Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

Correction: There were two crucial Iowa religious liberty rulings linked to higher ed

First things first: I made a major error the other day in my post about a Religion News Service report about an Iowa judge’s ruling in a legal clash between InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and leaders at the University of Iowa.

This wasn’t a typo or a misspelling.

My main point in the post was wrong and I want to correct that and also thank the experts at for alerting me to my mistake.

Here is the top of the original RNS report. This is long, but essential. After that, I’ll show the section of the RNS story that led to my error:

(RNS) — Yes, a Christian student group can require its leaders to be Christian.

That’s the decision a judge reached last week in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA v. the University of Iowa, a lawsuit the evangelical Christian campus ministry brought against the university and several of its leaders after the school booted InterVarsity and other religiously affiliated student groups for requiring their leaders to share their faiths.

Those groups also included Muslims, Sikhs and Latter-day Saints, according to a statement from InterVarsity.

“We must have leaders who share our faith,” InterVarsity Director of External Relations Greg Jao said in the written statement. “No group — religious or secular — could survive with leaders who reject its values. We’re grateful the court has stopped the University’s religious discrimination, and we look forward to continuing our ministry on campus for years to come.”

At least three University of Iowa leaders are being held personally accountable to cover the costs of any damages awarded later to InterVarsity, according to U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose’s Friday (Sept. 27) ruling, provided by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented InterVarsity.

A paragraph later there was this:

Rose’s decision comes on the heels of a ruling she made earlier this year in a similar case involving the university and a student group called Business Leaders in Christ. Because she felt university leaders should have understood after that case how to treat the groups fairly, the judge is holding them personally accountable. …

The lawsuit came in August 2018 after the University of Iowa claimed InterVarsity was violating the university’s human rights policy by requiring leaders to affirm the organization’s statement of faith. That policy prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other attributes.

Here’s where I erred. I thought, when I read this section of the RNS story, that the two decisions pivoted on the same section of that University of Iowa policy.

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For newsroom source lists: A female Muslim lawyer to watch on religious-liberty issues

For newsroom source lists: A female Muslim lawyer to watch on religious-liberty issues

A Pegasus Books release has this curious title: “When Islam Is Not a Religion.”

Huh? Say what?

Is the pope not Catholic? Don’t U.S. Democrats constitute a political party? (With Britain’s Conservatives and Labour that’s open to question lately.) The subtitle then explains what the book is about: “Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom.”

Author Asma Uddin’s title targets American right-wingers who are claiming Islam is not “really” a religion — but a dangerous political movement.

Islam is, in actuality, a variegated global religion that usually intermingles beliefs with politics in ways that can become problematic, just as with some variants of Christianity -- including some of those making that anti-Islam claim.

Uddin, a Pakistani-American lawyer in Washington, D.C., belongs on your prime source list (if she is not there already). Contact: For starters, this Muslim studied her civil rights specialization at the elite University of Chicago Law School.

She became the founding editor of a lively, decade-old online magazine that journalists should be monitoring, It emphasizes hot-button gender issues in Islam (e.g. women’s rights, man-woman relationships, polygamy, harem, genital mutilation, honor killing, headscarves and burqas). You won’t want to miss articles on whether Islam, and also Christianity, can consistently be considered religions (!), like this one.

In an interview posted by her law school last year, Uddin says her altmuslimah colleagues felt “there were so many of us who wanted to be authentic to our faith, devoted to our faith, and who were struggling with issues that we didn’t always know how to fit with our lived realities. It turned out that these were conversations that people were desperate to have. The response has been overwhelming.”

Most important, Uddin is a principled defender of religious liberty across the board, naturally quick to defend the rights of fellow American Muslims but also concerned about believers in all other faiths, including those who suffer suppression in Muslim countries.

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Religious freedom case involving Buddhist death row inmate in Texas just got more intriguing

Religious freedom case involving Buddhist death row inmate in Texas just got more intriguing

At first glance, it might seem like a simple solution.

The state of Texas had a quick response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Buddhist death row inmate who asked for his spiritual adviser to be in the execution room with him.

In case you missed it earlier, the high court granted a rare stay of execution to Patrick Murphy last week. This came, as we noted, after a different high court ruling in an Arkansas case concerning Muslim inmate Domineque Ray.

The Lone Star fix? Ban all religious chaplains from the death chamber.

OK, problem solved. Or not.

The better news reports I’m seeing — both in Texas papers and the national press — reflect the crucial legal arguments in Patrick Murphy’s case and not just the simplified sound bites.

Among the incomplete coverage, CNN reports the Texas change as if it’s the end of the discussion:

(CNN) The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will bar chaplains, ministers and spiritual advisers from execution chambers in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling last week that halted the execution of an inmate who sought to have his Buddhist spiritual adviser in the death chamber.

The move is the latest step in a controversy that pit the religious liberty concerns of death row inmates against security concerns of prisons.

The justices agreed to stay Patrick Henry Murphy's execution, but weeks earlier, had denied a similar request from an inmate in Alabama.

Murphy's initial request had been denied by Texas because officials said for security reasons only prison employees were allowed into the chamber, and the prison only employed Christian and Muslim advisers.

Lawyers for Murphy challenged the policy arguing that it violated Murphy's religious liberty rights. The Supreme Court stepped in and put the execution on hold.

In a statement released Wednesday, the state now says that, "effective Immediately," the protocol now only allows security personnel in the execution chamber.

To its credit, CNN notes:

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Big New Jersey religious-liberty case: Did you hear who backed efforts to build a new mosque?

Big New Jersey religious-liberty case: Did you hear who backed efforts to build a new mosque?

So, did you hear about that major victory for religious-liberty activists the other day?

In this case, the reference to "religious liberty" in that first statement is not framed in scare quotes for a simple reason. This particular case did not have anything to do with debates about the Sexual Revolution clashing with ancient religious doctrines and traditions.

This important case involved a win for Muslims in Somerset County, N.J., who have been fighting their suburban powers in defense of their right to build themselves a mosque.

This is where things get interesting. The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge had the U.S. Department of Justice on its side, but also received help from a broad coalition of religious-liberty activists. This was a rare sighting of the old left-right coalition that used to stand together back in the heady days in the 1990s, when Democrats and Republicans all embraced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (click here for GetReligion links on that).

Kudos to The Atlantic for spotting this important angle of a major story:

An uncommonly wide range of religious groups came to the Society’s support -- from groups that lean left, like the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Sikh Coalition, to more conservative groups, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Such unequal treatment of the mosque in this case represents a potential threat to the free exercise rights of each of the amici represented here,” the 18 supportive groups wrote, “and is an affront to our nation’s commitment to religious liberty for all.”

Alas, it was hard to find evidence in other mainstream news coverage showing that journalists knew that key religious conservatives, as well as liberals, were celebrating this victory for supporters of this New Jersey mosque and, thus, a victory for religious liberty. 

Consider The New York Times coverage, for example: "Settlements With New Jersey Suburb Clear Way for Proposed Mosque." Here is the overture, with many interesting details about the flexibility demonstrated by these Muslim believers:

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Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Roman Catholic nuns who take care of elderly people, many (if not most) of whom are indigent or nearly so.

As a non-profit, the Little Sisters provide health insurance for their employees, under a so-called "church plan," a special type of insurance for, well, religious organizations. The Christian Brothers, another Roman Catholic order, administers the insurance for the Little Sisters.

Years of back-and-forth charges and counter-charges over a 2011 rule promulgated by the Obama administration Department of Health and Human Services have just about come to an end. The current administration, following the promise made by President Donald J. Trump, is planning to roll back the contraceptive mandate's application to religious groups -- both religious groups (and their branch organizations) and other doctrinally defined schools and non-profit ministries, such as the Little Sisters.

Cue up a dose of Kellerism, the journalistic belief that certain issues have already been decided by American elites and do not need "balanced" coverage. Unsurprisingly, The New York Times, whose onetime editor Bill Keller provided the name for this GetReligion term, is at the head of the class on this story, headlining its piece, "White House Acts to Roll Back Birth-Control Mandate for Religious Employers."

Let's dive in:

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials, following through on a pledge by President Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back a federal requirement that many religious employers provide birth control coverage in health insurance plans.
The mandate for free contraceptive coverage was one of the most hotly contested Obama administration policies adopted under the Affordable Care Act, and it generated scores of lawsuits by employers that had religious objections to it.

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Ah! It's easier to cover 'religious liberty' stories when they are not about sex?

Ah! It's easier to cover 'religious liberty' stories when they are not about sex?

Ah, good times. Today we get to praise some mainstream news reports about a major religious liberty story -- as opposed to a news story that is about "religious liberty."

Why is this the case? It would appear that it is much easier to see religious liberty conflicts as religious liberty conflicts when they are not the result of collisions between the doctrines of the Sexual Revolution and the moral doctrines claimed (and, of course, to a lesser degree practiced) by most religious believers on Planet Earth.

In other words, take clashes between sex and most traditional forms of religion out of the equation and, it appears, mainstream journalists are able to listen to people on both sides of issues linked to basic First Amendment rights.

So, want to see some interesting, informed, coverage of a religious liberty case at the U.S. Supreme Court? Click here for the Religion News Service coverage of Abdul Maalik Muhammad and his right to grow a beard after his conversion to Islam. During court testimony, the justices pushed back on this case for an interesting reason -- the case was too easy.

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Time searches for red line between good religious liberty and bad religious liberty

Time searches for red line between good religious liberty and bad religious liberty

Day after day, that must-read Religion News Service email digest offers readers an interesting collection of links to news about religion, politics, entertainment, gossip and sex -- almost always delivered with some wit, which veers off into snark, from time to time.

That's fine, since your GetReligionistas appreciate the occasional bit of snark, especially when a news product is clearly defined as commentary. Anyway, here is a timely sample: 

Now that most people in the country live in states that allow gay marriage, and it looks as if the momentum for same-sex marriage is growing yet stronger, those who oppose it are searching for a new front, writes Reuters. Many of them have found it in a fight for “religious freedom,”defined in some cases as the right not to bake a wedding cake for lesbians.

Or the right of a lesbian Episcopalian -- as a matter of conscience and doctrine -- to refuse to do photography for a Catholic ministry that encourages gays and lesbians to live chaste lives, in keeping with Catholic teachings. Or whatever. You know, that whole First Amendment thing.

Anyway, it is clear that some journalists are struggling to find that bright red line between good religious liberty and bad religious liberty.

That task used to be so much easier, when it was simply neo-Nazis fighting for the right to march through a Chicago suburb full of elderly Holocaust survivors. Now you have poverty-fighting nuns trying to avoid paying for birth control that violates the Catholic doctrines that define their own ministry. Times are tough.

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We have a confirmed sighting of an old-school (think liberal) church-state coalition

We have a confirmed sighting of an old-school (think liberal) church-state coalition

The history of church-state relations in the United States is a very complicated subject, the kind of intellectual terrain that you could spend several semesters exploring in a graduate degree (as I once did, late in the Vietnam War era). 

In recent decades, roughly the era defined by the rise of the Religious Right, there have been several distinct stages in church-state affairs. At one point, it was rare for thinkers on the left and right to communicate with one another. Then came the Clinton White House years when -- I know this will be hard for some readers to believe -- there was serious progress and constructive dialogue, primarily because conservatives began to enthusiastically embrace the First Amendment. Yes, even though the politics of abortion loomed in the background.

As I wrote in a post early in the Barack Obama administration:

You see, once upon a time there was a wide coalition -- roughly from the ACLU to Pat Robertson -- that was focused on another issue altogether, which was free speech, freedom of association and trying to find ways (think "equal access" laws) that treated religious believers and nonbelievers the same when it came time for them to express their beliefs. ...
It was crucial, you see, for believers and nonbelievers to have the maximum amount of freedom without the government getting entangled (the key word) in determining which doctrines were acceptable and which were not. If the chess team got to use a room after school, then so did Campus Crusade for Christ (or the young atheists circle). 

Can you imagine that kind of truly liberal (in the old sense of that word) coalition existing today, in an era defined by bitter battles about gay marriage and, in a strange healthcare flashback, birth control? I know, it's hard to imagine.

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Ready, set, go! Hobby Lobby at the Supremes

Hobby Lobby gets its hearing before the Supreme Court this morning. WASHINGTON — A challenge to part of President Obama’s healthcare law that hits the Supreme Court on Tuesday could lead to one of the most significant religious freedom rulings in the high court’s history.

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s health care law gets a return engagement at the Supreme Court (this week) in a case full of hot-button issues: religious freedom, corporate rights, federal regulation, abortion and contraception.

Put another way, it’s a case about God, money, power, sex — and Obamacare.

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