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January 8, 2019

A Cairo Christmas

What is at the heart of the Christmas message? I’d venture to say that many of your answers would have a lot to do with peace. As the angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” This is not the world’s version of peace — but the peace between God and man that’s made possible through Jesus Christ. It is the same peace with God that is the foundation for goodwill toward others.

What is at the heart of the Christmas message? I’d venture to say that many of your answers would have a lot to do with peace. As the angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” This is not the world’s version of peace — but the peace between God and man that’s made possible through Jesus Christ. It is the same peace with God that is the foundation for goodwill toward others.

As Coptic Christians in Egypt celebrate Christmas (for Orthodox Christians, the holiday is based on the Gregorian Calendar), the hope for peace has finally been renewed — not just in the celebration of Jesus’s birth, but in celebration of a more tolerant government. For the first time in years, Egyptians are witnessing a period of greater religious acceptance of Christians and other religious minorities in an otherwise Muslim-dominated country.

Sunday night, at the invitation of the Egyptian government and the Coptic Church, I had the opportunity to witness that progress, along with two of my fellow commissioners from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nadine Maenza and Johnnie Moore. As part of a delegation of evangelical leaders, we attended the inauguration of the Cathedral of the Nativity (the largest in the Middle East) outside of Cairo and the inauguration of the Al-Fattah Al-Aleem Mosque just five miles away.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was also there, joining Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria for the inauguration of the Cathedral shortly after the event at the nearby Al-Fattah Al-Aleem Mosque. After an enthusiastic greeting from about 3,000 worshipers at the cathedral, al-Sisi said, “This great event asserts that we will never permit anyone to adversely affect the tree of affection that we together have planted. It needs only that we preserve it so that it can yield its fruit of tolerance and fraternity between people in Egypt and elsewhere the world over.”

Looking through the prism of religious freedom in the region, is it very encouraging to see the deliberate steps President al-Sisi is taking to foster an environment in Egypt and the Middle East of greater religious understanding and tolerance. In addition to the ceremonial events, we also met with various religious and governmental leaders during our time in Egypt to gauge the country’s progress toward greater respect for religious freedom.

In the more metropolitan areas, there is a strong consensus that religious freedom conditions have improved significantly under the current government. Many of the provisions stop short of a Western understanding of religious freedom, but there is optimism among Christians about the new laws — which recognize the rights of religious minorities (but still fall short of parity with the dominant religion). There’s hope that this transitional phase will lead to an even greater transformation in Egypt that respects — and even embraces — religious freedom.

Repeatedly, we heard that the most significant challenges now are not with the national government and the law, but with some local governments and the culture that have historically been intolerant of religious minorities. Laws have a limited effect because the understanding and application of the rule of law are weak throughout society. Until that changes, there will still be places where discrimination and danger are a daily way of life for religious minorities.

Egypt is facing significant challenges on several fronts, but fostering an environment of religious understanding and acceptance between Muslims and religious minorities is very important in securing other human rights and social and economic stability. I had the opportunity during Sunday night’s festivities to encourage President al-Sisi in the positive steps he has taken, and I’m hopeful with encouragement from the Trump administration that we’ll see even more reasons for Egyptian Christians and other religious minorities to celebrate in the future. Let’s be diligent in this new year to pray for them and others in this region of the world who face grave persecution for their faith.

Originally published here.

Never Let ‘Em See You Threat

If winning the House was supposed to quiet the mobs of the extreme Left, it hasn’t so far. After a vicious 2018, most Americans were hoping for a more diplomatic year in politics. Like us, they’ll be disappointed to learn that a return to civility doesn’t seem to be on the Left’s list of 2019 resolutions.

The savaging of conservatives is still alive and well and thriving on social media. During a Twitter debate that was supposed to be about taxes, the Democrats’ media darling, socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) got into a public spat with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise over her proposal to put a massive tax on Americans’ success. After the freshman’s interview on CBS, Scalise pointed out the stark contrast between the GOP’s view and the socialists’ like Ocasio-Cortez. “Republicans: Let Americans keep more of their own hard-earned money. Democrats: Take away 70% of your income and give it to leftist fantasy programs.”

Instead of a legitimate debate on the issue, Ocasio-Cortez decided to insult Scalise, tweeting back, “You’re the GOP Minority Whip. How do you not know how marginal tax rates work? Oh that’s right, almost forgot,” she went on. “GOP works for the corporate CEOs showering themselves multi-million bonuses; not the actual working people whose wages + healthcare they’re ripping off for profit.” That’s when her followers, who obviously share Ocasio-Cortez’s disrespect for the Louisiana Republican, turned violent — wishing Scalise, who barely survived the congressional baseball shooting in 2017, dead.

“Snipe his a**,” one posted. “She’s got better aim than [gunman] James Hodgkinson,” another added. For the Louisiana Republican, that was a step too far. “I was trying to have a debate about this,” he told Fox News, “…but once we started getting into this Twitter back and forth, a lot of her followers started making some very inappropriate references and comments. And I said, you know what? I’m not going to have this debate here — I’ll have it on the House floor.”

“Hi, @AOC,” he replied to the thread. “Happy to continue this debate on the Floor of the People’s House, but it’s clearly not productive to engage here with some of your radical followers. #StayClassy.” As of Monday morning, Ocasio-Cortez still hadn’t reached out to Scalise or distanced herself from the hateful rhetoric. And frankly, that’s part of the reason our country is in this mess. The leaders of the far-Left are either doing the harassing — or refusing to condemn it. And the longer the other side fans these flames, the greater the risk to innocent people like Steve.

“I’d like to see her stand up to this,” Scalise insisted. “Everybody ought to stand up to this kind of discussion.” An honest debate is one thing, he said, “But you shouldn’t threaten people. And if you’ve got to threaten people to make your point, you’ve already lost.”

Originally published here.

DOJ Gets Its Message a Cross

While the rest of the world was celebrating Christmas, the Department of Justice was working — in part — to protect it. After a quick break, DOJ attorneys were back at it on December 26, officially filing their own brief in a case that could have a lot to say about the holiday and other Christian displays around the country.

It’s still almost two months before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case over Maryland’s Bladensburg cross, but everyone from FRC to the DOJ is giving the justices plenty to think about until then. Amicus briefs are pouring in from across the country — another sign of just how important this decision could be. For conservatives, who came very close to living under a Hillary Clinton presidency, the Justice Department’s involvement in the case is a victory in itself. For eight years under Barack Obama, men and women of faith learned quickly that the DOJ was more of an enemy on matters of religious liberty.

Now, after two years of rebuilding the DOJ’s credibility, Justice officials are cementing their reputation as a partner in the fight for our First Freedom. Like us, they see this lawsuit as a rare chance to clarify some of the issues that have frustrated people about the church-and-state debate for years. “Cases like these cannot help but divide those with sincerely held beliefs on both sides,” the brief reads. “This case presents an opportunity for the Court to adopt a standard for establishment clause challenges to passive displays that will reduce factious litigation, provide clarity to lower courts, and promote consistency across cases,” DOJ writes.

As far as the Trump administration is concerned, nothing about this cross memorial “compel[s] onlookers to engage in a religious practice to which they object.” The same could be said about all kinds of religious displays: cemetery headstones, public nativities, or Easter crosses. “This case presents an opportunity for the Court to adopt a standard for Establishment Clause challenges to passive displays that will provide clarity to lower courts, promote consistency across cases, and reduce factious litigation.”

Even, the brief points out, “if this Court looks to more modern understandings of the Establishment Clause, the Memorial Cross is constitutional. It is indistinguishable in every material respect from the Ten Commandments display this Court upheld [in 2005]. As in that case, the context, history, and physical setting of the display underscore its secular message: commemoration and respect for the fallen. The fact that the memorial stood unchallenged for decades reinforces that it has been understood by the community as a secular war memorial.”

If the justices declare the Bladensburg cross unconstitutional, DOJ argues, it would “lead the law to exhibit a hostility toward religion that has no place in [this Court’s] Establishment Clause traditions.” Not to mention, the attorneys write, that it would jeopardize literally “hundreds of monuments with similar symbols,” including nearby Arlington Cemetery.

Our hope, and the hope of Americans around the country, is that the Supreme Court doesn’t just put an end to the attack on Bladensburg’s cross — but on every cross. It’s time for the justices to make it clear once and for all that the First Amendment means a lot of things, but the end of faith-based expression isn’t one of them.

Originally published here.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC Action senior writers.

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