Sunday, March 27, 2016

The 3 - March 27, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, some good news out of China, it seems, as an attorney involved in defending churches who have had their crosses removed is reportedly out of prison.  Also, religious liberty concerns continue not only in Georgia, but also in North Carolina, where the Legislature struck down Charlotte's so-called "non-discrimination" ordinance and strengthened its laws regarding discrimination.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court was the site of another set of oral arguments related to Obamacare and its requirement for employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient coverage.

3 - China releases attorney who spoke against cross removals

A Chinese attorney who has defended some 100 churches that have been damaged as the result of a a campaign to demolish crosses in the Zhejiang province has been released from jail, according to a Christianity Today story which cited confirmation by the group China Aid.

Zhang Kai was arrested this past August and has written on social media that he has returned to his home in Inner Mongolia, which is an autonomous region of China.  He had been arrested just before a meeting with David Saperstein, who is the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom.

The terms of his release are unclear. He had been sentenced to six months of residential surveillance at a so-called “black jail,” where prisoners are held at a secret location. He had appeared on state television stating a "confession," that many believe was coerced.

2 - GA, NC face threats from gay-friendly corporate interests

The states of Georgia and North Carolina are facing threats from various corporate interests as the result of recently passed legislation that does not conform to the so-called gay agenda.  A bill in Georgia that passed the Legislature offering protection for pastors and certain non-profit organizations from having to perform services that they do not agree with on religious grounds has brought threats and criticism.  The bill has drawn fire from the NFL, as well as the following corporate interests, according to the Disney, Netflix, and The Weinstein Company, who have all threatened to boycott Georgia if the bill is signed. Viacom, Time Warner, Fox, Sony, MGM, CBS, and Comcast/NBC Universal, as well as other studios have spoken out against the bill.

But, as a article points out, the media has been responsible for incorrectly defining what it calls a "watered down" religious liberty bill.   It reports that, "The bill protects clergy, churches and religious schools but not wedding professionals." It states that Ryan Anderson, with the Heritage Foundation, said the bill would do little to actually further religious liberty rights in Georgia, citing a story on the Daily Signal website. The article says that the NFL is warning the measure could hurt Georgia's chances to host an upcoming Super Bowl.

And the reports on the North Carolina legislation that was passed this week and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, which is, according to the website, is "designed to prevent cities, towns and counties from passing anti-discrimination rules beyond certain standards set by the state."

The bill requires that bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and colleges and in government buildings be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.  The legislation came on the heels of a so-called "non-discrimination" ordinance in Charlotte, about which Lt. Gov. Dan Forest told the website, "It stretched way beyond Charlotte’s legal authority, so we had a special session to deal with this after an outcry of tens of thousands of people across the state telling us to keep our women safe."

1 - U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in contraception mandate challenge

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, Zubik v. Burwell, which is more commonly known as the Little Sisters of the Poor case.  According to a report on the WORLD Magazine website...

... plaintiffs from seven total cases came together to hear arguments in their Supreme Court cases challenging Obamacare’s contraceptive and abortifacient mandate on behalf of religious nonprofit organizations. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the government has the potential to significantly weaken protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which is why even religious groups who don’t object to contraceptive and abortifacient drugs have filed on the nuns’ side. The nonprofit petitioners face millions of dollars in penalties if they do not comply with the mandate.

Emily Belz, who wrote the WORLD article, observed that, "the court seemed headed for a 4-4 tie, given Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong sympathy for the religious objectors." She continued: "A tie would be a sort of victory for the nonprofits because it would not set a national precedent against their conscience rights, but it would affirm the lower court rulings in which all the petitioners here lost."

One of the major issues is the so-called "accommodation" for religious organizations.  According to David French, writing at the National Review website, the "accommodation..."

"...requires the Sisters and other religious employers to comply with the mandate, but allows them to do so by filing a form or writing HHS to inform it “not only of [the employer’s] religious objection, but also of the ‘name and type’ of its plan and ‘the name and contact information for any of the plan’s third party administrators and health insurance issuers. In addition, “the employer also ‘must provide updated information’ to HHS ‘if there is a change in any of th[at] information.’”

Once the form is filed, HHS notifies the employer’s insurer that it is required to provide contraceptive coverage at no charge to the employee. In other words, the form (or letter) triggers the free coverage.

French continues:

HHS still requires the Sisters to participate in the process of providing contraceptives even if that process does not include payment. They’re required to facilitate the provision of abortifacients and other contraceptives by providing the government with ongoing access to updated insurance information. Other religious employers, such as churches, don’t have to participate in the process at all. They don’t file forms. They don’t notify the government. They simply provide health plans in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Belz writes for WORLD that:

The RFRA legal test of the mandate has three components: whether the mandate created a substantial burden on the petitioners’ religious exercise, then whether the government has a compelling interest (i.e., a good reason) for burdening them, then whether the current “accommodation” is the least restrictive means of accomplishing the government’s objective.

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