Sunday, March 15, 2015

The 3 - March 15, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, I spotlight action from the U.S. Supreme Court in another ruling following from its decision in the Hobby Lobby case regarding the Federal contraception mandate.  Also, a chaplain is facing disciplinary action for counseling Navy members according to the principles of his faith.  And, there is news from several states, where lawmakers are taking bold steps to protect freedom of religious expression and the rights of conscience.

3 - U.S. Supreme Court directs lower court to reconsider ruling against Notre Dame in contraception mandate case

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider its ruling that denied a Catholic university the freedom to follow its faith, according to a piece on the website of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The University of Notre Dame had brought its request to the Supreme Court after a surprising lower court decision that made it the only nonprofit religious ministry in the nation without protection from the HHS mandate. The federal government has relied heavily on that decision in courts around the country, arguing that it should be able to impose similar burdens on religious ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated the Notre Dame decision entirely, and sent the case back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling in light of Hobby Lobby decision protecting religious freedom.

Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, is quoted as saying that, "This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate. For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the IRS."  He added, "As with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby, this is a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government’s narrow view of religious liberty..."
Interestingly enough, the Becket Fund reports that over 750 plaintiffs in the other nonprofit cases have been granted protection from the unconstitutional mandate, which forces religious ministries to either violate their faith or pay massive IRS penalties.

2 - Chaplain's career at risk as a result of sharing faith principles

Chaplain Wes Modder, a decorated U.S. Marine for 4 years, has served as a Navy chaplain for the past 15 years. He has been praised by commanding officers as a “national asset” with “charismatic leadership and sound judgment.” One called him “the best of the best.” Liberty Institute reports on these accolades and states that, "Chaplain Modder had a spotless, even exceptional, 15 year record."

According to the Liberty Institute website, a very small number of sailors had requested private, pastoral care and counseling sessions during which they asked him about certain matters of personal conduct and belief.  Chaplain Modder’s answers, as always, were in line with the teachings of his endorsing denomination, as required by his denomination and protected by federal law.

A handful of sailors complained, because they disagreed with the biblical views Chaplain Modder expressed in response to their questions during those sessions.

In reaction, the Navy removed Chaplain Modder from his unit and isolated him at the base chapel, cutting him off from his sailors and forbidding him from ministering to their spiritual needs.

Chaplain Modder’s commander requested that Chaplain Modder be:
1) Removed from the promotion list.
2) “Detached for cause,” the military equivalent of being fired, and
3) Brought before an official Board of Inquiry, where he could be involuntarily forced out of the Navy.

Liberty Institute is representing Chaplain Modder, and in a letter to the Chaplain's commander, Senior Counsel Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for Liberty Institute, a former U.S. Marine JAG Officer, and adjunct law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, warns:
“Chaplain Modder’s religious expression is therefore consistent with—indeed, it’s protected—by federal law and military regulations. Any adverse action, including Detachment for Cause, a Board of Inquiry, or removal from the promotion list, which results from a service member’s sincerely held religious beliefs violates those laws and regulations.”
Liberty Institute has posted a petition in support of the Chaplain.  Also, this week, Family Research Council released a petition in support of Chaplain Modder.

1 - States take up religious freedom bills

As Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink and I discussed on a recent edition of my radio program, The Meeting House, state lawmakers are taking measures to protect the religious liberties of its citizens, even though freedom of speech and religion are already guaranteed in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.  One example he pointed out was from the state of Indiana.  A bill has already passed the Senate in the state, according to the Indiana Family Institute website - it's called the "Hobby Lobby Bill," and according to a piece on the Indianapolis Star website written by the President of the Indiana Family Institute, Curt Smith:
...this is a civil rights bill that increases every single Hoosier’s religious liberties.
If approved, the state — in all its various expressions — would require a compelling interest before restricting religious liberties. Compelling interests includes such things as public safety, order, health and police powers to provide an environment for ordered liberty. Secondly, if government takes actions that restrict religious liberty, it must do so in the least restrictive manner.
Meanwhile, as I pointed out, in Alabama, lawmakers took a bold step this past week to strengthen the religious freedom rights of judges and ministers regarding marriage.  According to the website, the Alabama House on Thursday passed a bill that gives judges, ministers and other officiants the right to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies.

Rep. Jim Hill, a Republican from Moody, AL, said he sponsored the bill after receiving phone calls from judges and ministers concerned they would be required to perform marriage ceremonies they didn't want to perform. Hill is quoted as saying that the purpose of the bill is simply to clarify existing law that judges and ministers can't be compelled to perform marriage ceremonies they don't want to perform.

And, in what could be a pre-emptive strike regarding the state of Oklahoma issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reports that the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill this past Tuesday to abolish marriage licenses in the state.

The legislation, authored by Rep. Todd Russ, a Republican from Cordell, OK, amends language in the state law that governs the responsibilities of court clerks. All references to marriage licenses were removed.

Russ said the intent of the bill is to protect court clerks caught between the federal and state governments. A federal appeals court overturned Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage last year. Russ, like many Republican legislators in the state, including Gov. Mary Fallin, believes the federal government overstepped its constitutional authority on this issue.

Across the nation, lawmakers are addressing concerns of violations of religious freedom.  These are examples of actions taken to protect the conscience rights of citizens who wish to practice their faith without fear of reprisals.

No comments: