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Libs on Speech: Succumb, All Ye Faithful

Tony Perkins · Dec. 13, 2017

Churches used to be where people went to escape the turmoil of the world. Now, with an outbreak of violence, the turmoil is coming to them. A wave of radicalism is boiling over, and America’s houses of worship are bearing the brunt. In the three months between January and March, there were more than 100 bomb threats called into Jewish community centers. Arsonists are attacking mosques at a furious rate. And I don’t have to tell you what happened at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

“Unfortunately, our society no longer seems to place the same value on religious belief,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said somberly. “In fact, it often feels that in this modern society, religion is met with disdain and an attitude of militant secularization. We live in a time where violence and threats of violence are routinely used to scare people from practicing their religious beliefs.” As a culture, he went on, “we must make clear that we value this vital right to exercise religious freedom, and do what we can to encourage and foster this faith, for the good of the country. That’s why it is important we make clear that threatening places of worship, threatening religious institutions, and deterring good people from practicing their faith and exercising their right to do so, will not be tolerated.”

This week, members of Congress put their full force behind his words, passing — almost unanimously — a bill called the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017. By a vote of 402-2, leaders from both parties are sending a powerful warning to anyone targeting men and women of faith: you will pay. Specifically, the law would give faith leaders more tools to fight this outbreak of violence, vandalism, and harassment. Threats to property, like bomb threats or anything else that keeps Americans from worshiping, will be severely punished. Congress wants to clamp down on the extremists putting faith in the crosshairs, upping the penalties to three years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines. It’s an important policy, but an even more significant message that this Congress won’t stand by while evil men try to shake the faith of our country.

We applaud the House for protecting the churches physically — now it’s time to protect their freedom to speak. The secular Left is doing everything it can to keep that from happening, including an impressive takeover of the mainstream media’s talking points on the Johnson Amendment. For the last couple of weeks, while Congress deals with the snags in the two tax bills, liberals have ramped up their misinformation machine — spitting out dire warnings about the supposed effects of letting religious groups speak openly.

Their predictions, that churches will become underground PACs that funnel “dark money” through the process, is being passed off as legitimate journalism in places like CNN (which is apparently less concerned about fact-checking than it is about keeping Christians from engaging in the political process). Liberals scream that this is campaign finance law in disguise, another ridiculous talking point that the authors of the legislation have repeatedly debunked. Under the language of the House’s tax bill, nonprofits can use political speech only in the ordinary course of business and with very limited money.

As Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), House Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) have explained until they’re blue in the face, there is absolutely no way under this bill that churches are suddenly going to become underground party operatives. This is just about leveling the playing field that was tipped more than 60 years ago — and interpreted by liberal administrations like Obama’s as an excuse to go after religious groups with the full weight of the IRS behind them.

If the Senate agrees to the House language, Lankford, Scalise, Hice and Johnson explain, this is what will happen (hardly the stuff of nightmares): “An environmental nonprofit that sends out an e-newsletter educating its readers about the climate positions of candidates wouldn’t have to fear an audit. A church employee who distributes election voter guides (for which her church did not incur any cost for distribution) could not be punished by the IRS.” Besides, the trio continues:

“The bill also requires that any expenditure related to these activities are de minimis — that is, only minimal and not outside the usual expenses of the organization — to ensure that the organization’s primary function remains charitable or religious in nature… The criticism that our legislation would subsidize religious organizations’ politics demonstrates a double standard for faith-based entities. Leaders and employees of other entities that receive federal funding — such as hospitals and universities — are welcome to advocate for political causes and contribute to them. The IRS does not threaten to punish them when they engage in political speech.”

Liberals are scared all right — but not of churches becoming political PACs (a claim even they can’t substantiate). What they’re terrified of is greater engagement from the Christian community. After last year’s election, they understand how influential evangelicals can be, and they’ll do anything to keep history from repeating itself. If they can keep pastors from firing up their congregations on moral issues, they think they can limit the churches’ influence in the culture. The Framers, John Daniel Davidson points out in The Federalist, would have found this whole idea absurd. “Certainly, the idea that pastors and other clergy aren’t allowed to weigh in on elections or political issues from the pulpit would have struck the Founding Fathers as not only strange but inimical to the idea of a constitutional republic (especially since one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minster).”

“Pastors, rabbis, and imams can’t be expected to stay silent on social matters like abortion, gay marriage, and transgenderism — or, more to the point, stay silent about candidates who espouse views of those matters that are hostile to the teachings of their faith. The same goes for more conventional political matters, such as war, immigration, and welfare. Religion has a lot to say about all those things, and religious leaders have a First Amendment right to speak to their congregations candidly about them — and about the candidates and officeholders who will make laws pertaining to them,” Davidson argues.

This is a priority of the president, as he reiterated to me again Monday at a meeting with evangelical leaders in the Oval Office — and it should continue to be a priority of this Congress as it finishes up its work on tax reform. Contact your leaders and remind them that free speech is for everyone.

Originally published here.

DC Metro Tries to Derail Speech

When it comes to advertising on the DC metro, free speech is in for a bumpy ride. In a classic case of viewpoint discrimination, a federal judge is siding with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for turning down ad space to the Catholic Church. WMATA defended the move by saying it bans “religious, political, or advocacy” messages (depending on who’s defining them, apparently, since the Human Rights Campaign still enjoys a prominent space in the subway’s line-up).

Even so, the Archdiocese of Washington complains, nothing about their message was overtly spiritual. The scene is three wise men, two sheep, and a sky of stars with the words “Find the perfect gift” in the center. As a spokesman for the church complained, “The advertisement does not seek to address a general, otherwise permissible topic from a religious perspective. The sole purpose of directing the public to FindThePerfectGift.org is to promote religion [there].”

Interestingly enough, the city’s policy was adopted to stop an ongoing debate about Islam from taking place on WMATA’s posters. But in stopping Muslim speech, it silenced everyone else’s. The censorship has gone so far that an unlikely alliance has already formed between groups like the Archdiocese, ACLU, PETA, and even a local abortion clinic, who all insist that DC officials have gone too far.

Metro’s guidelines are “establish[ing] a regime that is hostile to religion,” Catholic officials protest. Besides, the Archdiocese argues, where do you draw the line between what’s “religious” and what isn’t? If metro allows posters for the Salvation Army or a yoga studio, which both have religious overtones, what’s the problem with a Christmas scene?

Still, Judge Amy Berman Jackson insists the city is well within its rights. “The regulation is reasonably aligned with WMATA’s duty to provide safe, reliable transportation, and it does not violate the First Amendment.” Which Constitution is she reading? Of course it does. In a broad net like this, everyone’s rights get trampled. Like most people, I think it’s dangerous to limit expression. We shouldn’t be afraid of open debate, especially on something as harmless as Christmas.

“We should be especially wary of the government restrictions on one’s viewpoint,” FRC’s Travis Weber warns. They are the most dangerous at their core and go to the heart of why we have the First Amendment. In ruling for WMATA here, the court let the government rely on administrative convenience and the avoidance of controversy as a legitimate basis to exclude ads… But suppressing a message for fear of the response is the essence of the heckler’s veto, and is no way for a free country to act. If, for no other reason, this is perhaps why the courts should be inclined to rule for the Archdiocese and be loath to affirm any policy which could be used to justify views the government doesn’t like.“

Conservatives don’t have to fear the lies because we have the truth. But how do you defeat a lie if you can’t speak the truth? Unless WMATA changes its policy, I guess we’re about to find out.

Originally published here.

A New Year’s Revolution for the Military?

Do you remember voting for Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in last year’s presidential election? Neither does anyone else. But somehow the local district judge thinks she should be able to do Donald Trump’s job. In another ruling that not only exposes her incredible liberal bent but the bigger battle with the out-of-control judiciary, federal judge Kollar-Kotelly is turning down the administration’s request for more time in dealing with the military’s transgender question.

Instead, she’s holding the new administration to the old one’s radicalism, insisting that the Defense Department open its doors to people confused about their gender as early as Jan. 1. Back in October, the district judge made it clear that she’s no fan of the Constitution’s separation of powers, unilaterally ordering the president to stand down in his push to return the military to good order. She single-handedly blocked Trump’s efforts to stop people who identify as transgender from serving in the military, despite the reams of research showing its negative effects on troop morale, readiness, and resources.

FRC’s Peter Sprigg, who calculated that taxpayers would be staring down a $3.7 billion tab for Obama’s social engineering, could only shake his head at the court’s activism. "The reason for this policy is not because the president or Defense Department doesn’t like transgender people. It’s because they have a unique medical condition which makes them indelible for military service because they have limited deployability.” Asked point-blank, almost 60 percent of active-duty military held a negative opinion of the decision to allow troops who label themselves as transgender to serve openly. More telling, more than half of that group said the policy change was having a terrible effect on military morale. In other words, it was unpopular, unproductive, and unreasonably expensive. Is it any wonder that one year after Barack Obama changed the policy, Trump changed it back? Like most Americans, he understands that the military’s job is to fight and win wars — not pander to a political agenda that weakens national security.

The president’s primary task is protecting Americans. Yet now we’re watching activist courts do everything from curb the executive branch’s power to telling the commander in chief how to run the military. And without the barest form of accountability to the same people who elected Donald Trump. “This type of judicial activism gives the court a self-conferred ‘veto’ of any presidential decision concerning the military the court simply thinks is unlawful,” FRC’s Travis Weber warns. “That’s not the way our constitutional order works.” Not to mention President Trump has access to information, data, and intelligence reports that Kollar-Kotelly never will. If he thinks Obama’s policy will undermine national security, then it’s within his rights to declare as much.

Fortunately, the battle is far from over. Justice Department officials are already plotting their next move. “We disagree with the Court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps.” One of which, Politico reports, is requesting an emergency stay on the ruling. “Without this relief, the military will be forced to implement a significant change to its standards for the composition of the armed forces before it decides how to resolve this issue,” the government’s attorneys argue. “As military leadership has explained, this timetable will place extraordinary burdens on our armed forces and may harm military readiness.”

President Trump understands better than anyone the threat this poses to our nation, and he told me as much during our meeting at the White House. He isn’t backing down because one judge has decided to push a radical political agenda that has no basis in law.

Originally published here.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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