The latest in Afghanistan, Haiti, and COVID-19 boosters

By / Aug 20

In this episode, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the latest in Afghanistan, the earthquake in Haiti and the need for aid, COVID-19 vaccine boosters, states banning mask mandates, and Texas’s ban on second-trimester abortion. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jill Waggoner with “A Prayer guide for the people of Afghanistan,” Jordan Wootten with “Explainer: Federal court rules in favor of religious freedom rights of Indiana Catholic high school,” and Leeann Poarch with “What 1 Peter can teach us about living in a hostile world: Justice, love, and submission to authority.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Evacuation of up to 80,000 lags as U.S. bolsters control of Kabul airport, but Taliban controls access to it
  2. ERLC, others urge Biden to protect, resettle at-risk Afghans
  3. Haiti quake death toll tops 2,000 as anger grows over lack of aid
  4. NAMB- Send Relief
  5. U.S. health officials recommend COVID-19 vaccine boosters 8 months after second shot
  6. States banning mask mandates could face civil rights probes
  7. Texas ban on second-trimester abortion procedure upheld by appeals court

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Explainer: Taliban takeover threatens human rights in Afghanistan

By / Aug 20

After a two-decade war in Afghanistan, the United States is rapidly removing the last of military troops from the country. The Muslim extremist group known as the Taliban has used the opportunity to retake the control they lost when the U.S. invaded in 2001. Within a matter of days, the Taliban captured all of ​​the major cities. The Afghan military and government quickly surrendered or fled the country. 

The outcome was recently predicted by the U.S. intelligence community. In the Annual Threat Assessment report, issued in April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence predicted that, “The Taliban is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan Government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”

Why are U.S. troops being pulled out now?

In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban. The agreement required the United States to withdraw troops and release up to 5,000 Taliban “combat and political prisoners” while the Taliban agreed to “prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies.” The Afghan government was not included in the U.S.-Taliban talks.

The agreement required the U.S. to withdraw troops by May 2021. As soon as U.S. troops began to withdraw, the Taliban launched a major military offensive that prompted the United States to launch airstrikes in support of Afghan government forces in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Despite the continued conflict, President Biden decided to move forward with the withdrawal of forces.


Biden said he “inherited a diplomatic agreement” between the U.S. and the Taliban that all U.S. forces would leave the country. “It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something,” said ​​the president. He eventually delayed the final withdrawal date to August 31.

How will human rights change under the Taliban?

When the Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, they were a leading violator of human rights. Women, girls, and religious minorities faced the greatest restriction and danger under Taliban rule. For example, millions of Afghan girls were not allowed to go to school, and Afghan women were prohibited from participating in public life, including holding political office. 

While in power, the Taliban also controlled society through “morality” officials, known as “vice and virtue” police. This police force would patrol communities to monitor their adherence to Islamicist social codes, such as whether men had the proper beard length, whether they were attending Friday prayers, or whether they were using smartphones or other unauthorized technological devices. Morality officials would inflict beatings, other forms of corporal punishment, as well as imprisonment for violations of these social codes. 

How will ​​religious freedom change under the Taliban?

Religious freedom was already all but non-existent in Afghanistan because of ​​the Constitution of Afghanistan, which became the supreme law of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in 2004.

Article 2 of the constitution stated that, “The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Followers of other faiths shall be free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rituals.” Yet the very next article notes ​​that, “No law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.”

Article 130 of the Constitution clarifies that, in the absence of an explicit statute or constitutional limit, the Supreme Court should decide “in accord with Hanafi jurisprudence,” one of the four main Sunni schools of sharia law.

At the time of its drafting, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the proposed Constitution “threatens to institutionalize a ‘Taliban-lite’ state where appointed judges are given the unchecked authority to ensure that all laws conform to their interpretation of the religion of Islam.” As they noted:

Freedom-loving Afghans won’t be able to rely on conscientious judges to protect religious freedom without an explicit reference to it in the constitution. Afghanistan’s chief justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, for example, has shown little regard for those who disagree with his hard-line interpretation of Islam. He told us that he accepted the international standards protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights with three exceptions: freedom of expression, freedom of religion and equality of the sexes. ‘This is the only law,’ the chief justice told us, pointing to the Koran on his desk.

While the Afghan Constitution provided only a thin veneer of religious freedom, the return of the Taliban threatens to reduce religious liberty even more. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Taliban issued decrees in 1999 that forbade non-Muslims from building places of worship but allowed them to worship at existing holy sites), forbade non-Muslims from criticizing Muslims, ordered non-Muslims to identify their houses by placing a yellow cloth on their rooftops, forbade non-Muslims from living in the same residence as Muslims, and required that non-Muslim women wear a yellow dress with a special mark so that Muslims could keep their distance.

The dire situation in Afghanistan is why the ERLC is advocating that the U.S. government provide Priority 2 refugee status to Afghans fleeing persecution. 

Explainer: Department of Justice drops lawsuit against University of Vermont Medical Center

By / Aug 6

As American culture continues to transform, one of the areas of particular concern for communities of faith is the preservation of religious liberty and all its applications. From the pew to the public square, people of faith have long enjoyed accommodations allowing them to act according to their conscience, abstaining from actions that would violate their deeply held religious convictions, for instance. This has long been a hallmark of life in America.

But recent actions by the current administration threaten to undermine these fundamental exercises of freedom. The Department of Justice, on July 30, dismissed a lawsuit filed by its Civil Rights Division against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) which stated that UVMMC, in forcing a staff member to participate in an abortive procedure despite her stated moral objections, violated “the federal anti-discrimination statute known as the Church Amendments.” What proved to be a clear violation of the law by UVMMC ended with “no admission of guilt, no injunction, no corrective action, no settlement,” resulting in what Roger Severino says is “effectively a full pardon” for the organization. The ERLC joins Severino and the team at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in decrying this outrageous development. 

What was the lawsuit about?

On Aug. 28, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights issued a Notice of Violation stating that “after a thorough investigation and prolonged attempts to resolve the matter,” it was determined that UVMMC “violated the Church Amendments (42 U.S.C. 300a-7) by forcing a nurse to assist in an elective abortion procedure over the nurse’s conscience-based objections.” 

In response to these findings, “the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division”, on Dec. 16, 2020, “filed a civil lawsuit in Vermont federal court against the University of Vermont Medical Center” for its egregious act of discrimination. 

In the Justice Department’s press release, referring to the aforementioned “Church Amendments,” the statement declares that “that statute prohibits health care entities like UVMMC from discriminating against health care workers who follow their conscience and refuse to perform or assist with abortions.” The statement goes on to call UVMMC’s actions “an indecent coercion that violates everything this country stands for,” a “shocking and outrageous attack against the right of all people in this free country to follow their conscience,” and stating, “the U.S. Department of Justice will not stand for it.” 

Why was the lawsuit dropped?

Shockingly, though, the newly appointed Justice Department had a dramatic change of mind, deciding to “stand for it,” after all. 

According to Severino, the Department of Justice’s and HHS’ unusual step of dropping “a duly authorized lawsuit after it has been investigated and filed” is attributable to the newly elected and appointed administration. Since the violation, investigation, and eventual lawsuit all occurred under the previous administration, and seemed headed for some sort of lawful resolution, it is difficult to explain this move in any other way.

What happens next in this case?

Because the case was voluntarily dropped by the Department of Justice, it appears that no further action will be taken. As Severino pointed out, there was no admission of guilt, no order of injunction, no recommendation for corrective actions or measures, and no settlement awarded to the victim in this case. Furthermore, the victim herself has little-to-no legal actions at her disposal “due to nuances around private rights of action.” 

As such, the University of Vermont Medical Center will continue to receive federal funds “despite it having been found by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to have violated the law.”

What’s at stake in this case and others like it?

Considering the language used by Eric Dreiband, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, “everything that this country stands for” is at stake in a case such as this. 

Flagrant forms of discrimination like this against persons of faith are a direct violation of federal law, as the HHS Office for Civil Rights articulated in its Notice of Violation. Moreover, it is a transgression against one of the most fundamental human rights, freedom of conscience. If the outcome of this case is indicative of this administration’s intentions toward people of faith, then it signals a blatant disavowal of America’s most foundational and cherished liberty. 

Christians should stand ready to involve ourselves in the work of preserving and expanding conscience-protections on behalf of all people of faith, ensuring that religious and civil liberties continue to enjoy robust protections.  As always, the ERLC is committed to working on behalf of Southern Baptists, the broader Christian community, and all people of faith to defend these fundamental rights. 

Are there forthcoming legislative remedies?

In terms of expanding conscience-protections, specifically in the field of healthcare, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), in January 2019, introduced the Conscience Protection Act, an effort “to protect healthcare providers, including health care professionals, entities, and health insurance plans from government discrimination if they decline to participate in abortions,” which he then reintroduced on Feb. 23, 2021.

Whereas, in the event of a situation like that which occurred at UVMMC, where conscience-protections were clearly violated, “the only recourse is to file a complaint with the HHS Office for Civil Rights,” the Conscience Protection Act “provides doctors, nurses, and other health care workers permanent protection from being discriminated against by employers if they choose to follow their conscience and do not wish to perform, participate in, or provide an abortion.” As Lankford says, “Many entered health care to protect life; they should not be forced to take a life to keep their jobs.”

The passage of this bill would be a commendable step toward protecting the rights of conscience for those employed in the healthcare industry, and it’s one that the ERLC wholeheartedly supports. 

It is likely that cases similar to the one at UVMMC will continue to pop up as culture trends in a secular direction, but legislation like the Conscience Protection Act would ensure that robust and necessary protections are guaranteed for conscience-bound healthcare workers who find themselves in morally objectionable situations.