By / Nov 4

November 6 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. On this Sunday, we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. But more importantly, we lift them up to our good God who hears our prayers. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

Let us approach our God, therefore, with confidence that we serve an infinitely big, infinitely powerful God who is ready to save.

If you are a pastor, set aside time this Sunday to join with churches around the world in praying for those that suffer for no reason other than that they follow their Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you are a church leader, dedicate some time this week with your ministry, Bible study, or small group to pray for our persecuted fellow believers.

If you have a family, spend time praying around the dinner table for those that live in places that do not recognize the fundamental human right of religious liberty.

How you can pray for the persecuted church 

Every year Open Doors, a network that serves persecuted Christians around the world, produces the World Watch List, which highlights the countries where persecution of Christians is highest and offers suggestions for how you can pray for them. Here is what you should know about the 10 countries with the highest levels of persecution and how you can pray for our brothers and sisters in those nations. 

Afghanistan

Persecution type: Islamic theocracy imposed by the Taliban

Estimated number of Christians: Possibly thousands

How Christians are suffering: “The Taliban will make sure that Islamic rules and customs are implemented and kept. Christian converts don’t have any option but to obey them. If a Christian’s new faith is discovered, their family, clan or tribe has to save its honor by disowning the believer, or even killing them.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for secret believers in Afghanistan, that they will be protected from the violence of the Taliban.”

North Korea

Persecution type: Communist and post-Communist oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 400,000

How Christians are suffering: “An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea’s notorious system of prisons and labor camps. And, to make matters worse, often a family will share the same fate as the person captured.”

Prayer prompt: “Christians in North Korea are in danger. Pray for Christians who worship secretly, Christians who are in prison, and the families of Christians who have been arrested or killed. Ask God to be with these believers and to strengthen them to find hope and see His hand at work in their lives.”

Somalia

Persecution type: Clan oppression

Estimated number of Christians: A few hundred

How Christians are suffering: “The small number of believers in Somalia are largely Christians who have converted from Islam. Christians are viewed as high-value targets by Islamic radical groups. Even when Christian converts are not targeted by extremists, they are intensely pressured by their family and community.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for Christians who are targeted by Islamic extremists. Ask God to protect them and grant them hope.”

Libya

Persecution type: Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 34,600

How Christians are suffering: “When a person in Libya leaves Islam to follow Christ, they face immense pressure from their families to renounce their faith. Their neighbors and the rest of the community ostracize them, and they can be left homeless, jobless, and alone.”

Prayer prompt:  “Libya’s government has been unstable for a decade. Pray for some stability and rule of law in the country.”

Yemen

Persecution type: Clan oppression

Estimated number of Christians: A few thousand

How Christians are suffering: “The persecution against Christians in Yemen has been extreme for years, leading to a jump of two spots on the 2022 World Watch List. Pressure on converts from Islam is at the highest levels in every part of life.”

Prayer prompt:  “The civil war has lasted for nearly a decade. Pray for peace, pray for stability and pray for an openness to religious freedom.”

Eritrea

Persecution type: Christian denominational protectionism

Estimated number of Christians:  2,611,000

How Christians are suffering: “Despite almost half the population identifying as Christian, believers in Eritrea continue to suffer extreme persecution, making it one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus. Christians not part of recognized denominations are at risk of severe persecution. Gatherings are raided and believers arrested. The conditions facing Christians in prison can be inhumane.”

Prayer prompt:  “Ask God to protect Christians who convert from Islam, or who join a church outside of the Orthodox tradition.”

Nigeria

Persecution type: Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians:  98,006,000

How Christians are suffering: “Persecution in Nigeria is, simply put, brutally violent. In much of northern Nigeria, Christians live their lives under the constant threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani militants and criminals who kidnap and murder with few consequences. The violence is so bad it has begun to travel south, as well.”

Prayer prompt:  “Pray for the many militant groups who attack Christians in Nigeria. Ask God to change their hearts as only He can.”

Pakistan

Persecution type:  Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 4,080,000

How Christians are suffering: “In Pakistan, Christians are considered second-class citizens and are discriminated against in every aspect of life. Church leaders can be arrested if they don’t abide by the authorities’ wishes.”

Prayer prompt:  “Pray for the women and girls who are kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.”

Iran

Persecution type:  Islamic oppression

Estimated number of Christians: 800,000

How Christians are suffering: “The severity of persecution facing Christians in Iran remains largely unchanged. Converts from Islam are most at risk of persecution, especially by the government, and to a lesser extent, by society and their own families.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for the religious leaders of Iran, that they would have their hearts changed to recognize Jesus as Lord.”

India

Persecution type: Religious nationalism

Estimated number of Christians: 68,863,000

How Christians are suffering: “The persecution of Christians in India has intensified, as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence. The extremists disregard Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians, and think the country should be purified of non-Hindus. This has led to a systemic—and often violent—targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.”

Prayer prompt: “Pray for the healing of the many victims of religious violence in India. Ask that God would heal both hearts and bodies.”

By / Aug 11

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

These aren’t my words, but they might as well be. I feel like I can’t take another day of bad news. War, political vitriol, violence, corruption. Our holidays aren’t even restful, because evil doesn’t take a day off. These “why” questions come from Psalm 10. The chapter is a desperate prayer, cried out without pretense, right from the pages of our Bible. In this passage, we meet someone in the middle of a crisis of faith. He is struggling to apply what he knows to be true about a good and just God to circumstances of rampant injustice around him. Surely, we can relate.

I am asking a lot of my own why questions these days. Why does our world feel like it is getting more dangerous, more confusing, more uncertain? Why can’t we go to our local parade without fear? Or send our kids to school, or go to the grocery store without worrying for basic safety? Why does it seem the most vulnerable among us keep paying the highest price? Why do our leaders— the very people charged with doing the right thing in the face of injustice— seem to lack fortitude? 

Beneath all of those questions, my heart is asking along with the psalmist, “Why, Lord, are you far away when we need you most?” But I am so grateful to see my concerns included in Scripture. And in this way, we see God is not distant. He speaks to us right here in Psalm 10, right into the real pain of our lives, meeting us in the tension of how to live in a world not as it should be. We learn several things from this passage about how to face injustice. 

How we pray

The author gives us a lesson in how we pray for justice. He first spends nine verses detailing how a wicked man exploits the vulnerable for his own gain and laments the way evil seems to operate with impunity. But then, the author turns to God and says, “Arise, O Lord. Oh, God, lift up your hand” (v. 12).

What a request! The directness makes me uncomfortable. But should it? The psalmist believed what God says about himself is true— he is righteous, just, helper to the helpless. And so he requests that God act on behalf of his own reputation. It is a request of faith, not doubt.

In verse 14, the psalmist writes that God not only sees the injustice, but takes it into his own hands. Stop there for a second. This image contradicts every fear we could ever have that God is indifferent to human suffering. He cares, enough to take it into his hands and deal with it himself. What better evidence do we have for this claim than Christ? In Jesus’ death, we see there is no length to which God would not go to deal with the sin and evil of this world— even the death of his only beloved son.

So, if we are uncomfortable being direct with God, it might be because we don’t trust him to be who he says he will be. Let’s instead, reorient our hearts to hold Christ as the firm foundation upon which every request is made. We can ask God for justice because he is just. We’ve seen is character in Christ’s willing sacrifice for our sin.

How we care

When we encounter injustice— on the news, on social media, or in our very neighborhood, what is our heart’s response? I confess that mine often cycles between detachment and vengeance. But we lose the ability to engage faithfully in justice work when we spiral into despair or rage. Psalm 10 offers a different model.

First, what stands out most in this entire passage is the heart of God for the helpless. His relationship with the vulnerable is beautiful. The wicked brag that God doesn’t care about their pain, but Psalm 10 affirms the truth: ‘you do see’. (v 14) God hears the cries of the afflicted, and he does not forget them. What is more, ‘he will strengthen their hearts’, (v 14) meeting them in their time of need. This picture of God’s heart and care should shape our response.

Second, when we step back from the story, we see this is about more than two earthly parties— the victim and the aggressor. There is actually a third person involved. Do you see it? The author. He is not passive. He is grieving injustice, with his heart and mind aligned with God’s care for the vulnerable. We see this as he desperately petitions God to intervene in righteousness.

And here lies both a promise and a warning. God cares deeply, specifically for the vulnerable— but do we? And as God’s people, do we consider that his care for the helpless may just flow through us, through our wallets, our prayers, our churches? Because when we get down to it, the wicked man is not so far removed from us. In fact, many commentaries believe the aggressor was a wealthy Israelite or group of Israelites who defied God’s commands specifically given to his covenant people to care for the vulnerable (Exo. 22:21-24). 

I don’t want to settle for cycling between detachment, despair, and rage. And I don’t want to be blinded by pride, thinking God doesn’t actually care how I treat the vulnerable. Thankfully, there is another way. We can look to the beauty revealed here and ask the Holy Spirit to help us reflect God’s heart in our own actions. It will require more of us— likely sacrifice and personal cost— but there is nothing better than living within God’s commands and promises by the power of his Spirit.

How we hope

For much of the chapter, Psalm 10 reads as a petition. Then, near the end, comes a change in verse 16. The psalmist breaks from speaking to God and makes a statement about God. “The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.” This is the truth claim on which everything else depends. All the power players of his day, and of ours— they are actually waning. 

There are so many times in the last few months particularly, where I’ve been tempted to believe darkness is winning. But what is beautiful about this chapter is that it reminds us to speak the truth to ourselves when we are most tempted to forget. We need this good news to break through and capture our hearts and minds. We need a secure hope while waiting for our broken world to be made right. We too need to be reminded that the Lord is king, and the land is his.

The psalmist ends here, not with a declaration of vengeance or even resolution, but a promise. He writes of a future time when “the man who is of the earth will strike terror no more” (v 18). What a triumphant declaration! And it points forward to a promised time when Jesus will establish his rule of justice and righteousness and reign forevermore (Isa. 9:6-7).

We are right to long for justice, but oftentimes what we want is far too small. The justice Jesus brings is even better than what we could imagine. We think of justice as a courtroom idea— to make payment for wrongs. That is true, but the just kingdom described in the Bible goes far beyond that idea. Our King upholds righteousness, so that humanity and all creation flourishes as it should, as it is intended to. Whole, peaceful, completely sinless. Restoration is coming through Jesus. And it is better than anything we could ever design (Rev. 21). Let us pray and hope toward that end. 

By / Jun 27

In an affirmation of religious expression, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Kennedy v. Bremerton on June 27 that “the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal.” The court found that Coach Kennedy’s private prayers after football games were “private speech, not government speech,” and teachers and students need not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Justice Gorsuch wrote the opinion of the court joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Barrett. Kavanaugh also joined the majority opinion except for Part III-B. Justices Thomas and Alito wrote concurring opinions. Justice Sotomayor authored the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan.

The ERLC applauds the court for continuing to strengthen our nation’s long legacy of religious expression. First Amendment protections travel together, and the court was wise to observe that Coach Kennedy’s personal expressions of religious devotion created “no conflict between the constitutional commands of the First Amendment.”

In the amicus brief the ERLC joined, we argued that “the Establishment Clause does not require public schools to be policed as religion-free zones.” We agree with the court that public employees retain the freedom to act in private capacities while on the job, and teachers and coaches should be able to practice their religious beliefs without fear of excessive state incursion.

Below are key quotes from the majority opinion, concurrence, and dissent, highlighting how the court reached its decision. Page numbers from the court’s decision are given for each quote, but legal citations are omitted for clarity of reading.

For more details on the religious liberty issues present in this case, see our explainer here. To keep up to date on all Supreme Court cases we are watching in 2022, visit ERLC.com/SCOTUS.

———-

From the Syllabus 

“The District Court found that the ‘sole reason’ for the District’s decision to suspend Mr. Kennedy was its perceived ‘risk of constitutional liability’ under the Establishment Clause for his ‘religious conduct’ after three games.” (1)

“The Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal; the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.” (1) 

“The District, like the Ninth Circuit below, insists Mr. Kennedy’s rights to religious exercise and free speech must yield to the District’s interest in avoiding an Establishment Clause violation under Lemon and its progeny.” (4)

“But—given the apparent ‘shortcomings’ associated with Lemon’s ‘ambitiou[s],’ abstract, and ahistorical approach to the Establishment Clause—this Court long ago abandoned Lemon and its endorsement test offshoot…In place of Lemon and the endorsement test, this Court has instructed that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by ‘reference to historical practices and understandings.’” (4)

“The District next attempts to justify its suppression of Mr. Kennedy’s religious activity by arguing that doing otherwise would coerce students to pray…The Ninth Circuit did not adopt this theory in proceedings below and evidence of coercion in this record is absent.” (5)

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.” (6)

Majority Opinion: Justice Gorsuch

“Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor.” (1) 

“Under this Court’s precedents, a plaintiff may carry the burden of proving a free exercise violation in various ways, including by showing that a government entity has burdened his sincere religious practice pursuant to a policy that is not ‘neutral’ or ‘generally applicable.’” (12) 

“In this case, the District’s challenged policies were neither neutral nor generally applicable….Prohibiting a religious practice was thus the District’s unquestioned ‘object.’ The District candidly acknowledged as much below, conceding that its policies were ‘not neutral’ toward religion.” (14) 

“Of course, none of this means the speech rights of public school employees are so boundless that they may deliver any message to anyone anytime they wish…If a public employee speaks ‘pursuant to [his or her] official duties,’ this Court has said the Free Speech Clause generally will not shield the individual from an employer’s control and discipline because that kind of speech is—for constitutional purposes at least—the government’s own speech.” (15)

“At the other end of the spectrum, when an employee ‘speaks as a citizen addressing a matter of public concern,’ our cases indicate that the First Amendment may be implicated and courts should…attempt to engage in ‘a delicate balancing of the competing interests surrounding the speech and its consequences.’” (15)

“It seems clear to us that Mr. Kennedy has demonstrated that his speech was private speech, not government speech.” (17) 

“Others working for the District were free to engage briefly in personal speech and activity…That Mr. Kennedy chose to use the same time to pray does not transform his speech into government speech. To hold differently would be to treat religious expression as second-class speech.” (19)  

“It is true that this Court and others often refer to the ‘Establishment Clause,’ the ‘Free Exercise Clause,’ and the ‘Free Speech Clause’ as separate units. But the three Clauses appear in the same sentence of the same Amendment.” (20) 

“In Lemon this Court attempted a ‘grand unified theory’ for assessing Establishment Clause claims…that approach called for an examination of a law’s purposes, effects, and potential for entanglement with religion.”(22) 

“In place of Lemon and the endorsement test, this Court has instructed that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by ‘reference to historical practices and understandings. [T]he line’ that courts and governments ‘must draw between the permissible and the impermissible’ has to ‘accord with history and faithfully reflect the understanding of the Founding Fathers.’” (23)

“Now, [the school district] says, it was justified in suppressing Mr. Kennedy’s religious activity because otherwise it would have been guilty of coercing students to pray. And, the District says, coercing worship amounts to an Establishment Clause violation on anyone’s account of the Clause’s original meaning.” (24)

“To be sure, this Court has long held that government may not, consistent with a historically sensitive understanding of the Establishment Clause, ‘make a religious observance compulsory.’ But in this case Mr. Kennedy’s private religious exercise did not come close to crossing any line one might imagine separating protected private expression from impermissible government coercion.” (24-25)

“In short, Mr. Kennedy did not seek to direct any prayers to students or require anyone else to participate.” (26)

“Naturally, Mr. Kennedy’s proposal to pray quietly by himself on the field would have meant some people would have seen his religious exercise. Those close at hand might have heard him too. But learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is ‘part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society,’ a trait of character essential to ‘a tolerant citizenry.’” (26)

“Of course, some will take offense to certain forms of speech or prayer they are sure to encounter in a society where those activities enjoy such robust constitutional protection. But ‘offense… does not equate to coercion.’” (26-27)

“Here, the District suggests that any visible religious conduct by a teacher or coach should be deemed—without more and as a matter of law—impermissibly coercive on students…Such a rule would be a sure sign that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence had gone off the rails. In the name of protecting religious liberty, the District would have us suppress it. Rather than respect the First Amendment’s double protection for religious expression, it would have us preference secular activity. Not only could schools fire teachers for praying quietly over their lunch, for wearing a yarmulke to school, or for offering a midday prayer during a break before practice. Under the District’s rule, a school would be required to do so.” (28)

“We are aware of no historically sound understanding of the Establishment Clause that begins to ‘make it necessary for government to be hostile to religion’ in this way.” (29)

“In truth, there is no conflict between the constitutional commands before us. There is only the ‘mere shadow’ of a conflict, a false choice premised on a misconstruction of the Establishment Clause. And in no world may a government entity’s concerns about phantom constitutional violations justify actual violations of an individual’s First Amendment rights.” (31)

“The only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.” (31-32)

Concurring Opinion: Justice Thomas

“I write separately to emphasize that the Court’s opinion does not resolve two issues related to Kennedy’s free-exercise claim.” (1)

“First, the Court refrains from deciding whether or how public employees’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause may or may not be different from those enjoyed by the general public.” (1)

“We have held that ‘the First Amendment protects public employee speech only when it falls within the core of First Amendment protection — speech on matters of public concern.’ It remains an open question, however, if a similar analysis can or should apply to free-exercise claims in light of the ‘history’ and ‘tradition’ of the Free Exercise Clause.” (1-2)

“Second, the Court also does not decide what burden a government employer must shoulder to justify restricting an employee’s religious expression because the District had no constitutional basis for reprimanding Kennedy under any possibly applicable standard of scrutiny…A government employer’s burden therefore might differ depending on which First Amendment guarantee a public employee invokes.” (2)

Concurring Opinion: Justice Alito

“Petitioner’s expression occurred while at work but during a time when a brief lull in his duties apparently gave him a few free moments to engage in private activities. When he engaged in this expression, he acted in a purely private capacity.” (1)

“The Court does not decide what standard applies to such expression under the Free Speech Clause but holds only that retaliation for this expression cannot be justified based on any of the standards discussed.” (1)

Dissenting Opinion: Justice Sotomayor

“This case is about whether a public school must permit a school official to kneel, bow his head, and say a prayer at the center of a school event. The Constitution does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to embrace this conduct.” (1)

“The Court now charts a different path, yet again paying almost exclusive attention to the Free Exercise Clause’s protection for individual religious exercise while giving short shrift to the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on state establishment of religion.” (1)

“The record reveals that Kennedy had a longstanding practice of conducting demonstrative prayers on the 50-yard line of the football field. Kennedy consistently invited others to join his prayers and for years led student athletes in prayer at the same time and location.” (1-2)

“Kennedy recounted that he initially prayed alone and that he never asked any student to join him. Over time, however, a majority of the team came to join him, with the numbers varying from game to game. Kennedy’s practice evolved into postgame talks in which Kennedy would hold aloft student helmets and deliver speeches with ‘overtly religious references,’ which Kennedy described as prayers, while the players kneeled around him.” (4)

“The District reiterated that ‘all District staff are free to engage in religious activity, including prayer, so long as it does not interfere with job responsibilities’…To avoid endorsing student religious exercise, the District instructed that such activity must be non-demonstrative or conducted separately from students, away from student activities.” (6)

“While Kennedy’s letter asserted that his prayers ‘occurr[ed] on his own time after his duties as a District employee had ceased,’ the District pointed out that Kennedy ‘remain[ed] on duty’ when his prayers occurred ‘immediately following completion of the football game, when students are still on the football field, in uniform, under the stadium lights, with the audience still in attendance, and while Mr. Kennedy is still in his District-issued and District-logoed attire.’ The District further noted that ‘[d]uring the time following completion of the game, until players are released to their parents or otherwise allowed to leave the event, Mr. Kennedy, like all coaches, is clearly on duty and paid to continue supervision of students.” (8)

“This case is about whether a school district is required to allow one of its employees to incorporate a public, communicative display of the employee’s personal religious beliefs into a school event, where that display is recognizable as part of a longstanding practice of the employee ministering religion to students as the public watched. A school district is not required to permit such conduct; in fact, the Establishment Clause prohibits it from doing so.” (13-14)

“Taken together, these two Clauses (the Religion Clauses) express the view, foundational to our constitutional system, ‘that religious beliefs and religious expression are too precious to be either proscribed or prescribed by the State.’” (14)

“First, government neutrality toward religion is particularly important in the public school context given the role public schools play in our society. ‘The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny,’ meaning that ‘[i]n no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools.’” (15)

“The State ‘exerts great authority and coercive power’ in schools as a general matter ‘through mandatory attendance requirements.’ Moreover, the State exercises that great authority over children, who are uniquely susceptible to “subtle coercive pressure.” (15)

“Given the twin Establishment Clause concerns of endorsement and coercion, it is unsurprising that the Court has consistently held integrating prayer into public school activities to be unconstitutional, including when student participation is not a formal requirement or prayer is silent.” (16)

“Permitting a school coach to lead students and others he invited onto the field in prayer at a predictable time after each game could only be viewed as a post-game tradition occurring ‘with the approval of the school administration.’” (17)

“The District Court found, in the evidentiary record, that some students reported joining Kennedy’s prayer because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates. Kennedy told the District that he began his prayers alone and that players followed each other over time until a majority of the team joined him, an evolution showing coercive pressure at work…That BHS students did not join Kennedy in these last three specific prayers did not make those events compliant with the Establishment Clause. The coercion to do so was evident.” (18-19)

“But existing precedents do not require coercion to be explicit, particularly when children are involved. To the contrary, this Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence establishes that ‘the government may no more use social pressure to enforce orthodoxy than it may use more direct means.’” (19)

“Constitutional rights, however, are not absolutes. Rights often conflict and balancing of interests is often required to protect the separate rights at issue (noting that ‘the presence of countervailing interests . . . is what makes a constitutional question hard, and what require[s] balancing).” (20)

“First, as to Kennedy’s free speech claim, Kennedy ‘accept[ed] certain limitations’ on his freedom of speech when he accepted government employment.” (20)

“The last three games proved that Kennedy did not intend to pray silently, but to thrust the District into incorporating a religious ceremony into its events, as he invited others to join his prayer and anticipated in his communications with the District that students would want to join as well.” (22)

“Finally, the Court acknowledges that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from coercing people to engage in religion practice, but its analysis of coercion misconstrues both the record and this Court’s precedents.” (30)

“The Court’s suggestion that coercion must be ‘direc[t]’ to be cognizable under the Establishment Clause is contrary to long established precedent. The Court repeatedly has recognized that indirect coercion may raise serious establishment concerns, and that ‘there are heightened concerns with protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary public schools.’” (30)

“The question before the Court is not whether a coach taking a knee to pray on the field would constitute an Establishment Clause violation in any and all circumstances.It is whether permitting Kennedy to continue a demonstrative prayer practice at the center of the football field after years of inappropriately leading students in prayer in the same spot, at that same time, and in the same manner, which led students to feel compelled to join him, violates the Establishment Clause. It does.” (33)

“Today, the Court once again weakens the backstop. It elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all.” (35)

By / Jun 27

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 27, 2022— The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention applauds the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to protect the “Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment” in the case, Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District

This decision is a religious expression victory for teachers and coaches to privately express their deeply-held beliefs while working for schools. 

Brent Leatherwood, ERLC’s acting president, said the Supreme Court’s decision was “rightly determined.”

“As any Christian knows, our faith is deeply personal and rightly shapes every aspect of our lives. We live out our faith in any number of ways, both privately and publicly. Today’s case centered on the latter and the Supreme Court rightly determined that an individual employed by a school does not forfeit his or her constitutional right to free expression simply by entering ‘the schoolhouse gate’ or, as it were in this case, the field of play.

“Moreover, today’s decision reaffirms another aspect of constitutional law: our First Amendment rights travel together. We, and many others, have long held that religious liberty is our nation’s first freedom and that it bolsters and strengthens other foundational rights. The Court today strengthened this perspective by writing that the clauses of free expression, establishment and free speech are all complementary. If it were not already clear enough, this Court views religious liberty as a bedrock right in our free republic.”

The ERLC was involved with briefs at the petition for certiorari stage and before the Supreme Court on the merits, in support of a Washington state high school football coach who was suspended for kneeling and praying on the field after games. The brief urged the high court to accept the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that Joseph Kennedy’s act of praying – ultimately joined by some players — constituted a government establishment of religion.

In 2018, ERLC joined eight other groups in a brief that called for Supreme Court review and repudiation of the Ninth Circuit in the case, but the justices declined to grant the request at the time. The case returned to federal court and has successfully worked its way back through the judicial system.

By / May 23

The tragic reality of those who have been abused, marginalized, and stonewalled by many in the Southern Baptist Convention, as revealed by the Sexual Abuse Task Force report, is cause for deep lament and grief. In the midst of this dark moment, our first response is to cry out to the Lord. He alone can bring the comfort that survivors long for, bring abusers and enablers to perfect justice, and purify his church. Below is a sample prayer that you can use in your individual prayer life or with your church as you cry out for the Lord’s grace and mercy during such a horrific time. 

——–

Father,

How long, O Lord, will the wicked succeed? How long will the ones who should be trustworthy, who should protect, bring harm while using your name as a cover? How long will an understanding of you and your Bride be harmed by the wickedness of sexual abuse? How long will the picture of a shepherd that should reflect your perfect justice and love instead be perverted, bringing fear and causing unspeakable trauma?

We are grieving, Lord. We are saddened and angered by the sin that has infected your church and that has been allowed to fester for so long. We lament the betrayal by those who should have been trustworthy. We agonize over the ones who should have been respected, protected, and cherished but have been grievously violated and ignored.

Lord, may you act to protect the vulnerable, cleanse our churches of this heinous sin, and keep the abused safe. May you act to thwart the wicked who uses his power and relationship to harm others. May you bring all injustice and unrighteousness into the light and to account. Break our hearts for what has been exposed and what may not even be known yet. Root out these sins and expose the fullness of the truth to the light. May all see the deception associated with abuse and not fall for the grooming tactics employed by those who are deceivers. May you comfort the afflicted and humble the ones in need of repentance. May you give us a steadfast resolve to hold abusers to account and encourage and walk alongside the abused.

May we step in and fight for the defenseless. May the government rightly bear her sword to judge the ungodly and the abusive. May you grant wisdom and strength to those in leadership to hold abusers and those who enabled it to account. May brothers and sisters step in to protect and care for the afflicted as they reflect your tender love and care for the most vulnerable among us. May your church be a picture of the safety and care that you have for your people.

May the afflicted see they are not alone. May they see you as you are—an ever-present help in trouble and a loving shepherd in the midst of a dark storm. Lord, you are good and active in the midst of this great darkness. Help us, your people, meet all of those affected by these revelations with love, grace, and care. Help us to meet tangible needs and stand beside those made in your image through the long haul. Help us to be faithful. And grant those who have endured abuse courage and strength as they walk this difficult path and seek safety and justice.

Lord, our words are not enough. Our hearts are broken. Sin has now been revealed for all to see. We plead with you to give us repentant hearts and a contrite spirit that will do what’s right, no matter the cost or how long it takes. 

In Jesus’ just and merciful name,

Amen 

By / May 5

The United States recognizes the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of every May. The National Day of Prayer is an annual time “on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” As our nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, reels from the leaked SCOTUS draft, international conflict looms, and divisions seem to only grow deeper, today is a great opportunity for Christians to go to the only true God in prayer on behalf of our nation. The Triune God of the Bible graciously invites us to come to him (Matt. 11:28) and urges us to intercede for all people, including our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2). 

Below is a sample prayer for individuals, families, and churches to use as a guide:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the kindness and good gifts that you have bestowed upon us. You have adopted those of us in Christ as sons and daughters and have made us heirs in your kingdom. Despite our faltering words and fickle hearts, you hear our prayers and care deeply for us. In your divine providence and graciousness, you have allowed us to live in this great nation, where we are able to worship you freely. 

We confess our utter dependence and reliance on you. Though we often think and act in self-reliance, we can do nothing apart from you. We repent of the selfish spirit and pride that so often dominate our hearts and words. We lament the ways that we, as your Church, have allowed divisiveness and distrust to eclipse our love for you and for our neighbor. We ask forgiveness for our unkind words and hurtful thoughts and pray that you would allow us, through our deep love for one another, to be salt and light in our nation.

Lord, you are El Elyon, the Most High God. You are exalted above all earthly rulers and are the ultimate authority. In your great wisdom, you have given us government and rulers and instructed us to respect and pray for them. Your Word says that when we ask for wisdom, you are faithful to provide it. We lift up to you President Biden, Vice President Harris, our congressmen and congresswomen, the Supreme Court justices, cabinet officials, military leaders, governors, mayors, and local officials. Father, would your Spirit give them supernatural wisdom, guide them to do your will, and ultimately use them to bring you glory and seek the flourishing of every individual.

You are El Roi, the God who sees. You see, hear, and deeply know the pain of your children. We lament the brokenness of our world and how greed, violence, and evil are used against the vulnerable. We pray against this evil in our nation and ask you to act mightily on behalf of those suffering. To that end, we pray for an end to the scourge of abortion and that our nation would adopt a holistic culture of life. Even this week as we see hopeful glimpses of a life-affirming decision from the Supreme Court, we pray boldly that their majority will hold and that the precedents set in Roe and Casey will be overturned in the coming weeks. Father, we grieve this stain on our nation and pray that you would not only make abortion illegal in our land but also make it unthinkable and unnecessary. Use us to support the women and preborn children around us and help them choose life.

Father, we also pray for the vulnerable children in our foster care and adoption systems and that you would raise up families in our churches to provide loving homes and care for these precious image-bearers. We pray that you would provide means to flourish to those trapped in the cycles of poverty and that you would work against those who prey on and take advantage of their plight. We pray for those seeking refuge at our borders and that they would be met with compassion and find safety. And we ask that you would give our leaders wisdom in how to handle a complex situation. We pray for those who are incarcerated. Redeem their hearts and pave the way for a second chance.

Gracious Father, in your goodness, you have given us an invitation to be part of your work. I pray that the Church in America would boldly step into that invitation and be the salt and light that is needed in our nation. Lord, raise up steadfast pastors and ministry leaders, and give us strong churches and families to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities, speaking truth and showing grace. We pray that you would use our churches mightily to bring people to repentance and saving faith in Jesus. Give us renewed love for you and for our neighbors, and help us faithfully live for you amidst an ever-changing culture. 

We are grateful for the privilege of living in the United States, however imperfect, and ask that you bless, protect, and guide us. Lord, we know that regardless of what happens in our nation, you are ultimately in control. Forgive us for putting any of our hope in political parties or leaders, and help us to unashamedly put our trust in you and live in light of the truth that our ultimate citizenship lies in your kingdom. Help us to walk, not in a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and self-control as we share the hope of Christ with the world. 

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

By / Feb 25

On Thursday, Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and launched attacks on cities and airports throughout the country, including near the capital, Kyiv. According to The New York Times, “​​Russian troops moved across the Ukrainian border in multiple areas at once, landing in the port city of Odessa in the south and crossing the eastern border into Kharkiv, the second largest city.” The attack sadly unfolded exactly in line with President Biden’s repeated, dire predictions. Putin, who wields the largest estimated nuclear stockpile in the world, threatened that nations “will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history” for interfering with his invasion.

Ukrainian forces are fighting back and have reportedly shot down six Russian fighters and a helicopter but in all likelihood are no match for the powerful Russian forces. Ukrainian President Zelensky announced that they “will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country” and urged his countrymen to “Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.” Ukraine has a population of more than 44 million people, and panic swept over the country this morning as many could see and feel the impact of the initial attacks with runs on banks and gas stations being reported. Images of long lines of vehicles fleeing west have been widely seen. 

This is the largest ground invasion in Europe since World War II. More than 40 Ukrainian soldiers have already been killed with dozens more injured. Both figures are expected to rise. 

In addition to the senseless loss and destruction of human lives, there are multiple reasons why we should care about what’s happening between Ukraine and Russia. These reasons are grounded in geopolitical perspectives, humanitarian concerns, and biblical realities.

Ukraine is a sovereign country and a U.S. ally

One of the reasons why Russia’s illegal invasion is so important to pay attention to is because Ukraine is not only a sovereign country but also a democratic partner of the United States. Global leaders cannot invade other nations and claim territory without consequences. Ukraine not only has strategic importance to Europe, but also to the United States. Although Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is aligned with the United States and other NATO nations in Eastern Europe. As former Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor stated, “if Ukraine succeeds, we succeed. The relationship between the United States and Ukraine is key to our national security, and Americans should care about Ukraine.”

Putin plainly wants to undo the post-Cold War settlement, restore Russian arms and glory, and force the world to recognize Russia’s place as a global superpower on the international stage. This act of aggression and destabilization fundamentally shifts the previous world order and also further emboldens other authoritarian leaders to seize power around the world.

Cyber attacks could trigger Article 5 of NATO

Although President Biden has emphatically and repeatedly stated that U.S. troops will not be sent to Ukraine, it is possible that Putin will push his attack outside of Ukraine and into neighboring NATO nations. Article 5 of the NATO Charter states that “ . . . an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” NATO has added “cyber” to the definition of possible attacks that could trigger Article 5. 

While it is possible that Putin could attack a NATO nation through traditional means, it is thought to be more likely that cyberwarfare could be used. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has outlined two ways the U.S. could be drawn into the conflict through digital warfare: the deployment of cyber weapons in Ukraine that spread to neighboring NATO countries or retaliation against western sanctions through direct cyber attacks targeting key U.S. and NATO member-nation infrastructure.

Russia’s invasion could cause a refugee crisis in Central Europe

As the first attacks were waged in Ukraine, citizens quickly began to flee west, with many attempting to seek refuge in Poland. It has been reported that as many as 5 million people could be displaced as refugees by the war, creating the largest influx of refugees in Europe since the Syrian crisis in 2015. 

Poland has already begun preparing to receive these refugees by setting up hospitals and reception centers at its border. The Polish government has also announced that they will accept up to 1 million Ukrainian refugees if necessary. Other Central European nations have also pledged to host refugees and offer humanitarian aid as the situation unfolds, and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is calling on these governments to open their borders and has promised support for those that do. As the crisis continues and violence potentially spreads, Western Europe and the United States must also make preparations to open its doors to these vulnerable refugees. 

The Ukrainian Church

Ukraine is home to a vibrant Church and a number of missionaries. Joshua Tokar, director of English language services at Ukraine Evangelical Theological Seminary, noted, “Ukraine is the main missionary-sending country for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The church is very strong. As far as Europe is concerned, the Ukrainian church is perhaps the strongest and is doing the most for education, training, and sending out workers.”

Many serving in Ukraine have made the difficult decision to relocate out of the country while others have chosen to remain. As Russia invades and potentially seeks a regime change, it is likely that these Christian brothers and sisters, as well as those of other religious minorities, will face intense persecution and human rights abuses. Those that have chosen to stay are committed to meeting the needs of their neighbors as they are able and have said, “When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need.”

What’s next?

The European Union announced announced the strongest package of sanctions ever delivered by the coalition of nations against Russia. The United States had already sanctioned two Russian banks and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, and in an address to the nation today, President Biden, alongside the G7 leaders, announced additional, more severe sanctions on four more Russian banks and on some exports to Russia. It has also been reported that President Biden could consider massive cyberattacks against Russia for its actions, if provoked. The president had already repositioned thousands of troops in NATO countries in Eastern Europe and announced today the sending of additional troops to Germany and NATO’s Eastern Flank to bolster the alliance’s efforts.

Here in the United States, the crisis will continue to increase already high gas prices as Russia is the world’s second largest natural gas producer and third largest oil producer. Punchbowl news reported, “As of 5:30 this morning, the price of WTI crude oil was $100 per barrel, the highest it has been since 2014. The White House has said that it may release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help keep U.S. gas prices down.”

As Congress attempts to finalize and pass an omnibus spending bill funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year ahead of the March 11 deadline, there will be growing pressure for the inclusion of additional defense and humanitarian aid in the spending package. 

A call to prayer

Ultimately, Christians should care about this because millions of image-bearers live in Ukraine. We should urgently cry out to God in prayer for the people of Ukraine. We’ve listed a few ways you can pray specifically below. And this guide from Send Relief has additional suggestions.

  • Pray that Christians and missionaries in Ukraine would hope in the Lord and that many would come to saving faith in Christ through their witness.
  • Pray for the safety of the citizens of Ukraine as war begins and that their lives would be honored and protected.
  • Pray that those fleeing the country and those who will be unable to return home will find a Christlike welcome and a home in a new nation.
  • Pray for President Biden and global leaders as they navigate geopolitical tensions and attempt to respond with wisdom and discernment.
  • Pray that Vladimir Putin’s heart would be changed and that he would withdraw from Ukraine and not pursue additional aggression.

In the midst of the darkness, may it be that the light of Christ brings hope and help through his people, his Word, and his mercy shown to a war-torn region.

By / Feb 10

A happy and healthy marriage is one of God’s sweetest gifts to us. And one of the best ways to nurture your marriage is through the power of prayer. In their new book, 5 Things to Pray for Your Spouse, Michael and Melissa Kruger help you to pray bold and biblical prayers for your husband or wife that will strengthen and enrich your marriage. As Nancy Guthrie says in her forward:

There is a great deal we can do for our spouses. But there is so much that only God can do, so much that only he can develop, and so much that only he can provide. So we pray. And as we pray instead of worry, pray instead of complain, pray instead of strategize, we find that God is not only doing a work in our spouse, he’s doing a work in us too.

The book makes a great wedding, anniversary, or Valentine’s Day gift. It covers 21 prayer themes, and each one includes five prayer prompts from a particular passage of Scripture. You’ll be equipped to pray deep and effective prayers for your spouse’s character and spiritual walk, for your life together as a couple, and through challenging seasons.

Below is a sample passage from the book — five prayer prompts for handling conflict in your marriage based on Ephesians 4:25–32:

Father, if we have conflict with one another let us . . . 

1. Speak truthfully.

“ Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (v. 25)

In every quarrel there is always the temptation to exaggerate the other person’s sins and downplay our own. Pray that God would allow each of you to speak truthfully in the midst of conflict. Also, ask the Lord to give you the courage to speak the truth, even if it’s difficult or awkward, knowing that it’s better to be honest than to suppress the truth and let bitterness grow.

2. Reconcile quickly.

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (v. 26)

When conflict is left unresolved sometimes it can become entrenched. As a result, some conflicts can last days, weeks, and even years. Pray that any conflict you face would be resolved as quickly as possible. Ask for grace to be the first to apologize, the first to forgive, and the first to move toward the other person.

3. Put away bitterness.

“Get rid of all bitterness.” (v. 31)

If conflict occurs over the course of many years, bitterness has a way of setting in. Spouses can begin to resent one another if they have been hurt over and over again. Pray that the Lord would prevent a root of bitterness from taking hold in your marriage. Ask the Lord to reveal in what ways you might need to apologize to your spouse for past wrongs.

4. Be kind.

“ Be kind . . .  to one another.” (v. 32)

Praise God today for his kindness to you — even though you did nothing to deserve it. Ask God to give you a heart that is tender and affectionate toward your spouse, demonstrated in simple acts of kindness toward them each day. Pray also that the Lord would show you tangible ways to do good to your spouse, even if they are not always good to you in return.

5. Forgive one another.

“Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (v 32)

It’s hard to truly forgive those who wrong us. Sometimes we may even want to withhold forgiveness. Rejoice that Christ forgave you when you were undeserving. Pray that God would give both you and your spouse a heart that recognizes how much you’ve been forgiven so that you can, in turn, freely and readily forgive one another. 

By / Feb 3

The tensions mounting between Russia and Ukraine are cause for grave concern. As Vladimir Putin teeters on the edge of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, many are understandably voicing deep concern about the potential ramifications for the world order. But often lost in this conversation are the citizens of these countries who will suffer greatly in the face of conflict. And for me, the situation in this particular region is deeply personal.

I was born in Bucharest, Romania, and adopted as an infant. My family is built through adoption, and I have a brother from Romania, four siblings from Russia, and a cousin from Ukraine. Over a decade ago, I visited Romania. As I strolled through the streets of Bucharest, the remnants of communism existed in the bleak, colorless buildings that lined the streets — a visual reminder of its former life as the Socialist Republic of Romania. Like many of its neighbors, Romania was a Communist country for decades, and its citizens lived under a brutal dictatorship. The people of the Eastern Bloc were isolated from the rest of the world and faced issues such as starvation and poverty. But the year 1989 turned out to be a pivotal year for the countries in the Soviet orbit as unrest ultimately led to reforms.

It was then that the Iron Curtain fell. Unfortunately, after initial democratic progress was made, Russia now finds itself looking increasingly like an authoritarian regime. The Russian government is a particularly severe violator of religious freedom, earning the designation as a “country of particular concern” from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). According to USCIRF, “in 2020, religious freedom conditions in Russia deteriorated. The government continued to target “nontraditional” religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges. Russian legislation criminalizes “extremism” without adequately defining the term, enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.”

Praying for the people of Ukraine and Russia

In a globally-connected world, what happens on the other side of the globe affects all of us. As my colleague Jason Thacker writes, “The tensions in Eastern Europe should concern us all given the worldwide effects of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Not only does the prospect of a ground war raise concerns about major unrest in the region, untold loss of life, and the possible inclusion of other major powers in the conflict, but this situation also indicates what Russia may seek to do in the coming years.”

But more than that, Christians should care about this because millions of image-bearers live in Ukraine and Russia. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” People will dialogue and debate about what our response to the crisis should be, but, above all, we should endeavor to pray for the people in those two countries. Here are a few ways you can pray:

  • Pray for Christians in Ukraine and Russia, that they would not place their ultimate trust or hope in government leaders, but would firmly fix their eyes on the Lord. 
  • Pray for the missionaries in both countries, that they’ll continue to boldly proclaim the good news of the gospel and that many might come to a saving faith in Christ.
  • Pray for the safety of the citizens of Ukraine and Russia, that amid the geopolitical tensions, their lives would be honored and protected.
  • Pray for global leaders as they navigate geopolitical tensions, that they would act with wisdom.
  • Pray that Vladimir Putin’s heart would be changed and that he would withdraw from conflict with Ukraine. 

Times of trial and suffering are often used by God to draw people to himself. And we should ask, seek, and knock with confidence that this would be the case with the escalating tension between Russia and Ukraine. In the midst of the darkness, may it be that the light of Christ brings hope and help through his people, his Word, and his mercy shown to a war-torn region.

By / Nov 9

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments for a case titled Ramirez v. Collier. This is an important case for the religious liberty of death-row inmates and their ability to receive spiritual counsel in their last moments on earth.

What is this case about?

On Sept. 8, just hours before John Ramirez was to be executed for a murder in Corpus Christi, the Supreme Court granted a stay of the execution. Ramirez sued Texas prison officials in August for refusing to permit Dana Moore, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, to minister to him while he is executed. Ramirez requested that Moore be allowed to physically touch him and audibly pray in the execution chamber. The lower courts rejected his request to postpone his execution, but the Supreme Court justices granted a stay of execution and fast-tracked his appeal.  

Ramirez asserts that the state’s refusal to allow his pastor to touch him and pray aloud violates both the Constitution and RLUIPA, the federal law that applies to those in prison and guarantees their religious rights will be respected. The question before the court is “whether the government has satisfied its burden under RLUIPA to demonstrate that its blanket prohibition on clergy in the execution chamber engaging in audible prayer or laying on hands is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.” 

Brent Leatherwood, ERLC’s acting president, stated that “the high court should overrule Texas’ ban and allow this important and solemn moment of ministry to proceed. Religious freedom doesn’t end as you approach the moment of death, and we have joined a brief saying as much. The state has yet to make a compelling argument for why Pastor Moore, an SBC pastor, cannot minister to Mr. Ramirez in these final moments.”

What is RLUIPA, and how does it apply to this case?

RLUIPA stands for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. This federal law protects individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws. RLUIPA law also protects incarcerated individuals and states that “no government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution.”

Like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), RLUIPA passed with strong bipartisan support. Incarcerated individuals ought to have religious protections while confined, and death-row inmates ought to be permitted spiritual guidance, counsel, and comfort in their final moments.

Why does this case matter? 

The right to have spiritual counsel and comfort is a centuries-old practice and must be respected and honored today. According to Becket Law, “Since before the colonial era, it was common for ministers to accompany the condemned to the gallows, where they would pray with, minister to, and touch those who are about to die. General George Washington honored such requests by deserters executed during the Revolution, and the United States also honored such requests by Nazi war criminals after the Nuremberg Trials.” Every person ought to have the opportunity to have a spiritual advisory with them in their final moments. 

This is not the first time an incarcerated individual has been denied access to a spiritual advisor. Becket stated,

“. . . in 2019 the State of Alabama denied a Muslim prisoner the presence and prayer of an imam before his execution. When the State of Texas attempted to do the same thing to a Buddhist prisoner just a few weeks later, the Supreme Court stepped in, ruling in Murphy v. Collier that Texas had to permit the prisoner’s Buddhist spiritual advisor to accompany him to the death chamber. Since then, the Supreme Court has similarly protected Christian prisoners in both Texas and Alabama. Despite these clear rulings and centuries of history, including its own traditional practices, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) recently imposed two rules – one preventing clergy from praying aloud and one preventing clergy from touching the inmate – contrary to centuries of tradition.”

How has the ERLC been involved?

The ERLC filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to protect the religious freedom of Ramirez, and allow him to have a Southern Baptist pastor lay hands on and pray for him when he receives a lethal injection. Our brief asserts that the state has failed to meet its burden, under RLUIPA, of demonstrating that refusing an inmate audible prayers and laying on off hands during his execution serves a compelling interest and does so by the least restrictive means. We also assert that there is little evidence that spiritual advisors present underlying security risks that would necessitate banning them from engaging in audible prayer or touching the prisoner

The ERLC is grateful that the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in this case and is hopeful that the court will rightly protect Ramirez’s ability to have a pastor present in his final moments. 

The ERLC engages our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ in the public square to protect religious liberty and promote human flourishing. One of the ways we do this is by advocating for these things before the Supreme Court. While we’ve worked diligently and pray earnestly that the court will make decisions that uphold life, religious liberty, and the freedom of conscience, we ultimately place our trust in God to fulfill his plans and use the work of the ERLC along the way.