By / Nov 22

In 1993, Congress enacted the strongest legislative protections for religious liberty into law. The passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) reinforced what Southern Baptists have held to be a fundamental truth enshrined in the Constitution: freedom of religion requires the free expression of religious belief.

Thirty years later, RFRA is still as important and is necessary for the future of religious freedom advocacy in the United States.

What led to the passage of the RFRA?

There are two types of laws that affect religious freedom in the U.S.:

  1. Laws that intentionally target religious communities, which are expressly prohibited in the Constitution.
  2. “Religiously neutral” laws that seek to address another issue and influence religious communities incidentally.

Prior to the passage of RFRA, the courts exhibited sole discretion over the second type of law. Since the courts tended to rule in favor of the religious defendants, no legislation was needed to protect religious liberty; there was previous precedent already set to rule in favor of religious liberty.

In 1990, this changed with the case Employment Division v. Smith, when the court ruled against two members of the Native American Church. For these individuals, the practice of their faith required the ingestion of small doses of a hallucinogenic plant. In the decision, the court concluded that the federal government no longer had to meet the highest levels of scrutiny to supersede religious belief. This precedent meant that the court now tended to rule in favor of the federal government to override the religious expression of individuals in any instance where religious liberty conflicted with the law.

In response, outrage erupted in Congress across party lines, and legislators came together to pass RFRA to provide “very broad protection for religious liberty.” 

What impact does the RFRA have on religious liberty today?

RFRA ensures that in cases where the federal government is exerting a requirement upon religious and faith-based employees and employers, the government must once again meet the highest standards of scrutiny instead of forcing employees and faith-based employers to needlessly sacrifice their deeply-held religious convictions. It remains the preeminent federal statute referred to by the courts when ruling on religious liberty cases to this day since it provides for a private course of action by which a citizen may sue the federal government.

RFRA has been an essential part of many of the most significant religious liberty victories at the Supreme Court since its passage, including cases like Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor.

Additionally, RFRA represents some of the most bipartisan legislation to be signed into law. President Clinton, upon signage, stated: “ … Religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive … It is high time we had an open and honest reaffirmation of the role of American citizens of faith.”

The House of Representatives passed RFRA unanimously, and the Senate passed it with only three dissenting votes. Dozens of faith-based organizations, including the Christian Life Commission, led by Dr. Richard Land at the time, supported this legislation. 

What does the future hold for religious freedom protections?

Part of the advocacy work at the ERLC includes calling for similar safeguards, such as conscience protections, to be reflected in federal funding through the appropriations process. For example, the Hyde Amendment specifically prohibits the federal government from requiring that healthcare providers perform abortions in the federal funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bills. Hyde must be renewed on an annual basis.

As Southern Baptists who believe in the inherent worth of each person, the ERLC is advocating for these protections to be expanded to include all federal agencies and for this type of religious freedom protection to be permanently amended to federal statutes through legislation such as the Conscience Protection Act.

Additionally, while RFRA is still highly effective, there is a concerning practice in recently filed legislation to include a provision causing a RFRA exception. For example, federal pro-abortion legislation that includes this provision would make it so that religious employers do not have the option to refuse to cover the cost of abortion-related funding in health insurance. While this is still an emerging trend, the ERLC and other groups are diligently working to ensure legislators understand what a religious exemption means for thousands of faith-based organizations and individuals—and what a concerning precedent it could set for future legislation. As Baptist and religious liberty advocate John Leland stated, “If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise let men be free.”

A right view of government is that it is “ordained by God,” to which Christians should respond with “loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God” (Baptist Faith and Message 2000; Rom. 13). Provisions like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ensure that believers are able to faithfully live out our convictions in alignment with both God’s clear direction and the requirements of the law. We invite our fellow Southern Baptist to join us in thanking the Lord for these vital legal protections, even as we advocate to ensure they remain in place for future generations.

By / Nov 17

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), a landmark law that has had a significant impact on promoting and protecting religious freedom around the world. Enacted on Oct. 27, 1998, the IRFA has become a crucial tool in the United States’ efforts to advance religious freedom globally. As we celebrate this milestone, here is what Christians in America should know in order to understand what the act is, why it matters, and how it has benefited mankind.

What is the International Religious Freedom Act?

The IRFA is a U.S. law that mandates the inclusion of religious freedom concerns in the country’s foreign policy. As President Clinton stated at the signing ceremony, “Religious freedom is a matter of national security as well as personal conviction.” Here are several requirements of IRFA: 

  • The act established a framework within which the U.S. could engage with other nations to advocate for the religious rights of individuals, regardless of their faith or belief system. 
  • It also requires the U.S. government to condemn violations of religious freedom abroad and assist foreign governments in protecting this fundamental human right. 
  • It led to the establishment of the Office of International Religious Freedom within the Department of State and the appointment of an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. 
  • It requires an annual report from the State Department on the status of religious freedom in each country around the world. 
  • It also established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal body that monitors religious freedom conditions worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress. 

Through various mechanisms, including annual reports, targeted sanctions, and diplomatic engagement, the IRFA endeavors to hold accountable those nations where religious persecution is rampant, while also supporting countries working diligently to improve religious liberty.

Why does the International Religious Freedom Act matter?

Religious freedom is a bedrock American value, and the IRFA reflects the strong and enduring commitment of the U.S. to advancing this right for everyone in the world. The act recognizes that freedom of religion or belief is inextricably linked to other fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, conscience, and association. When religious freedom is at risk, these other freedoms are also jeopardized. 

Unfortunately, approximately 80% of the world’s population still faces serious restrictions or risks in living according to their most basic values and beliefs. The IRFA provides essential tools to address these challenges and promote religious freedom globally.

How has the International Religious Freedom Act benefited mankind?

Over the past 25 years, the IRFA has had a significant impact on promoting and protecting religious freedom worldwide. Here are some of the key benefits it has brought to mankind:

  • Empowering the persecuted: The IRFA has provided a range of new tools to give voice to the persecuted and empower advocates for religious freedom. Through its work, the USCIRF has shed light on religious freedom violations, raised awareness, and advocated for the rights of those facing persecution. Additionally, the act has emboldened a multitude of religious freedom advocates, bolstering various initiatives aimed at promoting religious tolerance and understanding among different faith groups.
  • Freeing the persecuted: One of the notable successes of the act can be seen in its role in facilitating the release of numerous religious prisoners. Its provisions have been instrumental in spotlighting the plight of individuals incarcerated due to their faith, and in exerting pressure on governments to uphold religious freedom.
  • Promoting tolerance and respect: Over the past 25 years, the IRFA has shaped America’s response to religious persecution worldwide. The law expresses America’s unique understanding that religious freedom is an essential human right, and violations of it destabilize societies. The annual report has brought international attention to abuses and influenced U.S. policies toward repressive regimes. The U.S. government, led by its ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has been actively engaged in advocating for those who have been unfairly targeted and promoting religious tolerance and respect.
  • Highlighting the importance of religious freedom: The IRFA has played a crucial role in raising awareness about the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Its 25th-anniversary celebration has brought together various stakeholders, including religious leaders, policymakers, and human rights advocates, to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead.
  • Providing a model for other countries: The IRFA has served as a model for other countries seeking to promote and protect religious freedom. Its success has inspired the adoption of similar legislation in various nations, further strengthening the global movement for religious freedom.

The challenge ahead

While the IRFA has achieved significant milestones over the past 25 years, challenges remain. In recent years, there has been a rise in restrictions on religious freedom worldwide, with some countries enacting laws that limit religious practice and expression. As we look to the future, it is crucial to continue advocating for religious freedom, supporting the work of the USCIRF, and engaging in dialogue with other nations to address these challenges and promote religious freedom for all. 

The IRFA affirms that religious freedom is not just an American value, but a universal human right. As we mark this anniversary, Americans can be proud of our leadership in promoting liberty of conscience for all people. The ideals enshrined in this act reflect our nation’s founding commitment to unalienable rights for people of all faiths. 

As long as the IRFA remains strong, the U.S. will continue speaking up for the voiceless and oppressed, which includes millions of persecuted Christians around the globe. While the work is far from complete, we celebrate the good that this law has done over the past 25 years to make the world a more free and just place.

By / Nov 10

When most people hear the phrase “sex-based harassment,” they think of unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, assault, and inappropriate comments that are sexual in nature. This definition is derived from guidance released by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in 1980 and provides legal basis to prevent and rightly prosecute such harassment in the workplace. The EEOC’s definition remained unchanged for 43 years—until this October when the agency proposed new enforcement guidance that raises concerns regarding religious liberty and what the legal protections are for Christians in the workplace to prevent harassment due to religious and moral convictions.

In this enforcement guidance, the EEOC expands the definition of “sex-based harassment” to include two new sub-categories:

  • A redefinition of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, expanded to include abortion and family planning decisions, such as contraceptive usage; and,
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity.

Why is this important?

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Though guidance from the EEOC is not legally binding, this updated guidance is important because it serves as a reference for how the EEOC is claiming the law should be interpreted by the courts, EEOC investigators, and employers. 

Underpinning this new guidance is a common argument: that religion belongs in the privacy of one’s home, not the workplace. For the Southern Baptist, such a statement cannot stand; belief in a holy and just God demands that our lives be reordered in response. Our deeply held religious convictions cannot be relegated to certain corners of our lives, and religious liberty protects not only our freedom to hold those beliefs but also the freedom to express them in the public square.

Requiring employees to regularly bend their knee to the cultural demands of this age infringes upon the EEOC’s own guidance to protect free expression of religion in the workplace.

Why does this updated guidance raise religious liberty concerns?

First, in the newly-proposed guidance, the EEOC specifically refers to “abortion” as a “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.” This may consider pro-life speech and other discussions about an individual’s decision to choose between life or abortion to be workplace harassment.

Second, by including sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected characteristic, the EEOC effectively prohibits sex-segregated spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms. This raises both moral and safety concerns, as women will be disproportionately affected by negative repercussions as a result of this policy.

Third, “religion” is already considered a protected characteristic under existing law. The EEOC has not released any guidance for how the agency plans to navigate potential conflicts between religious belief and other protected characteristics. What happens when an individual is unable to use preferred pronouns due to their moral convictions, or is uncomfortable with a biological male using the women’s restroom?

What has the ERLC done?

On Nov. 1, the ERLC submitted comments in response to this proposed guidance. The ERLC expressed concern with the expanded guidance, citing the theological basis for Southern Baptist beliefs and issuing a call to retain religious liberty in the workplace.

The ERLC made three primary arguments in the comments:

  1. Every human being has inherent dignity, and every life should be protected.
  2. Any attempt to engage in or support “gender transitions” rejects God’s design for human flourishing and harms our neighbor.
  3. The EEOC’s proposed enforcement guidance infringes upon religious freedom and does not provide sufficient clarity on how the agency intends to navigate conflict between the existing legally protected characteristics and the newly expanded definitions provided.

It is impossible to claim to protect both free expression of religion and simultaneously require employees to support “gender transitions” and abortion. It’s likely the proposed enforcement guidance will lead to violations of the consciences of religious individuals by requiring them to affirm factually untrue and deceptive beliefs to the detriment of their conscience and personal safety.

We trust the Lord remains in control in the midst of these types of discouraging regulatory actions. The ERLC is engaged in these processes by working with Congress, responding to rule-making, and seeking other opportunities to express the unique voice of Southern Baptists on these issues. We are prayerfully seeking to glorify the Lord as we diligently work to retain and expand the religious liberties the Southern Baptist Convention has long upheld. We invite Southern Baptists to join us in praying against harmful actions such as this one and for the hope of the gospel to permeate the public square.

By / Nov 6

American Christians can often take for granted the rights of conscience secured for us in our constitutional order, but the rise of religious liberty was not a historical inevitability. Religious liberty was and remains a contested idea. Indeed, much of Western civilization’s history revealed a hostility toward freedom of conscience. 

Religious establishmentarianism as a mechanism of civil unity

Constantine unified the Christian church and the Roman empire in 325, and in 381, Theodosius began wielding the sword against heretics. Thus, in the span of a few decades, Christianity went from being a persecuted religious sect to the primary mechanism of unification within a vast empire. Throughout the subsequent centuries, European emperors and kings equated unity in the things of God as not merely a theological imperative for the Church, but a political necessity—and one they were willing to uphold by the use of civil punishment. 

For the next 1,300 years, that worldview dominated Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, establishmentarianism enforced at the point of the sword continued to hold its place as a pillar in both Catholic and Protestant political theology. In fact, civilly mandated religious establishment was arguably exacerbated and strengthened by the realities of the Reformation. Religious and denominational proliferation of the 1500s and 1600s culminated in cataclysmic religious wars that left millions of Europeans dead. The English Civil War—a conflict that erupted in large part because of religion—spanned much of the 1640s and killed a higher percentage of the British population than World War I and World War II. 

Despite these calamities, devotion to religious establishment precipitated, remaining both a theological conviction and a political requirement. Theologically, establishmentarianism created civil conditions conducive to orthodoxy and right belief. The civil magistrate functioned as a typological fulfillment of Isaiah 49:23, wherein “Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers.” Politically, Europe’s leaders—like Theodosious in the fourth century—viewed religious establishment as the necessary precondition for civil unity. 

Again, to dismantle this vital pillar of European theology and political philosophy was not a foregone conclusion, nor was it a historical inevitability. Thus, how religious liberty emerged and displaced establishmentarianism was and remains a vital story to tell. 

The rise of religious liberty

The rise of religious liberty was complex, and it took centuries for it to topple the millennium of political theology that had married church and state together. To explain its necessity, theological arguments had to be made, and religious dissenters (especially Baptists) provided many of these doctrinal assertions and beliefs. The interest theory of liberty also materialized during the 1600s, which highlighted the political, social, and religious benefits of disestablishment.

Added to this was what one historian called the “lived politics of toleration.” In many jurisdictions where religious establishment existed throughout the early modern period, people grew weary of dragging their neighbors to court. Local officials simply refused to enforce establishment policies out of ambivalence, as well as a growing conviction that even the threat of execution did little to stem the enthusiasm of religious dissenters. 

A recent book by historian Mark Valeri has shed new and important light on the rise of religious liberty in the early modern period. “The Opening of the Protestant Mind: How Anglo-American Protestants Embraced Religious Liberty” analyzes the remarkable replacement of militant establishmentarianism with religious toleration and eventually religious liberty. 

Valeri explores how interaction with other religions steadily shifted the attitudes of Anglo-Protestants against religious establishment. Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, Britain’s borders expanded, and the realities of colonialism and empire building brought Anglo-Protestants in direct contact with Native Americans and Muslims. As Valeri notes, the introduction of religious others seemed to strengthen English resolve for religious uniformity. Yet, as England progressed through the early modern period, cultural shifts, war, and imperialism exerted tremendous political pressure amongst the people to alter their beliefs and convictions on issues of conscience. 

According to Valeri, important features of continuity and discontinuity emerged amongst Anglo-Protestants in the early modern period. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, political thinkers and leading ministers assigned legitimacy to a religion based upon that religion’s perceived benefit to England’s public order. These figures connected the welfare of the empire with religious conformity and the willingness of individuals to adhere to a distinctly Anglo-Protestant identity. Valeri notes that his thesis in no way precludes the importance of theological beliefs during this period of history. However, he gives special attention to the political realities and arguments made by many of England’s leading figures.

What changed over time was a growing tolerance toward religious differences, especially as the empire grew. The need for unity never diminished from the days of the Puritans to the times of Locke, Hume, and Smith. The change came in how England defined its identity and what thereby constituted unity. As Valeri argued, the 17th century began with a confessional unity in a specific theological creed rooted in Reformed doctrines; however, political realities and war exerted a strain upon that narrow conception of national confessionalism.

By the time of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, religious toleration expanded to capacious levels, introducing, “a new mandate to separate political legitimacy from religious creed and to vindicate a non-theological criterion—regard for liberty of conscience—as a rule by which to measure the public acceptability of different religions” (208). Thus, the story of how the Protestant mind opened to religious liberty included political circumstances and contingencies that, to a degree, forced Anglo-Protestants to reconsider the litmus test for how the empire defined the legitimacy of a religion. 

If anything lacked in Valeri’s narrative, it was a more careful consideration of how theological beliefs shifted over time. For example, what theological arguments were made that effectively dislodged a seemingly unwavering commitment to religious establishment amongst English religious leaders in the early to mid-1600s? 

Despite this, Christians, especially those committed to religious liberty, will benefit from Valeri’s work. He reminds us how complex issues of conscience have been throughout history and prompts us to consider how religious and theological conviction intersect with historical and political context, with both the political and the theological influencing each other. 

How religious liberty arose remains an important narrative for us to understand. Our ability to think wisely about present issues of conscience hinges upon our historical consciousness and recognition of what was and remains a contested idea.

By / Oct 17

“Addressing policymakers at home and abroad, American evangelical Christian leaders responded Wednesday to the attacks on Israel by Hamas by issuing a letter calling for moral clarity, both supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and proclaiming the need to protect the lives of innocent civilians.

In the wake of the evil and indefensible atrocities now committed against the people of Israel by Hamas, we, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the violence against the vulnerable, fully support Israel’s right and duty to defend itself against further attack, and urgently call all Christians to pray for the salvation and peace of the people of Israel and Palestine.

Evangelical Statement in Support of Israel

The letter, signed by 60 institutional leaders, will be delivered to the White House, Congress and leaders at the United Nations, said Brent Leatherwood, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which helped organize the letter.

In a phone interview, Leatherwood said the letter was prompted by what he said were responses to attacks on Israel that drew “false equivalence” between the attacks by Hamas, a group identified by the United States as a terrorist entity, and the actions of Israel’s military.”

It is time for clear-eyed thinking and moral certainty

Brent Leatherwood

Read The Washington Post article here.

By / Sep 29

In a world where religious persecution is an unfortunate reality, legal frameworks that offer refuge to those facing these particular hardships—such as the Lautenberg Amendment—are invaluable. 

The Lautenberg Amendment, also known as the Lautenberg Program, is a U.S. immigration policy that provides a pathway for certain persecuted religious minorities to seek refuge in the U.S. This amendment has been instrumental in assisting various groups including evangelicals, Jews, and other religious minorities in escaping persecution and finding safety in the U.S. 

As the crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate, this amendment is more relevant than ever, especially for the Christian community, including Baptists, who are seeking refuge from the conflict and persecution. Unfortunately, for the first time in many years, this long-standing policy has been excluded from the House of Representatives’ proposed Foreign Operations appropriations bill.  

History and purpose of the Lautenberg Amendment

The Lautenberg Amendment, named after its sponsor, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, was initially enacted in 1989 as part of the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. 

It has been reauthorized annually, often as a “rider” attached to larger spending bills, thereby ensuring its continued existence. The amendment was initially introduced to address the needs of Soviet Jews who were facing persecution and discrimination in the Soviet Union. The amendment grants presumptive refugee status to Jews and members of certain other religious minorities, making it easier for them to find refuge in the United States.

The amendment was later expanded to include other religious groups such as evangelicals and Ukrainian Catholics who were also experiencing persecution in the former Soviet Union. The primary purpose of the Lautenberg Amendment is to provide a safe haven for these vulnerable populations and ensure that they are not returned to their countries of origin, where they may face further persecution.

How the Lautenberg Amendment has been used to help persecuted religious minorities

The Lautenberg Amendment has been a lifeline for thousands of religious minorities, allowing them to escape persecution and start anew in the U.S. Under this program, individuals who are eligible for refugee status are not required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution on an individual basis, as is the case with the regular refugee admissions process. Instead, they are granted presumptive refugee status based on their membership in a designated religious minority group.

By lowering the burden of proof, the amendment acknowledges the unique challenges that religious minorities face in proving their persecution, especially in countries where such discrimination is institutionalized. The amendment has been particularly effective in expediting the resettlement process, offering a quicker route to safety for those in dire circumstances such as Jews and other religious minorities from the former Soviet Union. For example, between 1989 and 1990, over 200,000 Soviet Jews were admitted to the U.S. as refugees under the provision. In recent years, the amendment has also been used to help persecuted Christians in countries such as Iran and Iraq.

The importance of the Lautenberg Amendment for Christians in Ukraine

The Lautenberg Amendment continues to be a necessary avenue for Christians in Ukraine to flee the country and seek refuge in the U.S. Ukraine has been experiencing ongoing conflict and political instability which has led to increased persecution of religious minorities, including minority Christian groups. The situation has been exacerbated by the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has led to a surge in internally displaced persons and refugees, among whom are Christians facing persecution. 

The U.S. has a moral obligation to protect and support these vulnerable populations. The Lautenberg Amendment has played a vital role in assisting persecuted religious minorities in finding safety and refuge. By expediting the processing of refugee applications for Christians in Ukraine, the U.S. can help ensure their safety and provide them with the opportunity to rebuild their lives in a more secure environment. 

The continued protection of the Lautenberg Amendment is not just a matter of policy but a moral imperative. Its continuation is particularly essential for Christians in Ukraine who are facing persecution and seeking to flee the country. Prioritizing the Lautenberg Amendment helps to ensure the U.S. will remain a sanctuary for those fleeing religious persecution. The ERLC has communicated these concerns to lawmakers in Congress and is advocating for the continued inclusion of the Lautenberg Amendment in fiscal year 2024 appropriations.

By / Aug 31

We’ve been working behind the scenes and are excited to announce an all new ERLC Podcast. While the format is new, our goal for the podcast remains the same. The ERLC seeks to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues.

We’ve been listening to you to better understand the questions you’re facing and how the ERLC can help on matters related to marriage and family, life, religious liberty, and human dignity. 

On this updated format of the ERLC Podcast, we want to give you brief, informed, practical, and biblically-based answers to important cultural issues.

You are not the only one asking these questions. Just like you, we want to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture as we seek to raise our families, serve our churches, and love our neighbors in an ever-evolving and often challenging cultural landscape. 

Join us starting in September as we look to the Bible for wisdom, hear from trusted voices, and break down complex issues so that we can live in the world, but not of it—all for the sake of the gospel.

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By / Aug 3

A survey by Pew Research taken in 2019 found the vast majority of Christian teenagers (86%) attend public schools. Even among evangelicals, the Christian group with the most children being homeschooled or in private school, the rate is more than 3 in 4 (82%). Yet while most teens (68%) report seeing at least one type of religious expression or activities in their public schools often or sometimes, fewer than half (41%) say they commonly see more than one of the most common religious behaviors, such as praying at lunch or inviting a classmate to church.

The reason for the lack of expression may be because students have misperceptions of what is allowed in public schools. Many students and parents are aware that the U.S. Constitution, through the First Amendment, guarantees the right of freedom of religion and expression for every citizen. But they might not know that these rights don’t end when students step onto school grounds or when parents interact with public educational institutions.

Here’s an overview of these rights and how they apply to Christian parents and students in public schools:

The right to pray — While mandatory prayer orchestrated by schools is unconstitutional, students have the right to pray voluntarily. This means Christian students can pray before meals, before tests, or during any free moments. They can do so individually or in groups, as long as it’s not disruptive. Additionally, schools cannot interfere with or discourage these private prayers.

The right to express religious beliefs — Students have the right to express their beliefs in assignments, artwork, or other school activities unless it disrupts the educational process. For instance, if a student decides to write an essay on Jesus as their hero, they should be graded based on the quality of their work, not penalized because of the religious content.

The right to form religious clubs — Under the Equal Access Act, if a school allows non-curricular clubs, it cannot deny students the right to form religious clubs, including Christian clubs or pro-life clubs. These clubs should have the same access to facilities and announcement systems as other clubs.

The right to wear religious symbols — In general, Christian students have the right to wear religious symbols. However, any restrictions should be consistent and apply to all type of belief or non-belief. For instance, if a school bans all necklaces for safety reasons, then this would apply to religious symbols as well.

Opting out of assignments or activities — Christian parents have the right to request that their child be exempt from an activity or assignment that conflicts with their religious beliefs. Schools usually handle this on a case-by-case basis, but generally, an alternative assignment or activity will be provided.

Access to religious materials — Just as students can access non-religious materials in school libraries, they should be able to access Bibles or other Christian literature. Schools cannot prevent students from reading religious materials during free reading times.

Celebrating religious holidays — While public schools can’t endorse or promote a particular religious holiday, they can teach about them. Students are also allowed to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” and share their personal beliefs about these holidays.

Distribution of religious material — While schools can set limits on where and when materials are distributed to prevent disruption, they can’t single out religious materials for special restrictions. If a student wants to hand out Christian flyers or invitations to a church event, they have that right, given that they follow the same rules applied to non-religious materials.

The right to involve legal authorities or counsel — If Christian parents or students believe their rights are being violated, they have every right to seek legal advice or involve authorities to ensure their rights are upheld.

It’s important to note that while Christian students and parents have these rights, we also have the responsibility to exercise our liberty in a respectful manner and in a way that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others (Romans 12:18). Mutual respect and understanding are key to coexisting harmoniously in an educational setting where there is a diversity of religions and belief systems.

Public schools serve a diverse population, and while they are secular institutions, they should respect and accommodate the religious freedoms of all students and parents, including Christians. Awareness of these rights ensures that Christian parents and students can confidently navigate the public school system while upholding our religious beliefs and expressions.

By / Jul 7

During the last week of June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in two cases—303 Creative v. Elenis and Groff v. Dejoy—to further protect free speech and religious liberty as basic rights of Americans. Here’s the run-down of what you should know about two of the most important cases of the Supreme Court’s latest term.

303 Creative v. Elenis

The overview: The 303 Creative case was a legal dispute involving graphic designer Lorie Smith who, because of her Christian beliefs about marriage, refused to create a website for a same-sex wedding. The case was about whether a state public accommodation law violates the First Amendment’s free speech protections.

The Colorado law: The law in question is the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which expanded anti-discrimination protections in such a way that businesses are required to offer the same services to same-sex couples that they offer to heterosexual couples. The case was first filed in 2016, and the district court concluded that applying CADA to 303 Creative is constitutional. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed.

The Supreme Court ruling: However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the graphic designer’s free speech, stating that the government cannot compel an individual to speak a certain way or to promote a message with which they disagree. The court specifically clarified that the First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs that require her to include messages with which the designer disagrees. 

The implications to protect free speech: The court’s decision in the 303 Creative case is expected to have a significant impact on the free speech rights of all Americans by reaffirming the right to engage in free speech without worrying about legal repercussions from public officials.

For more on the 303 Creative case, see: Explainer: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Free Speech in 303 Creative Case

Groff v. Dejoy

The overview: The Groff v. DeJoy case was an employment dispute involving postal Gerald Groff, a Sabbatarian Christian whose beliefs make him unavailable for work on Sundays. Groff claimed that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) violated his religious freedom by requiring him to work on Sundays delivering packages for Amazon. 

The USPS’ response: The USPS offered Groff certain “accommodations” such as offering to adjust his schedule so he could come to work after religious services or telling him he should see if other workers could pick up his shifts. The USPS even suggested Groff choose a different day to observe the Sabbath. Groff claimed that these supposed accommodations did not eliminate the conflict between his religious practice and his work obligations, and that the USPS had therefore not provided him with a reasonable accommodation.

The lower court ruling: The lower court had ruled against Groff, holding that his request would cause an undue hardship on the USPS and lead to low morale at the workplace when other employees had to pick up his shifts. The lower court ruling relied on the “undue hardship” standard set in the 1977 case, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison

The Supreme Court’s ruling: However, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of Groff, stating that federal law requires an employer that denies an employee a religious accommodation must show that the burden of the accommodation would result in substantial increased costs. The ruling also clarifies the definition of “undue hardship” for employers faced with a religious accommodation request.

The implications in favor of religious liberty: The court’s decision strengthens religious liberty in the workplace and reaffirms that employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of religion. The ruling will impact the religious freedom rights of all Americans and reaffirms the right to practice one’s religion without fear of discrimination in the workplace.

For more on the Groff case, see: Explainer: Supreme Court Unanimously Rules in Favor of Religious Liberty in Postal Worker Case

By / Jul 5

Recent reports of intensifying religious persecution in India have exposed the increasingly dire state of religious freedom and human rights within the country.

In a joint statement released by the White House on June 22, President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced several new technology, defense, and research initiatives that are set to bolster the economic ties between the United States and India. The statement came during Modi’s recent visit to Washington, D.C., signaling the Biden administration’s clear intent to further pivot U.S. foreign relations in the Indo-Pacific by privileging the nation which now boasts the largest democracy in the world with a greatly expanded trade partnership. 

Undoubtedly, this announcement will come as welcome news to many who are excited by the prospect of establishing India as a more reliable supplier of semiconductors to the U.S. and as a more militarily-secure neighbor to the Chinese Communist Party. 

Alarming reports about religious persecution in India 

In its 2023 report on religious liberty in India, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken designate India a “country of particular concern,” after finding increased instances of religious persecution in India against Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities taking place on the “national, state, and local levels.” The report listed legal prohibitions against religious conversion as well as mob violence and sexual violence against religious minorities amongst the offenses observed by the commission. 

As such, it determined that India satisfies the International Religious Freedom Act’s definition of a country engaged in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” and should face U.S. sanctions until these violations cease.  

According to a statistical analysis conducted by the Early Warning Project (EWP)—an operation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that works with publicly available data to identify social trends predictive of genocide—the religious violence in India has escalated so much in recent years that the nation currently ranks as the eighth most likely in the world to see a “new mass killing” over the next year. To understand just how real this looming threat of mass violence in India truly is, one need only look to the northeastern state of Manipur where, in just the last two months, mobs have burned down over 250 Christian churches in what some locals have reportedly described as a “state-sponsored pogrom.” 

The USCIRF and EWP reports both recognized the rise to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within the Indian government since 2014 as the catalyst for much of this violence. The BJP is the party led by Modi that serves as the political embodiment of a radical Hindu nationalism which has become widespread in India. The party’s officials stand accused of intentionally stoking the fires of prejudice against the nation’s religious minorities and of working in tangent with extremist paramilitary groups committed to the formation of a true “Hindu state.” 

The U.S. response to religious persecution in India

Despite these alarming reports, the current administration has failed to act on USCIRF’s recommendation to designate Modi’s India as a “country of particular concern.” 

Modi was instead honored by the government with a state dinner and a congressional address during his recent visit to the U.S. capital. In his address to the nation’s lawmakers, Modi invoked the powerful memories of both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., insisting that India honors the legacies of these great men in that it demonstrates their shared democratic values of “equality and dignity” and is a “home to all faiths.” 

But with recent reports on the human rights abuses and the religious persecution currently transpiring in India, it seems unlikely that either Gandhi or King would recognize the brand of democracy and religious freedom found in Modi’s country today. And the Biden administration’s ongoing failure to officially acknowledge that reality by ignoring the appeal to designate India a “country of particular concern” spells only further dismay for India’s vulnerable religious minorities as the violent rhetoric and actions against them continue to intensify. 

Looking ahead

There is still hope that increased political pressure can move the current administration toward adopting the USCIRF recommendation. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) took Modi’s visit as an opportunity to introduce a resolution into the House that calls Blinken to acknowledge and act on the USCIRF report’s findings. 

The introduction of this resolution, alongside increased advocacy efforts on behalf of the religious minorities in India, should send a clear message to the current administration. It is not acceptable for our government to ignore the cries of persecuted people or look away from grave human rights abuses in order to advance economic, environmental, or geopolitical goals.

More must be done to hold India accountable for its role in allowing and facilitating persecution and abuse against religious minorities. Southern Baptists have long believed that the state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind and that the individual should be allowed to freely pursue the knowledge and love of God. The ERLC remains committed to advancing this position in the public square and will continue to advocate for the safety and freedom of religious minorities facing persecution in India and elsewhere.