correctional Facility in New Jersey. In 2015, she became a member of the Sunni Muslim faith. When she showed up to work as a Muslim for the first time, she was wearing a khimar – a religious head covering. Her supervisor said that that did not comply with the uniform policy; but Tisby refused to remove it.

Are Employers Required to Accommodate the Religion of Their Employees?

Image: Joey McGuire

She was sent home with disciplinary charges and eventually, she sought a religious accommodation from the department. But the warden refused, stating that the allowing of such a head covering would be an undue hardship for the facility. She refused to comply with the uniform policy and she was fired.

The warden maintained throughout the litigation that followed that the uniform policy applied uniformly and that no exceptions had been made to allow religious head coverings. The court recognized the sincerity of Tisby’s believes but agreed with the warden, finding that his concerns for safety and security were legitimate, nondiscriminatory, and any accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the correctional facility.

Employers are not required to sacrifice the safety and security of their employees to accommodate the religion of their employees. But, it is good to know that the law provides such deference to an employee – that an employer has to show that they did everything they could to accommodate an employee’s religion.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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A court found that a Catholic Diocese in Indiana had the right to make staffing decisions according to their religious mission.

Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

Mary Beth Ginalski was hired by the Catholic Diocese of Gary, Indiana to be the Principal for Andrean High School. Her contract specifically noted that the job of Principal of a Catholic High School is a ministry. It went on to explain that such a ministry is witnessed not only in the manner in which the Principal performs his or her tasks, but also in the example the Principal sets for the teachers and students both in and outside the school and parish. Further, the contract noted that the Principal coordinates faith-building opportunities within the school community, oversees the Theology Program, and ensures that the Catholic Faith is integrated with the learning process in coordination with the Campus Chaplain.

Diocese in Indiana had the right to make staffing decisions

Image: John J. Watkins

So, when Ginalski sued the Diocese over her termination, the question became whether the Diocese could choose its ministerial leader and, therefore, be exempt from employment laws that would have otherwise presented a legal burden to the school.

The Court found Ginalski to meet the definition of “minister” and that the Diocese was entitled to use the same ministerial exception that permits churches and other religious organizations to ensure its ministry is non-hindered by those it believes may not fully advance its ministry objectives.

Religious Freedom means that religious ministries should be able to direct their religious mission, which includes staffing decisions, without interference by the State.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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The Liberty Christian Center in Watertown, New York, asked for permission to use the Watertown High School Cafeteria for its religious services. The local school board denied the application and use of school property.

Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

The Liberty Christian Center in Watertown, New York asked for permission to use the Watertown High School Cafeteria for its religious services. As their application stated, the worship services to be conducted in the public school cafeteria would include activities of: music, religious instruction, and Christian testimony.

Can Religious Organizations Use Public School Grounds for Religious Activities?

Image: Watertown School District

But, the local school board denied the application, stating that since New York law did not specifically authorize religious organizations to utilize public school buildings, the application has to be denied.

The court reviewed previous uses of the public school cafeteria. It found that, among other uses, the school had been used to host a local talent night, which featured religious music, religious instruction, and even Christian testimony.

Since both the worship service and the local talent show shared a religious purpose and context, it was unlawful for the school to permit the talent show but deny the use of the facility for a worship service.

Some decry the use of a public school by a religious organization as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That is simply not true. The First Amendment demands that the school board be neutral toward religion, letting the secular organization use school property but denying a religious organization the same use is not neutrality, it’s hostility.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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The wait for the Supreme Court nomination is now over. His qualifications for the office are unquestionable. But what does his record reflect on the issue of religious liberty?

Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

The long wait to see what kind of a judge President Trump would appoint to the nation’s Highest Court is now over. Just ahead looms the confirmation battle for Judge Neil Gorsuch. His qualifications for the office are unquestionable. With degrees from Columbia, Harvard and Oxford, there can be little doubt about his intelligence.

Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch's Record on Religious Freedom

Image: Alex Wong

But what about his record as a judge?

Well, at First Liberty Institute, we have one criterion for evaluating judicial candidates: Does his record reflect a history of upholding the Constitution, especially as to religious liberty?

Well, I’m happy to say that it does!

Judge Gorsuch wrote in joined opinions supporting the rights of ministries like Little Sisters of the Poor and closely held family businesses like Hobby Lobby to be free from the burden imposed by the Health and Human Services’ abortion pill mandate.

He wrote or signed opinions upholding the Constitutionality of the public display of Ten Commandments monuments and even wrote an opinion defending the existence of cross-shaped memorials for fallen state troopers.

Whether Neil Gorsuch will adequately fill the shoes of the late Justice Scalia is impossible to fully predict. What we can say with some confidence is that Judge Gorsuch has a history of defending the First Amendment from the bench.

We hope that Justice Gorsuch which will live up to the American people’s expectation and strongly protect our Constitutional freedoms.

 

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

CAPITALISM, CONSUMERISM, AND THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN SPECTACLE OF SUPER BOWL LI

Every society and culture has its own version of the spectacle, and the quintessential American spectacle is the Super Bowl. Super Bowl LI was played last night in Houston, Texas. In over time, the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons adding some additional drama to the entire event. Keep in mind the fact that they were expected to be 100 million viewers of Super Bowl LI and while you’re thinking about that, also remember that the NFL has lost a considerable amount of viewership just in the last year. Going into the Super Bowl, it was estimated that on cable and satellite networks the NFL has lost about eight percent of its viewership during the regular season. But wipe that away in terms of the enormous interest in the Super Bowl.

But keep in mind that I began by describing it as a spectacle. Of course, at the center of the spectacle is an athletic contest, but that’s only a part of the entire event. The Super Bowl itself is a mixture of just about everything that is American in terms of popular culture. It involves civic religion, it involves patriotism, it involves Hollywood, music and entertainment, and of course it involves the dynamism of having so many people talking about watching and considering the very same event at the same time. That’s what makes the spectacle a spectacle. In sociological or anthropological terms, a spectacle is particularly interesting because it tells outsiders what the society actually considers to be very important. So you do a little bit of analysis of that and it turns out that the Super Bowl is a very revealing event. It’s revealing in terms of the character of American football, very different than the sports that would be celebrated in the spectacle of many other cultures. And of course, it’s also a massive exhibition of capitalism. Keep in mind that those tickets were very expensive last night to the Super Bowl, and we’re talking about over $1 billion of commercial impact just in the matter of a few hours.

But there’s something else that lurks behind this, and that is the fact that it is a battle for your eyes. The Super Bowl is a primary interest to advertisers and the advertising last night in terms of the budget reflects that interest. And this is the so-called battle for the eyeballs, that is people who are trying to sell us things know they can get our attention during spectacles. And so if you wanted to reach 100 million Americans last night in terms of live television or broadcast, the Super Bowl is where you went, and you paid for it dearly. It was estimated that the ads last night cost $5 million for 30 seconds of at least an attempt to reach your eyeballs and perhaps through your eyeballs, your pocketbook.

The cover story in USA Today informs us that the $5 million price tag for that 30-second commercial is more than double the cost in 2007 and 16 times the inflation-adjusted price of a commercial during the first Super Bowl in 1967. Now behind that rapid escalation in the cost of commercial time is the fact that we are looking at a rather radical expansion of the influence of the NFL during those 51 years. But there’s something else, and that is that advertisers have become far more adept at knowing how they can use certain symbols, certain narratives, certain techniques in terms of advertising for maximum effect. Now let’s just consider the fact that those advertisers wouldn’t be spending $5 million for 30 seconds of air time if they did not believe it would be profitable.

But Christians reflecting on this need to keep in mind that it’s not just the Super Bowl that represents the battle for our eyes in today’s digital and social media context with streaming video and just about everything accessible right on the iPhone, not to mention the television. Well, just about every moment of our time, at least our conscious time, could be involved in that battle for our attention.

Inside the stadium was pretty expensive too. Premium ticket prices offered by the NFL were about $13,000 each. For that you get a club-level seat and what was defined as food, no more explanation there, that’s up from $3000 in 2015. If you worked in one luxury suites and you wanted a soft drink, that was $11 a pop. It’s almost surely true that the vast majority of viewers of Super Bowl LI represent the American middle class. But when it comes to the escalating cost of this kind of event, it’s true that even though Americans were looking at the stadium, most middle-class Americans surely weren’t in it.

PRES. TRUMP’S “LEADERSHIP BY THUNDERBOLT” AND AMERICA’S EXCEPTIONAL CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER

Next, there were many who feared or at least expected that Super Bowl LI might be primarily remembered for its political context. There were fears that the entertainment might be politicized or that political issues would intrude upon what was at least billed as a sporting event. But last night that really didn’t happen. That’s not to say politics did not dominate the entire weekend, because politics surely did.

The big political news of the weekend was that a federal district court judge in Washington State put on hold the Trump administration’s policy by Executive Order on immigration and refugees. As of Saturday night, the Trump administration indicated that it would appeal the District Court Judge’s decision to a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is seated in San Francisco. Over the next 48 hours, both sides in terms of the controversy will be able to make their case in writing and then a three-judge panel of the appellate court will make an initial finding. That’s going to set up additional litigation regardless of how the panel rules, because it is now fully expected that either side in this will continue the appeals likely all the way to the US Supreme Court. This after another federal district court judge on the east coast had originally put a hold on the order only to remove that hold, and it also sets up a conflict between the Trump administration and the 9th US circuit Court of Appeals, by any measure the most liberal appellate court in the United States.

The order handed down by the District Court Judge in Washington State was very similar to the action taken just days ago by the then acting Attorney General of the United States. In both cases, the individuals struck down the entire executive order rather than separating out the issues that were believed to be unconstitutional. This heightens the conflict between the executive and judicial branches of our government and is not healthy for our constitutional system. But in this case, the conflict also escalated given the fact that the President of the United States responded to the Judge’s decision on Twitter, something that’s never happened in our nation’s history. And it has generally been the case that presidents and other political leaders have not criticized sitting judges who are ruling on cases in which they are a party. We are clearly in new political ground, if not constitutional ground in the United States, and the drama of the last several days is almost sure to continue for days to come, perhaps weeks or months.

Last night President Trump also got into considerable controversy because of statements he made in an interview with Fox News in which he appeared to make a moral equivalence between the United States of America and the current Russian government. Even before this particular controversy, one presidential historian, reflecting on the first several days of the Trump administration, said that the new President was operating by an entirely innovative theory of the American presidency, what this historian described as “leadership by thunderbolt.”

There are clearly huge issues of worldview significance here, but it’s likely that most of those will be hidden from view in terms of the action of this three-judge panel until it hands down at least an initial ruling, something we can read in terms of understanding how the court is thinking. Then of course, there will be the response of the executive branch and the Trump Administration.

But this entire process actually throws into sharp relief the distinction between the United States constitutional form of government and the absolute autocracy of the Russian government. Americans, whether they agree with or oppose President Trump’s executive order on immigration policy and refugees, understand that we are a government of laws and the rule of law is paramount. Eventually, Americans have shown that they will understand these issues and respect the Constitution’s role in adjudicating such issues if they are able to see credible arguments made and if they understand that all parties understand the importance of the rule of law, and that includes the courts giving due deference to the executive branch in terms of our constitutional system unless there is a clear breach of that executive authority in terms of its constitutional limits.

The very fact that American media are very free to take whatever position they want in terms of this kind of issue and to speak openly of every branch of government, particularly as they criticize the President of the United States, sets off, once again, America from what you see in Russia where the state dominates the media and where there is no such criticism of the President of the Russian Federation.

But even as all Americans, regardless of ideology or partisan identification, are likely at some point to be frustrated with the separation of powers because it slows down the mechanisms of American government, we need to keep in mind that that separation of powers is itself a testimony to the fact that the framers of the American constitutional order were shaped by a Christian worldview and thus warned by the biblical doctrine of sin, lest there be an accumulation of untoward power in one branch of government that could turn into effective tyranny. As Lord Acton said years ago from Great Britain, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And there is no greater evidence of that in terms of our contemporary world than in dictatorships, totalitarian regimes, and autocracies, including the autocracy of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

POLITICS BACK IN THE PULPIT? UNDERSTANDING THE CONTROVERSIAL JOHNSON AMENDMENT

But next, also in terms of the expanding political conversation in recent days in the United States and the aftermath of President Trump’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast, we now face a most interesting and very important conversation about religious liberty on two different fronts. The first is the President’s statement that he would be at war with the so-called Johnson Amendment. Now this requires some very close attention, and it requires more than what we got from the headlines of America’s major newspapers. Last week on Friday the headline in the New York Times was this,

“President pledges to let politics returned to pulpits.”

Mark Landler and Laurie Goodstein reporting for the Times said,

“President Trump vowed on Thursday to overturn a law restricting political speech by tax-exempt churches, a potentially huge victory for the religious right and a gesture to evangelicals, a voting bloc he attracted to his campaign by promising to free up their pulpits.”

They go on to say,

“Mr. Trump said his administration would ‘totally destroy’ the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that prohibits churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.”

The President said,

“Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

As you might expect, there’s quite a tale behind those words and behind the controversy. First of all, what in the world is the Johnson Amendment? Well, it is named for then Senator and later President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. In 1954, Johnson initiated an amendment to the IRS Reauthorization Act of that year, and he inserted his amendment in such a way that almost no one understood what it was really seeking to accomplish. In reality, when Johnson had been running for reelection, he was absolutely vexed by the fact that a religious radio station had dared to oppose his reelection. In retribution, Senator Johnson inserted this amendment that would make it illegal for a tax-exempt nonprofit organization—and that would include churches—to formally endorse or to formally oppose an electoral candidate.

Out of historical curiosity, I went back to the Congressional Record for July 2, 1954 to read the exact words that were exchanged when Senator Johnson, unexpected in terms of his colleagues, initiated the amendment in terms of the Reauthorization Act. According to the Congressional Record, Senator Johnson said,

“Mr. President, I have an amendment at the desk which I would like to have stated.”

The presiding officer of the Senate said,

“The Secretary will state the amendment.”

The Chief Clerk then read the amendment. It said that it would strike out and add certain language, and then Mr. Johnson said,

Capitalism, Consumerism, the Super Bowl, and Religious Freedom

Image: David Fiorazo

“Mr. President,” speaking of the President of the Senate, “this amendment seeks to extend the provisions of Section 501 of the House Bill denying tax-exempt status to not only those people who influence legislation, but also those who intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for any public office.”

He went on to say,

“I have discussed the matter with the Chairman of the committee, the ranking minority member of the committee, and several other members of the committee and I understand that the amendment is acceptable to them.”

Well, within the next few seconds the Senate voted the amendment into United States law. That’s all there was to it. This is a reminder to us that sometimes innocuous sounding amendments to federal legislation can have far-reaching consequences. But this sets up an even larger worldview issue. Would it be right for the federal government to have a law that would state that it would violate the nonprofit, that is tax-exempt status of churches if their pastors or if the church has otherwise endorsed a specific candidate or opposed a specific candidate? Here’s the problem. This means that someone in the government is going to have to make several decisions, all of which are very dangerous. The first is, what is a church? The second is, what would be acceptable speech? It comes down to this: we would have some tax authority on behalf of the government acting to decide when a pastor, under church authority, exceeded this legal limit.

Now the argument on the other side is that if this kind of political speech is allowed it would open the door to tax-exempt organizations, including churches, using those resources in order to further political candidacies by either endorsing a candidate or explicitly opposing a candidate.

In this case I believe the religious liberty issues are paramount. That is, I do not believe it strengthens American democracy nor is it consistent with religious liberty to have a bureaucrat for the Internal Revenue Service deciding if and to what extent a pastor exceeds acceptable legal limitations upon speech. Just the very sound of that should be enough to alarm anyone authentically committed to religious liberty.

So on religious liberty grounds, I am very glad that President Trump indicated that he is opposed to the Johnson Amendment and that he intends to use his presidential leadership in order to have the amendment nullified. That would require congressional action. Defenders of the amendment will point out that over the course of the last 30 years, only one church has actually lost its tax exempt status, according to the provisions of the Johnson Amendment, and even as we are told there have been about 2,000 inquiries that have been initiated by forces complaining about pastors or churches making such political statements, only one church over the course of the last 10 years has even been audited. But that misses the point that the threat is actually the issue here the power of the government, and in this case an unelected bureaucrat of the government, to be making distinctions that are simply unconstitutional.

But Christians thinking carefully about this issue have to separate the fact that the constitutional question is different than the homiletical question, that is to say it’s different to ask if it is actually constitutional that the United States government should play such a restriction on the pulpit, it’s another thing entirely to ask if it is the rightful exercise of the pulpit of the church to make a political endorsement, either for or against a specific candidate. It should be obvious that that is not the purpose of the pulpit and any pastor who would turn his pulpit into primarily a political messaging center should be known for abandoning the gospel rather than preaching it. At the same time, pastors must have the convictional courage to address the issues of the day and from a biblical and Christian worldview perspective. And that means that given the contentious issues of what we face today, there will be those who will accuse any pastor of treading onto political territory simply because everything in this society is now politicized.

We just recently observed Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in terms of so many pulpits, and I believe that was a righteous demonstration of the responsibility of Christian pastors on the basis of the authority of the inerrant and infallible word of God to speak to what the Bible prizes so highly, and that is the sanctity and dignity of every single human life. Inescapably, there are political ramifications of that kind of preaching. Add to that the warning shot that came to all of us when pastors in Houston, Texas in recent years found their sermons subpoenaed in order that a legal authority could render judgment as to whether or not they had addressed the issue of homosexuality in a scriptural frame in a way that did or did not meet that political authority’s evaluation of whether it was constitutional or not.

One of my frustrations in looking at this controversy in recent days is that too few are separating these issues as they must be separated—that is, to separate the constitutional question from the ecclesial question, the question of the theological responsibility of the church. Here is where Christians have to understand that the problem with the Johnson Amendment is that it places the government in an authority it must not have, a threat against religious liberty which in theory, if not in practice, has a chilling effect. We also have to recognize that government as government and bureaucracies as bureaucracies will rule eccentrically and often arbitrarily on this, and political pressure is a part of that calculation. Just in terms of a footnote here, the historical reality is that African-American pulpits have very often taken political stances more overt than would be found in other evangelical churches. But there is no way that’s going to be a matter of ongoing political controversy. And that just makes the point. The point is that religious liberty should be a sufficient rationale for the government to stay out of the process of evaluating Christian pulpit speech and in particular preaching.

But Christian pastors also have to remember that our task is to preach the Word in season and out of season, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. And even though there should be no government authority policing what we preach, there should be a very strong sense of the responsibility of the Christian preacher to give primary attention to the preaching of the Word and to the preaching of the Word that is expositional and convictional. But we also have to recognize there will be political consequences in this kind of culture at this kind of moment for any kind of authentic preaching.

Finally, cutting through the fog of so much current confusion, when you look back to that headline in Friday’s edition of the New York Times, again, “President Pledges to Let Politics Return to Pulpits,” you’ve got to read far further than the headline to understand what is actually at stake. As we have seen, the issue is a good deal more complicated than that. The bottom-line issue is whether the federal government, in particular the Internal Revenue Service, should have the authority to decide when and where a pastor errs in terms of preaching. That should be a decision left up to the church, and that’s a responsibility that every church must take with absolute seriousness. I mentioned a second front, this has to do with a draft executive order from the president on issues of religious liberty relating to the LGBT revolution. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

 

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Many of the stories you hear on the First Liberty Briefing come from the cases we are working on at First Liberty Institute. Others are drawn from the body of cases that we use to ply our religious liberty trade. But, many of the stories that we tell are drawn from Undeniable, our annual survey on religious hostility in America.

Thank you for joining us for the First Liberty Briefing, an exclusive podcast where host Jeremy Dys—also First Liberty Senior Counsel—provides an insider’s look at the stories, cases, people and laws that have made America the world’s leader in protecting religious liberty.

On the occasion of our 100th episode, let me give you a peek behind the curtain of this program.

We started the First Liberty Briefing because we wanted to tell the story of Religious Liberty in America. Most of us know something about the First Amendment and others have heard about various protections in the law for our Religious Liberty, but unless you’re paying careful attention you may have missed how Religious Liberty unfolds in everyday life.

At First Liberty Institute, we protect Religious Liberty for all Americans. That is why we sample stories from each of our four areas of focus: Religious Liberty in the Church, the schools, military, and public square.

But perhaps you’ve wondered where we get all of these stories. Well, many of them come from the cases that we’re working on – real clients facing real threats. Others are drawn from the body of cases that we use to ply or Religious Liberty trade.

A Peak Behind the First Liberty Briefing

Image: Olivier Douliery

But, many of the stories that we tell are drawn from Undeniable – our annual survey on religious hostility in America. For the last several years, we’ve collected and published a sizable book cataloging the annual threats our Religious Liberty faces.

So, whether you read Undeniable or listen to The First Liberty Briefing, thanks for partnering with First Liberty to preserve and defend Religious Liberty.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS THINK BIBLICALLY ABOUT PRESIDENT TRUMP’S LATEST EXECUTIVE ORDER ON REFUGEES?

The nation’s policies on immigration and refugees were very much in question when the President of the United States last Friday signed executive orders changing the American policies on both of these crucial issues. Both of them, of course, not only highly charged, but highly controversial. When he was running for president, Donald Trump made immigration and refugee policy key issues in his platform and thus we should not be surprised that just days after his inauguration on January 20, the President has moved to change national policy on these questions. There are huge issues at stake here, of course. We are talking about immigration policy and refugee policy. We’re talking about human lives. We’re talking about international affairs, and we’re talking about our relationships with other nations. We’re also talking about the kind of nations that the United States of America intends to be.

But we’re also looking at a situation that is constitutionally complicated. There is no question that as Chief Executive, the President of the United States has massive influence, authority, and power over both immigration and refugee policy. And there is also no question that the immediate previous incumbents in the White House also used executive orders to effect changes in both refugee policy and the nation’s immigration procedures. We need to take a close look at exactly what the President signed into effect on Friday afternoon.

In the first place, his executive order halts all refugee admissions for 120 days beginning immediately. Now remember back when President Trump was running for office, he promised what he called “extreme vetting.” Now many people in the United States State Department and elsewhere in the government insisted that refugees are already subject to extreme vetting, but President Trump, then running as a candidate, made very clear he did not believe the vetting was substantial or thorough enough.

While it is true that no refugee from these countries has conducted a terrorist attack on the United States in recent years, the reality is that it’s a very different picture in Europe, where there have been several very lethal attacks undertaken by those who enter those European nations under recent refugee status. We also have the reality that the Islamic State and other terror organizations have announced that they intend to use refugees in order to conduct similar attacks.

The Trump executive order would also put a cap of 50,000 in terms of total refugees per year to be resettled in the United States. That’s a drop, a significant drop, from the number of over 100,000 that had been set by President Barack Obama. But David French of National Review magazine very importantly points out that that figure was only fairly recently increased by President Obama, and the 50,000 figure that President Trump has proposed in this policy will be roughly the number that occurred during the presidencies of George W. Bush and most of the years of the presidency of President Barack Obama. As David French points out, the departure in terms of policy is not so much Donald Trump’s contraction of the number, but Barack Obama’s escalation of the figure.

Christian thinking regarding President Trump's refugee executive order

Image: Maddie Gardner

The President also announced on Friday an immediate ban on persons coming for the next 90 days from seven specific nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—all of them are areas with intense terrorist activity and none of those comes as a surprise. The President announced that this 90-day hold was necessary because of the need for further “information to adjudicate the individual cases that will come before authorities.”

We need to note that the executive order grants specific authority for exemption to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security. We also need to look at the fact that Syria stands at the very center of this issue—there are seven nations on that list, but one stands out most urgently. Syria, torn apart by civil war, represents the largest and most urgent refugee crisis at present. We’re talking about something like 4 million displaced persons that represents one of the biggest refugee crises in modern world history. And we also need to observe that President Barack Obama stands as holding a unique responsibility for that humanitarian crisis. It was President Obama during his second terms who infamously drew a red line when it came to Syria only to allow Bashar Assad and others to cross that red line. The humanitarian crisis is at least in part due to decisions made by the American government under the leadership of President Obama.

The scale of the crisis actually doesn’t meet the scale of the controversy and debate in the United States. President Obama in terms of his administration made the decision in the last year of his presidency to raise the number of Syrian refugees to 13,000 per year. But when you’re looking at millions of persons displaced and also now functioning as refugees, 13,000 is more a symbolic act than anything else. European nations have borne the major responsibility, but both of those nations also recognize that they are absolutely incapable of handling the total exodus of refugees from Syria, and add to that so many refugees coming from other parts of the world.

Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016, at least in part because a significant number of the American people, if not a majority, clearly believe that the vetting process for refugees is not sufficiently thorough. They do not have confidence in the process. Advocating this particular dimension of President Trump’s executive order, David French made the point that when we know our enemy wants to strike America and its allies through the refugee population and when we know that they have succeeded in Europe, as he says, “a pause is again not just prudent but arguably necessary.”

A good deal of the controversy is also due to references to the religious identity of these refugees and potential immigrants. For this, Donald Trump bears at least some responsibility for the kind of statement he made during the campaign when he pledged at least at one point a complete end to Muslim immigration. We need to note that the executive orders that were signed on Friday do not in any way represent a total end to Muslim immigration. There are at least 30 other nations with massive Muslim populations that are not included in those seven nations that were stipulated in the executive order. But there’s also been a great deal of confusion about religious liberty and religious freedom as it relates to this kind of policy. Some Americans on reflex simply assume that religion cannot be a part of American immigration policy. But right now, as David French points out, it is very much a part of that policy by force of law.

If one were dependent only on the mainstream media for the coverage of the executive order and its meaning in this regard, we might quickly come to the conclusion as many in the media have reported that President Trump had singled out Muslims for exclusion and Christians for inclusion. But the thing to note is that current INS policy, current force of law in the United States as adopted by Congress, makes very clear that religious minorities are to be factored in, sometimes even with preference when it comes to immigration and refugee policy. That stands in contrast to many of the policies of President Obama because it appeared very difficult for Christians suffering persecution in these majority Muslim nations to gain status, that is refugee status, or privileged immigration status to come to the United States.

In this sense we have to note very carefully that the administration’s policy handed down on Friday is a considerable walk back from the total ban on Muslim immigration the President talked about on the campaign trail. You simply look at these seven countries; they have very sizable Muslim populations, and of course they’re on this list very clearly because of their identification with terrorist threats. But there are other majority Muslim nations that aren’t on this list, and of course an even larger number of nations with massive Muslim populations that are not currently affected by this policy.

As we try to think intelligently about these issues, we have to make at least a couple of very key distinctions. One is the distinction between immigration policy and refugee policy. They are clearly related, but they are not one and the same. The other distinction is between the policy itself, the text of the executive order, and the means of its implementation, or to look at it perhaps even deeper, the intent of the executive order and the reality of its implementation. A great deal of the controversy about the implementation occurred over the last couple of days has been in the immediacy of the order and its effect, and the fact that the ban, or at least this probationary period, has included those who might hold visas or even green cards, and it also includes at least some who might need refuge from those in those countries because of their friendship with the United States of America, in particular those who had helped the United States forces by means of being translators or serving in other capacities.

Questions will also be raised about the fact that so many people were effectively trapped for some time in airports because the ban took such immediate effect. And that included persons who were in circuit, that is in movement towards either refugee or immigration status, or at least entry into the United States by legal means. They left their countries expecting to be admitted only to find themselves rejected for admission once they reached an American point of entry, most often in an airport. Very serious questions will be asked concerning the implementation even by people who give basic support to the policy. But the policy is paramount. That’s what’s most important. We need to recognize that there is a great deal of media attention right now, and we should frankly expect this, to the persons who are so disappointed, to those whose life plans have been changed, even hopes crushed by this policy announcement that came down by the President’s executive order on Friday.

But we also have to recognize as much as we need to pay heed to this human hurt and human suffering, that any immigration policy and specifically any change in immigration policy will come as an advantage to some and a disadvantage to others, and there will always be human hurt and human anguish on the part of those who clearly had hoped to come to the United States of America. But that leads to the larger moral question that Christians must seriously ponder, and that is, what should be our understanding of a Christian approach to immigration and refugee policy? These questions, as we’ve just said fairly separate questions, are both not easily answered.

Turning first to immigration policy, every single nation, if it is going to survive, if it is going to thrive as a culture and as a society, certainly as a government of laws, has to have adequate and responsible immigration laws and policies, and it has to enforce them.

No nation, and this includes even a nation as powerful and as wealthy as the United States of America, can have what’s in effect an all-comers policy. No nation, if it is going to be a responsible nation concerned with the security of its own society and people, can have open borders and no concern for those borders and can have unrestricted immigration. The entire system of laws in this country concerning our borders and entry into the country is a part of the government’s responsibility to keep the nation secure.

It’s one of the perhaps expected ironies of our current situation when you look at the last couple of days of controversy that many of the people who have gone to the streets or to the airports to protest the President’s executive order actually clearly have no idea about what the current law and policy of the United States is when it comes to immigration and refugee policy. They don’t like the executive order, partly because it came from President Donald J. Trump, but they probably wouldn’t like our nation’s current immigration laws either. And frankly, there’s something of a bipartisan dissatisfaction with the laws as they currently stand. But as you might expect, the polarization in our political system has also lead to a polarization on these issues.

We’re also told that America is a nation of immigrants and by definition and also by history, of course it is. But we need to take a closer look at what those waves of immigration that have so shaped America really did represent. Beginning especially in the 19thcentury and in the 20th century, there were huge waves of immigration, first of all, primarily from Europe. These included not only the waves of immigration that came originally from England and other nations involved in the age of exploration, but later also coming from nations such as Ireland and Italy. Those waves of immigration, especially to America’s urban cities on the East Coast represented some of the most formidable and forceful developments in terms of American history. Next, we look at waves of immigration from central and northern Europe, and you can look at particular states. Take the state of Minnesota for example, where there was a considerable influx of persons who came family-by-family as well as person-by-person from Scandinavia. We also have to look at the fact that successive waves of immigration came from Asia, particularly reshaping the American West Coast and its major cities during the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century and even into our present times. And then we have, after that, waves of immigration from Central and Latin America and most particularly over the course of the last generation or so from the nation of Mexico. America’s Hispanic population is burgeoning and at least part of that has been an influx of immigration, both documented and undocumented, that is to say legal and illegal, in terms of entry into this country.

One of the most important observations to make about America as a nation of immigrants is that virtually all of those successive waves of immigration represented persons who wanted to come and join the American project. They wanted to be Americans, not just to live in America.

That’s what creates a particular tension point in terms of the President’s executive orders and the larger issue of immigration and refugees coming from predominantly Muslim countries. All we have to do to understand the problem is to look to major European cities and in particular the nations such as, just to give two examples, France and Belgium—you could also add the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to the list; frankly, you could add most of the nations that are currently in the European Economic Union. The significant issue to observe here is that even though some who are coming in terms of these waves of Muslim immigration intend to join these communities and these cultures, the reality is that the majority of these immigrants and Muslims have not been assimilated into the cultures. To put it in terms of the American experiment, we have to be very careful that we do not reshape America by creating a population that does not intend, even though they are resident in this country, to be a part of the American project.

It is not just what is often called radical Islam, it is classical Islam, it is the Islam believed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world that requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law. And furthermore, in nations that have a Muslim domination, Christians and other religious minorities are forced into what is called, in terms of Muslim theology, dhimmitude, that is a submission to the majority Muslim population.

Just to take the nation of France as one example, it is now abundantly clear that there are entire districts and cities such as Paris where there is a very large Muslim immigrant population that intends to live in France but does not in any sense intend to be French. They actually look at France and they look at French culture and the larger European project as being despicable and decadent. A significant number of intellectuals with some influence in nations such as France are warning that political correctness has now brought about a situation in which France cannot reasonably actually discuss its own cultural and national survival.

It’s very difficult to know exactly what kind of policy the United States of America should have when it comes to Muslim immigration. But it’s simply intellectually dishonest to say that it is not a consideration and there are not very legitimate fears when it comes to what it might mean if entire neighborhoods and districts of American cities were to begin to resemble what we see in much of Europe. The President’s executive order actually addressed a very small part of American refugee and immigration policy. We face the need as a nation for comprehensive immigration reform, but make no mistake, that might be politically speaking almost impossible. That’s a shame. But it’s also a reality.

Major attempts at bipartisan immigration reform on a comprehensive scale have not only failed politically, but even when they have successfully been passed into legislation such as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act that was passed during the 1980s and signed into law by President Reagan, a retrospective analysis indicates that the changes in the law did not achieve the goals that were set and hope for.

Again, one of the reasons that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States is the widespread awareness on the part of Americans that this nation does not at present enforce the immigration laws that are even right now on the books. We should make no mistake, that the United States of America, remember that nation of immigrants, still very much needs immigrants. But we need immigrants and those coming into this country who very much intend, heart and soul, to become a part of the American project, not only to live in America, but to be Americans. We need immigration reform that takes those economic considerations into place that also recognizes that we need the increased birthrate and population that comes by means of legal immigration and we should also without apology call for comprehensive immigration reform that would change the situation, which at present means that the United States of America by our laws does not even act to our own advantage in terms of allowing persons to stay in this country and come to this country who have demonstrated abilities and talents that we need.

Clearly there are massive human rights and human dignity concerns at stake here. But we also have to be very careful how we speak and how we think about these issues. For example, over the last couple of days, many people holding elective office on the one hand and simply protesting in airports and other places on the other hand have spoken as if every single human being on the planet is to be recognized as possessing the rights that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, protected and enforced by the United States government. That’s manifest nonsense. It’s not only utopianism, it undermines the very concept of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. If the United States is obligated to every person around the world in the same way it is to its citizens, then citizenship means nothing at all.

For Christians, the human rights and human dignity issues are paramount. Love of God and love of neighbor means that we understand that even if every person on the earth is not a fellow citizen with us, they are our neighbors and to them we owe some obligation. The question is what kind of obligation? And the Christian responsibility is to think through very carefully what will actually help and not hurt. There’s a moral principle here in terms of what is proximate or who is proximate to us. I think it’s fairly evident that most Christians grounded in the gospel and in Scripture would basically know what to do when we see a person in need before us, in our own community, or right before our eyes, or within the orbit of the ministry of our church. Even closer, we understand how we are to respond if a child needs food or someone needs medical care. We understand then what to do. And we also recognize that the Bible tells us we are commanded to pay heed to the widow and the orphan and the alien in our midst. But that’s a very different thing than bringing all aliens into our midst, which is an actual moral and demographic impossibility.

Of course, the church must respond to the refugee crisis with compassion and with ministry, with assistance and with care. But it is not clear that we will actually render the best humanitarian service by bringing persons to the United States of America if we are unwilling to address the crisis that has created the humanitarian disaster in the first place. Given the scale of the crisis we face, we need to recognize that the shift in the numbers from President Obama to President Trump, even given the announcement made on Friday, is still a very tiny slice of a very tiny number over against the humanitarian crisis that looms over the entire world, centered in terms of right now the most urgent nation of Syria.

Finally, as Christians are trying to think intelligently and faithfully about these issues from a biblical worldview perspective grounded in the gospel, we have to make the crucial distinction between the role of the government and the role of the church. Let’s put it this way: the church does not have the responsibility given by God to defend the nation and to establish its immigration laws. But at the same time, the state is not given the authority to tell the church to whom we can and cannot minister. Get ready for this controversy to grow even hotter as it moves not only into the court of public opinion, but also into the courts. These arguments have been in one sense delayed for some time. They can be delayed no longer.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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Last week, Donald Trump recited the Oath of Office, ending with the traditional declaration, “So help me God.” Some question whether George Washington actually said “So help me God,” starting a tradition maintained by most of our presidents. But, we do know Washington’s other words.

Every four years, Americans experience and national transition as a new Executive is inaugurated. Donald Trump recited the Oath of Office, ending with the traditional declaration, “So help me, God.”

Some question whether George Washington actually said, “So help me, God”, starting a tradition maintained by most of our Presidents. But we do know Washington’s other words.

Moments after taking the oath, Washington retreated inside Federal Hall and offered his Inaugural Address. As he remarked,

The Tradition Behind “So Help Me God” in our Inaugural Address

Image: Kristin Hopper

“It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides the Councils of nations, and whose Providential aids can supply every human defect that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of United States.”

He continued addressing his “homage to the great Author of every public and private good”, by reminding his audience that “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand, which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of United States.”

These are the words of the same man who would remind our nation at the end of his presidency that “…both religion and morality are indispensable supports of political happiness.”

So today, our nation joins President Trump as he implores God’s help while in office.

To learn how First Liberty is protecting Religious Liberty for all Americans, visit FirstLiberty.org.

First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.

(This podcast is by First Liberty Briefing. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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