Right Opinion

'I'm Afraid Too... but Aren't We Supposed to Fix This?'

Tony Perkins · Jan. 18, 2020

Editor’s note: These pieces were originally penned on January 17.

There’s a day in everyone’s life that helps define them. For Jewher Ilham, that date was February 2, 2013. She and her dad woke up that morning, thinking they were on their way to America. “It was supposed to be an adventure.” Instead, it was the start of another journey – the story of a teenage daughter, who China turned into a global freedom fighter.

They’d gotten their tickets and checked their bags, completely oblivious to the fact that these were the last hours they’d spend together. Her dad, Ilham, one of Beijing’s most respected scholars and professors, had been invited to do a residency at Indiana University. He never arrived. Walking through the terminal to the immigration checkpoint, Jewher could tell that something was wrong. As officers pulled them from the line and led them to a small room, she and her dad looked at each other. Her dad, they were told, could not leave.

Alone, without any money or family, a panicked Jewher was put on the plane and sent to Chicago. It was the last time she would see her father – maybe, forever. A year and a half later, after beatings, interrogations, and the worst kind of torture, her father just disappeared. They found out later that he’d been charged as an extremist and sentenced to life in a Uyghur concentration camp. “I had never imagined that I would be in such a situation,” she said. “I never thought that one day my father would be imprisoned in Xinjiang, and I would be on the other side of the world, trying my best to speak for him.” Jewher learned English for the sole purpose of telling the world what happened. She was determined: if her father could not be heard – she would be.

Her best weapon, she explains, is the one her father used: words. She went to Congress, human rights councils, the European Parliament, and NGOs, pleading with them to intervene. The Uyghur people, she warned, are being hunted down and imprisoned. Help them. Her dad had spent years advocating for the persecuted minority, trying to build a bridge between the Chinese and other people. But the government saw him as a threat, and like millions of other Uyghurs, made him pay.

Thursday, Jewher spent the morning at FRC, reliving what’s happened to her family – and so many others. “This isn’t just happening to the Uyghurs,” she insisted. There are at least a million of them, locked away behind barbed wire – but there are others. Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, even human rights lawyers. And what do the Chinese say about it? “These are just reeducation centers, meant to train people for jobs.” But look at who are trapped in these camps, Jewher argues. “Professors, high school teachers, soccer players, faculty… [A]ll kinds of people who are successful in their careers. And those people do not need vocational training or job training… [This is] happening. And it’s spread to everywhere in China.”

When I asked Jewher later, on “Washington Watch,” what brought her to this point, she explained how hard it had been. She never imagined becoming the face of the Uyghur struggle, but there comes a point, she explained, when you have to stand up for people who can’t. “Six years ago, when I first decided to speak up for my father’s situation, I only wanted to speak up for my father. I did not want to get into all the politics and all the other people, because I thought I wasn’t the best person to speak up. I didn’t think I was knowledgeable enough to educate people on the issue. But as a daughter, I knew that I’m the best person to speak.”

There was a turning point, she remembers, about two years ago, when Jewher made a conscious decision to focus on more than her father. Someone, she believed, had to tell the world about the suffering. “It’s not that I think I’m an expert,” she’s quick to say. “It’s not that I think I am so knowledgeable about it. [It’s] because the people who can educate people on this issue better than me are locked up in concentration camp now.” And everyone else, she says, is living in fear. “I am afraid, too. I am so scared that my actions could bring [endanger] the rest of my family members. In fact, one of my cousins has been sentenced to 10 years for having my father’s photo and his article on her phone.”

This is so common that I feel this is sick. This is not supposed to be happening. And it’s not about one person or one group. It’s not about the Uyghur people anymore. It’s about humanity. These human rights violations [aren’t supposed] to be happening in 2020. And aren’t we all supposed to speak up? Aren’t we all supposed to? No matter if I’m Uyghur or not? And no matter if someone is from [another country], from other religious groups or other ethnic groups, aren’t we supposed to stand against atrocities like this? Aren’t we supposed to fix this? This is a problem. When we see a problem, aren’t we all supposed to fix it?“

Originally published here.

The Pronoun Throw Down

"Refreshingly sane.” It’s not everyday those two words are used to describe the circuit courts. But, then again, it’s not every day – at least anymore – that those circuit courts are packed with liberal activists. Thanks to the White House, one in every four circuit judges is now a Donald Trump appointee, who respects the boundaries of the constitution. And after seeing the kind of transgender pronoun insanity being debated in Kyle Duncan’s court, conservatives couldn’t be more grateful.

His name is Norman Varner – but he’d rather everyone call him Katherine Jett. “I am a woman,” he insisted, “and not referring to me as such leads me to feel that I am being discriminated against based on my gender identity. I am a woman,” he repeated. “Can I not be referred to as one?” Norman, who’s been convicted on child pornography charges, wants to have his 2012 records changed to match his preferred name. That question was essentially thrown out on a technicality. But the real debate – his insistence that the court use female pronouns – has captured the public’s attention.

And why not? It’s playing out in schools, places of business, even sports. Teachers like Peter Vlaming have been fired for refusing to use a biologically incorrect pronoun. It’s no wonder Varner’s “Motion to Use Female Pronouns When Addressing Appellant” has taken center stage.

“Congress,” Kyle Duncan wrote in the 2-1 decision against Varner, “has said nothing to prohibit courts from referring to litigants according to their biological sex [instead of their] subjective gender identity.” If anything, he points out, the “convention” is and continues to be a “courtesy.”

Secondly, he went on, if a court were forced to use the preferred pronouns of litigants, “it could raise delicate questions about judicial impartiality…” After all, he points out, this subject – sex and gender identity – is increasingly being raised before the courts. “In cases like these, a court may have the most benign motives in honoring a party’s request to be addressed with pronouns matching his ‘deeply felt, inherent sense of [his] gender.’ Yet in doing so, the court may unintentionally convey its tacit approval of the litigant’s underlying legal position.”

Last, but certainly not least, Duncan explained, indulging these gender fantasies “may well turn out to be more complex than [they] appear.” There are literally dozens of pronouns that judges would have to learn – one university’s guide, he noted, has more than 45 possibilities. “When local governments have sought to enforce pronoun usage, they have had to make refined distinctions based on matters such as the types of allowable pronouns and the intent of the ‘misgendering’ offender. Courts would have to do the same. We decline to enlist the federal judiciary in this quixotic undertaking.”

Hats off to Kyle Duncan for refusing to play along with this dangerous game. “This is an attack on basic language … Human biology and reproduction are binary, and grammar follows that basic truth,” PJ Media’s Tyler O'Neil argues. “In an era of confusion, this ruling is a welcome moment of sanity.” One that wouldn’t be possible without the President and Senate’s commitment to the courts. It’s just another example of how Trump’s judges, all 187 of them, are taking back the bench for common sense.

Originally published here.

Trump Celebrates Freedom in Grant Style

A religious test shouldn’t be used for public service, and it shouldn’t be used for public funding either! And thanks to President Trump’s string of announcements Thursday, Christians shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

If you tried to keep up with the burst of government regulations, it wasn’t easy. January 16 ended up being one of the busiest days for the president’s cabinet members, who were volleying out press releases as fast as the news wires would print them. By the end of Thursday, we knew that nine government agencies would be breaking new ground on First Amendment protections and mopping up major problems from their predecessors. By the time the sun went down, Americans had heard about new guidance on school prayer, forthcoming regulations protecting religious organizations, and a memo from the Office of Management and Budget giving additional teeth to these policy changes.

Of course, when the media wasn’t downplaying what the president had done, they made it difficult to understand what he had. So the White House team took turns on shows like “Washington Watch” to explain. Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), had a front row seat for the changes and says conservatives – especially evangelicals – have a lot to be thankful for.

In his mind, one of the most significant moves was bringing the government in line with a key Supreme Court decision called Trinity Lutheran. Some of you might remember that case, where a church daycare had applied for money from a state program to rebuild the base of their playground. Missouri turned them down, insisting that they couldn’t use public dollars for any “church, section, or denomination of religion.” The justices disagreed, ruling that the government should treat kids at religious schools the same way they treat everyone else. That was an important decision, Russ explained, because the government’s been using this excuse for years for a lot more than Christian daycares. So, the president has insisted – rightly so – that it’s time to bring every agency in line with that Supreme Court decision.

“A lot of times, you’ll have a state that will receive a good chunk of money – and then they’ll [turn around and] provide funding to other grant recipients,” Vought said. “And it’s important that those religious organizations, where they’re competing, are not barred.” One of the guidances issued Thursday ensures “that agencies are speaking very clearly to all the states and subgrant recipients to make sure they have these policies in place. And here’s the issue,” he went on. “It’s often hard to get people moving in the right direction. But one of the things that will make people pay attention to these types of laws on the books is the fact that their funding is attached to it. And so we want to make sure that that is if they’re going to receive federal funding, religious organizations have the ability to compete for it…”

The president isn’t trying to give faith-based groups special treatment. He’s just asking that they’re treated like everybody else. Under President Obama, religious charities and nonprofits were punished just for having convictions. This policy, Russ believes, ought to have a big effect. It’s not just a feel-good announcement. It’s a rule that will actually make a difference in how churches and others are treated.

“And then the other thing that the administration has done in about nine different agencies, everyone from DOJ to HUD to HHS is to remove the Obama administration regulations that [put] red tape on religious organizations by saying, ‘Hey, if you’re coming into a religious organization, you’ve got to provide notice to the people coming through your doors that they can have an alternative provider – which is, quite frankly, offensive… Again, we don’t have any issue with secular providers. We just want to make sure that religious organizations can compete without the same red tape being put on them.”

Lastly – and probably the most covered change from Thursday – is the Trump guidance on school prayer. “Government,” the president insisted, “must never stand between the people and God.” And yet, he went on, “there’s a growing totalitarian impulse on the far Left that seeks to punish, restrict, and even prohibit religious expression… [W]e will not let anyone push God from the public square.” And to prove it, Trump unveiled what he calls his “right to pray” rule.

When it comes to school prayer, Gateways to Better Education’s Eric Buehrer told me, “We’re fighting a battle against people who are simply ignorant of what the law actually says. So the challenge is to get this information into the hands of teachers and administrators because they’re so afraid of being attacked for allowing something [like prayer]. But it is allowed.” This policy helps administrators and teachers understand what is and isn’t okay. And there’s a little incentive for schools to learn what’s legal under the guidance from the administration – because now it’s linked to federal funding. For once, these districts have to certify that they have no policy against prayer in schools. It’s not just “Oh, yeah. We allow it.” They have to prove it.

That’s significant, after a whole generation of young people grew up thinking that somehow public expression of your faith in the classroom – or really anywhere – is forbidden. “It’s no wonder they become adults who have that same thinking.” For too long, schools have played a role stigmatizing religion and the expression of faith. And while there’s still a lot of work to be done, there’s no denying: this is a big step.

Originally published here.

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

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