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Contraceptive mandate oral arguments shed light on underreported issues E-mail

Many issues are at play in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. The cases involve claims by for-profit businesses challenging the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate — the requirement, under the Affordable Care Act, that most employer-provided health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception. The businesses seek relief under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which became law in 1993 and has only been reviewed twice by the Court.

The cases have inspired intense debate among scholars and advocates about a number of legal issues relating to the interpretation of RFRA and the future of religious liberty.

Click here to read the rest of this column.

 
A model of service to others E-mail

A great friend of religious liberty and Baptists everywhere passed away in March. Richard E. Ice was a longtime member of the Baptist Joint Committee Board of Directors and a leader in American Baptist life who modeled service by sharing his talents and gifts and following the passions of his life.

Click here to read the rest of the column, including Walker's words at the memorial service.

 
Concerns about discrimination doom Arizona legislation E-mail

How did Arizona legislation that looked pretty similar to many other religious freedom statutes grab the national spotlight and get characterized by some as a license to discriminate?

Several factors led to the highly publicized veto of legislation known as SB1062, many of which will continue to challenge the popularity and public understanding of religious freedom claims.

A little background is needed to put the story in proper context. The federal government and 18 states have laws known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs). Another dozen states interpret their state constitutions to provide similar protections. The driving principle behind these laws is that religious practice based upon sincere religious belief should be protected, even from governmental acts that are not aimed at religion but have an incidental impact.

 
A new primer on a 'touchy subject' E-mail

Okay — time for some shameless self-promotion.

My friend Johnny Pierce and the good folks at Nurturing Faith (NurturingFaith.net) in Macon, Ga., have published the 8th Annual Shurden Lectures that I delivered last year at my law school alma mater, Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.

Baptist Joint Committee supporters and the readers of this column know that the annual lectureship funded by the generous endowment established by Buddy and Kay Shurden is one of the BJC’s mainstay efforts to educate college students and others in university communities about religious liberty and the separation of church and state. With this new publication, titled What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation, I hope to reach students in many schools, colleges and seminaries, as well as Baptists and others in churches everywhere.

 
Chaplains educate lawmakers on religious freedom in the military E-mail

Despite suggestions from some members of Congress of religious freedom strains in the military, a recent congressional hearing failed to reveal significant problems. Instead, reports from the chiefs of chaplains and other witnesses provided an affirmation of how properly trained military chaplains reflect the best of our country’s religious freedom tradition and serve that interest in a uniquely challenging environment. The hearings also demonstrated a nagging political instinct by some to misconstrue the nature of religious freedom and exaggerate conflict.

 
RFRA's constitutionality called into question E-mail

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on March 25 in the contraception case involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, it will be asked to decide novel and difficult questions concerning the interpretation and application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Readers of Report from the Capital and even casual Court observers are aware of these uncharted issues. Can commercial, for-profit corporations exercise religion? Can the shareholders’ rights of conscience be imputed to the corporation? Can their exercise of religion be “substantially burdened” by objectionable activity provided by an insurance company and chosen by female employees? Does government have a compelling interest in making sure all women have access to preventive health care services, like contraceptives, sufficient to justify that burden?

Click here to read the rest of this column.

Click here to read "BJC supports strong legal standard in contraceptive mandate cases" by BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman.

 
A Baptist commitment to freedom and evangelism E-mail

A pastor friend recently asked me to write a short piece on the importance to Baptists of church planting. I agreed to do it, but only in the context of a larger discussion about the relationship between freedom and evangelism.

Historically, this has been a both/and proposition for Baptists. We are passionately committed to soul freedom for each and religious liberty for all; we are similarly dedicated to missions which includes evangelism and, even more tangibly, church planting. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is both a covenant of freedom and a mandate for sharing.

 
BJC supports strong legal standard in contraceptive mandate cases E-mail

The Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate — the requirement, under the Affordable Care Act, that most employer-provided health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception — continues to stir controversy and spawn new lawsuits at a dizzying rate. It is not only the number of cases that is striking. The variety of arguments and contexts in which they are made create a very complex picture for determining whether the mandate violates religious liberty law.

While it will take a long time to decide all the related claims, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear two cases that involve one of the most significant and high-profile issues at stake. The two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, address whether the contraceptive mandate violates the religious rights of secular corporations and their owners. The corporations employ people without regard to religion and sell non-religious goods, but their individual owners strongly object to some forms of contraception and maintain that both they and the corporations themselves have free exercise rights that will be violated by the mandate. The cases have been consolidated, and oral arguments will be held on March 25. 

Click here to read the rest of this column.

Click here to read more on the cases from BJC Executive Director Brent Walker in "RFRA's constitutionality called into question."

 
New book on religious liberty now available E-mail

What a Touchy Subject - Religious Liberty and Church-State SeparationIf you're looking for a basic primer on religious liberty and the separation of church and state, check out a new book from BJC Executive Director J. Brent Walker. What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation has been published by Nurturing Faith.

The book is a compilation of Walker's presentations during the 2013 Shurden Lectures. They cover the principles of religious liberty from a historical, constitutional and scriptural perspective. The book's appendix has more information about the lecture series and the Baptist Joint Committee, as well as materials on religion in politics. 

The book is available to purchase as a printed publication at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com and as an e-book at NurturingFaith.net. Just click on the links or visit those websites and search for "J. Brent Walker."

 
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New Hampshire Supreme Court Debates Aid to Religious Schools Program
The New Hampshire Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a challenge to the state's tuition tax credit program. Businesses in the state are receiving tax credits for paying private school tuition through a scholarship incentive program. Because many of those funds are going to ...
 
New Police Commissioner Abandons NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program
A new police commissioner in New York has brought new policies. William Bratton put an end to the Demographics Unit, an undercover surveillance operation controversial for targeting Muslim communities, including maintaining files on individual houses of worship. (The BJC and others last yea...