Beware of politicians who propose legislation to protect religious freedom. It’s very important to read the fine print.

Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans. That’s why it is protected in the Texas and federal constitutions and why in 1999 a bipartisan majority in the Texas Legislature passed and a Republican governor signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Texas act bars government from “substantially” burdening “a person’s free exercise of religion” unless a law or regulation “is in the furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

The law lays out guidelines for identifying how those exceptions apply and includes other carefully crafted language to help ensure that the law isn’t abused to, among other things, undermine civil rights protections or lead to unnecessary and expensive lawsuits that clog up the courts. And for 15 years this law has worked well to protect religious freedom for all Texans.

But that’s not good enough for two Texas legislators and the religious-right groups that support them.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, in this year’s legislative session have proposed separate amendments to the Texas Constitution that would sweep away the common-sense… Read More

Today is Religious Freedom Day, marking the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Authored by Thomas Jefferson, the statute served as a model for other states. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also includes the principle of religious freedom protected by the Virginia statute.

The statute reads, in part:

“Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

Writing about the statute in 1994, the late historian and Jefferson scholar Merrill D. Peterson of the University of Virginia noted the modern debate over religious freedom in America:

“Present-day neoconservatives and spokesmen for the religious right argue, for essentially political reasons, that a common religion is the necessary glue of the nation, that we began as a Christian… Read More

Here’s another item for the “we’re not surprised”  category: a Texas religious-right group is deceitfully portraying a U.S. Army chaplain as a victim of religious persecution.

Liberty Institute, a litigation group based in Plano north of Dallas, is representing Capt. Joseph Lawhorn, an Army chaplain who ran into trouble for essentially evangelizing at a mandatory training on suicide prevention in November. His commander reprimanded him for doing so, writing in a letter:

“During this training, you were perceived to advocate Christianity and used Christian scripture and solutions,” according to the letter of concern. “You provided a two-sided handout that listed Army resources on one side and a biblical approach to handling depression on the other side. This made it impossible for those in attendance to receive the resource information without also receiving the biblical information.”

The letter goes on to state: “As the battalion chaplain, you are entrusted to care for the emotional wellbeing of all soldiers in the battalion. You, above all others, must be cognizant of the various beliefs held by diverse soldiers. During mandatory training briefings, it is imperative you are careful to avoid any perception you are advocating one system of beliefs over another.”

Another commander backed the reprimand:… Read More

So here’s a story about how bigotry works — and how religious-right groups feed off it.

Schools across America typically close for important Christian holidays like Christmas. Some also close for major Jewish holy days like Yom Kippur. Muslims in Maryland’s Montgomery County asked officials to consider closing local schools in recognition of major Islamic days of observance like Eid al-Adha as well. They also asked that, even if schools don’t close, Muslim holidays be noted on the official school calendar as other holidays are.

School officials explained that they close for those Christian and Jewish holidays technically because absenteeism would be very high, not necessarily because they are religious holidays. Absenteeism on Islamic holidays, they have found, isn’t particularly high in their schools. So they won’t be closing schools for those holidays.

But officials also decided against listing Muslim holidays on the official school calendar. Instead, the Board of Education voted to remove all religious holidays from the calendar, although schools will still close on Christmas and Yom Kippur.

Not surprisingly, that frustrated local Muslims. After all, they weren’t asking that schools not recognize other religious holidays.

“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” said Saqib Ali, a former… Read More

Right-wing politicians and pressure groups cynically claim that religious freedom is under attack in America. But in a column published today in the Austin American-Statesman, Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller writes that the real threat to religious liberty comes from those seeking to redefine what that freedom actually means. Kathy’s full column is below.

Recent court decisions extending marriage equality to same-sex couples in more states have led to another round of charges that religious freedom is under attack in America. These cynical claims couldn’t be more wrong.

If religious liberty in America is really threatened, the danger comes from efforts to redefine what that freedom actually means. We see this in debates over many issues.

Critics say the legalization of same-sex marriage threatens the religious freedom of those who oppose it. But clergy will continue to preside, and rightly so, only over weddings that align with their particular faith beliefs. On the other hand, many states still refuse to recognize same-sex weddings performed by clergy who find such unions compatible with their religious faith. What about their religious freedom?

Critics go further by complaining that religious owners of secular businesses – like bakers and facility operators – won’t be able to discriminate against… Read More

Texas Freedom Network

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