Trinity Lutheran v. Comer
Today at the U.S. Supreme Court, as was the case during oral arguments, no one showed up to support the state of Missouri in the Trinity Lutheran v. Comerreligious liberty case. Concerned Women for America (CWA) was at the courthouse steps early, anticipating a big victory for religious freedom. And we were not disappointed.
The Court held that the state’s policy of denying religious groups an otherwise available public benefit, solely based on their religious affiliation, violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Court said, “[D]enying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion.”
This is a big win for religious liberty and for all Americans, regardless of their religious views.
The facts of the case were simple. Missouri denied Trinity Lutheran a grant to install playground surfaces made from recycled tires to promote children’s safety, solely because the school was affiliated with a church. The school had submitted an application to compete for the grant based completely on merit and was found to be in the top 5 out of 44. Yet, Missouri denied the application stating Article I, Section 7 of the Missouri Constitution.
The Court saw straight through the state’s policy and noted the choice they were putting before Trinity Lutheran: “It may participate in an otherwise available benefit program or remain a religious institution.”
The Court noted that Trinity Lutheran did not seek an entitlement to a subsidy but merely the opportunity to compete on the same level playing field as everyone else. It noted: “The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church — solely because it is a church — to compete with secular organizations for a grant.”
Chief Justice John Roberts — joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — wrote the majority opinion which said, “It has remained a fundamental principle of this Court’s free exercise jurisprudence that laws imposing ‘special disabilities on the basis of . . . religious status’ trigger the strictest scrutiny.”
On this, the state failed miserably. The Court noted it “offer[ed] nothing more than Missouri’s preference for skating as far as possible from religious establishment concerns.” And it concluded that, “In the face of the clear infringement on free exercise before the Court, that interest cannot qualify as compelling.”
The Court said its decision was plainly compelled by precedent which said that, “To condition the availability of benefits . . . upon [a recipient’s] willingness to . . . surrender his religiously impelled [status] effectively penalizes the free exercise of his constitutional liberties.”
It also emphasized that, “the Free Exercise Clause protects against ‘indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion, not just outright prohibitions.’”
Justices Thomas and Gorsuch wrote separate, concurring opinions expressing an even broader application of the First Amendment that should encourage defenders of religious freedom going forward. Those who, like CWA, supported Justice Gorsuch’s strong religious liberty record, should be proud of his clear thinking. He wrote separately because he, “worr[ies] that some might mistakenly read [a limiting footnote in the majority opinion] to suggest that only ‘playground resurfacing’ cases, or only those with some association with children’s safety or health, or perhaps some other social good we find sufficiently worthy, are governed by the Court’s opinion.”
But as noted above, this was not a “conservative opinion” that would give the enemies of religious freedom any reason to object. The opinion was joined by Justice Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, both from the liberal wing of the Court.
Only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg showed themselves to be so radical in their jurisprudence that they would have upheld Missouri’s hostility toward religious people. It bears mentioning that they stand all alone in their assessment, as even the state of Missouri had reversed course, even before the case was over, and allowed the school to compete.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ socialism enjoyed surprising popularity in the last presidential election. This is disturbing to any student of history, given the overwhelming evidence of oppression that follows the implementation of that treacherous philosophy anywhere in the world.
That explains, in part, his popularity with young people, who are unfortunately and increasingly unaware of the perils of socialism and communism throughout history.
But I hope these young people got a chance to see what Sen. Sanders’ insidious philosophy leads to, as he shamefully attacked Russell T. Vought, who is nominated to be the next deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, for his Christian faith.
As Mr. Vought sought to humbly and patiently explain that yes, he was indeed a Christian, Sen. Sanders continued to interrupt him and press him for his “intolerance.”
At one point Sen. Sanders rudely interrupted to say with much vigor:
I understand you are a Christian, but this country is made up of people who are not just … like I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the face of intolerance and oppression. In Sen. Sanders’ warped, darkened mind, to believe in any religion is bigoted. To have an internal peace and assurance of what happens after death is offensive to others. Just stop and consider how pernicious that is. What difference does it make for me if someone believes in his mind that I am going to Hell?
None. Unless it is true, and then I should probably reconsider what I’m doing. But someone else’s thinking has no bearing on me.
Not in Sen. Sanders’ deviate mind. His sort of childish maliciousness was described by the famous English writer and philosopher G.K Chesterton when he said, “The homeless intellectualism of an unhappy age often uses the term [bigoted] for anybody who is sure that he is right and other people are wrong.”
This is true enough of Sen. Sanders and contemptible to be sure. But Sen. Sanders takes his personal insecurities one step further, seeking to implement them in public policy. Therefore, he condemns this nominee for his Christian faith, saying, “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I really don’t.”
All because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
In Sen. Sanders’ America, no serious Christian could have a job in government, because they believe in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Sen. Sanders should be ashamed of himself, and all his supporters should open their eyes to the truth about him. Not to mention he should be ostracized by his colleagues.
He is no pioneer. Many communist dictators shared his crooked ways while they killed millions and oppressed their countrymen — which is why when our Founding Fathers conceived of our Constitution, they enshrined a clear guard against such imposition by radicals like Bernie Sanders.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution concludes by saying:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. (Emphasis mine.)
Sen. Sanders seemed concerned with the number of Muslims in our country. He said, “I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. I really don’t know, probably a couple of million.”
What difference does it make? Perhaps Sen. Sanders thinks in those terms, in terms of voters. But Mr. Vought tried to explain the Christian view that all men, regardless of their religion, are to be respected, having been created in the image of God.
Vought started to explain before Sanders interrupted again, “As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that, as a Christian, that’s how I should treat all individuals …”
Sen. Sanders’ willful blindness ignores that the freedom and tolerance we enjoy in America were born out of Biblical soil. Because we believe in a Creator, to Whom we are accountable, we are encouraged to engage one another in conversation, persuading one another with respect and dignity as to the dictates of our faith.
Following Sen. Sanders’ bigoted ways, engagement loses its appeal (as the government demands, under the threat of law, that all beliefs are equal), and we grow divided and fearful of one another.
Bernie Sanders’ America is a dark, oppressive place that would be the death of America as a beacon of freedom, and I hope Americans, regardless of political persuasion, will unite in condemning such a hideous political philosophy.
If I were Kathy Griffin’s friend, I’d want to be by her side now. It must be tough.
Most people by now have seen the horrible picture and video. It was bad. Really, bad. She has apologized. But it won’t be easy.
I hope she has some good friends by her side at this moment. I hope she doesn’t just have enablers, saying the world is just mad, that she was hilarious and people just didn’t get it. I hope she doesn’t have only the life-drainer types that hang around celebrities so often, just looking to better themselves. Nor just the ones who want to drag her out to a party and forget all about it, just to drop her off at home in the morning to deal with herself the next day.
If I were her friend, I’d want to talk to her about who she is, her feelings and emotions, but also her purpose. I’d want to talk to her about faith. I’d want to offer my love (frail as it is, as will be explained below) and offer the only meaningful hope I have ever found in life: the love of God.
What follows is what I might say.
You are so loved, Kathy. I know it is hard to see right now with all the brouhaha over your picture. I understand. I’ve done worse. You probably have, too. God is not impressed by how much attention our failings get. He is offended by our sin just as much when nobody knows about them.
Yet He pursues us. “While we were yet sinners,” Scripture tells us, He sent His son Jesus Christ to die for our “fumblings” — for our many sins.
That’s how He demonstrated His love for us, according to Romans 5:8. That’s how much He loves you. Not what you have done; we must all repent of our sins. Not the personas we have created for others to see as a way of guarding our hearts to ease our loneliness and pain; He sees right through that.
He loves us. You.
It’s miraculous. It’s unbelievable. And it is truly lovely. To receive this kind of love is true liberty. Won’t you give that love a chance?
True love. It’s not like what you see between men and women. This love — this love is different.
It’s captured in 1 Corinthians 13, and there you can easily see why it seems preposterous when we use it to describe the type of love we show for one another.
My wife and I have the verse on a big painting in our living room, and I often go through it and try to put a mental check mark on the things I’ve been doing right.
First one is brutal for me. “Love is patient,” it says. Well, I’m out right off the bat. If God were as patient with me as I sometimes am with my wife and children, I would’ve been the one on that cross.
“Love is kind”? Oh boy. I mean, it’s not like I don’t try to be kind. But I fail so often that I could never put a check mark on that one. The best I can say is that I have recurring flashes of kindness. But that’s just being kind with myself, which is nothing to brag about.
Love “does not envy.” Fail. “Does not boast,” fail. “It is not proud,” [laughter that turns to tears and then turns into 15 minutes of prayer].
“It does not dishonor others.” Ok, I might put a check mark here, but truth is I’m not fully confident. Especially if we consider our past.
I hope you see that aspect of love gets at the heart of the failure of your picture.
Love “is not self-seeking,” continues the passage. I got married precisely for this. I wanted someone to make me happy. Isn’t that what everyone tells us, “You deserve someone that will make you happy”?
It’s all baloney. Trust me. But that’s another conversation. For now, just know that it is not love.
Love “is not easily angered.” We all get angry, so we just have to reckon with the “easily” part, and I have to say I’ve learned to do much better. Check mark? I hesitate. Truth is, if you catch me on the wrong day, “bye-bye” check mark.
Love “keeps no record of wrongs.” I kept a gold star on this one for a long time; I thought I did so well. Then I realized it was partly because I thought my wife did not do so well with it. That meant that I was keeping a record of her keeping a record, and there went my gold star — along with my pride.
We could go on (Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never ends), but you get the picture.
God loves you that way. In a supernatural way. Your friends and family might give up on you. They will all fail you. But God’s love still pursues you. No matter what you have done.
You are not this picture. You are not your career. You were created “in His image.” That’s where your purpose comes from. Not from fame. Not from comedy.
You were created by God for God. Could I pray for you?
One of the things President Donald Trump should be most proud of from his short time in the White House is his decision to move the U.S. away from the hideous business of promoting abortion-on-demand around the world.
On Jan. 23, 2017, just three days after his swearing-in ceremony, President Trump reinstated what has been known as the “Mexico City Policy” (because of its roots at a population conference in Mexico City). The policy, initiated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, to the delight of most Americans, prohibits U.S. taxpayer dollars from going to organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning abroad.
Big Abortion, of course, despises the policy…
Read the rest of this op-ed as featured exclusively on AmericanThinker.com.
Most times I am outraged, really incensed, at the evil that is abortion. I get angry at the debasement of the very image of God. The way outside forces prey on vulnerable women for their personal and corporate profit.
Sometimes a sense of the reality of the sin we are committing as a nation weighs in on me.
But not today. Today, I fight to hold back tears (as I write in a public place). Today, after watching the latest Center for Medical Progress video, I feel such pain for the people (educated professionals) that are part of this dark industry.
Here is the video:
[Editor’s note: the original video has now been removed from YouTube (they don’t want the truth to be heard!). Here we provide a shortened version still available through Twitter posts]
I want to be furious. I want to be enraged. It would be an appropriate response to such callousness—such cold, raw disregard for life, fragility and love. These poor babies are thought about as “pointy skulls.”
I want to cry out to God, as the psalmist did, “How long, o Lord?” I feel this irrational desire to pray as Jesus did on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” But my heart sinks deeper still as I ponder that they do. They do know exactly what they do.
And they do it anyway.
They do it with glee. They discuss it between wine and giggles. They make a living from it.
How long, o Lord?
How long will you and I, friend, turn a blind eye to this evil? How long will you and I dismiss it as someone else’s problem? How long will we pretend to fight injustice somewhere else, while we perpetrate an injustice of the harshest kind on our most vulnerable?
How long will we compartmentalize and rationalize what is plain for all of us to see? A vulnerable baby, sacrificed at the altar of self? How long will we allow our court to push this evil on us? How long will we allow laws making it possible to stand?
How long will we continue to support and promote the evil of abortion with our own money?
Oh yes, we can try to con ourselves into thinking we have no part in it, but the heart-cutting truth is that we all support this with our own money. My money, your money makes conferences like the one we just saw in this video possible.
Our money pays for them to get together to discuss the harvesting and selling of baby body parts.
Let that sink in. We are not guiltless (ok, forget about holding back the tears now).
We are not innocent. We live our lives, every day under this horrid cloud. We wake up, eat, drink, work, have time with family, even worship in our churches under this national cloud.
O Lord, how long?
Still, we do not despair. That would be too easy. No, we must renew our strength and set upon the hard, tedious, inconvenient task of exposing this infringement on our most basic right. We must expose the painful, virulent nature of abortion. We must repent.
That is why we must be so grateful for the work of people like David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress. Their incredible sacrifice has ignited the moral conscience of many, and we will continue to take that work to the ends of the world until this evil is eradicated everywhere it is found.
If you are pro-choice, I plead with you to consider the reality of what is in front of you as you watch this video. Forget about what you have been told and just consider what you are seeing, what you are hearing. Are you okay with that?
We can do better than this. We can be a compassionate people, a loving people. Let us love one another then. Let us love our daughters, so that they may never even come close to feeling a need to put themselves at the mercy of one of these exploiters.
May God grant us the wisdom and will to put an end to abortion once and for all.
At least 22 died yesterday and another 120 more were injured (so far) after a bomb detonation at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. It is an incredible tragedy.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, and they are also against the forces of evil behind this attack.
We often refer to these attacks as “senseless” acts of violence, and though I sympathize with the sentiment, truth is they are nothing of the sort. As we have come to expect, ISIS has now claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. These attacks are purposeful, encouraged, and driven by an ideology with tangible goals.
World governments must fight back against it in terms of their political and territorial aspirations. But this enemy cannot be defeated through these efforts alone. Their goals are primarily spiritual, and that is why the Church is so important.
As Paul reminded us in 2 Corinthians 10, “[T]hough we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (NIV).
Our spiritual weapons can attack what military forces can’t — the ideology. Verse 5 of that 10th Chapter in 2 Corinthians reminds us, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV).
It is a battle of ideas that manifests itself in these acts of violence. Therefore, destroying the ideas, demolishing their arguments, is how true victory against this evil group can be attained.
So, there is an ironic twist to this. We, as the Church of Jesus Christ, must take a look at ourselves, instead of ISIS. It is we who must focus on the basic principles of our faith. Take on that full armor of God (Ephesians 6) to be ready and able to war against the devil’s schemes.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” Paul reasoned (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).
He commanded us to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.
But we have slacked off on Paul’s exhortation. The belt of truth has been gone for so long, even our trousers have been lost, leaving only our shame. We’ve forgotten the definition of righteousness altogether. A watered-down Gospel is preached in order to make it palatable to the new generation. The shield of faith? We’ve used each other as shields ever since “believe in yourself” has become our motto. The helmet of salvation has become more of a baseball cap, easily blown by the slightest wind. And we’ve traded our antiquated swords of the Spirit (which is the Word of God, according to Paul) at the local pawn shop for a more practical spirituality that fits our lifestyle.
It is impossible to fight (much less win) the spiritual battle before us in such a sad state.
Let us turn back to our God then. For He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8 ESV).
Let us go back to the Scriptures. Let us go back to love. Back to obedience.
The passage in 2 Corinthians 10 concludes with that exhortation: “[W]e will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete” (verse 6). Once our obedience is complete.
This can be accomplished through prayer which Paul does not forget as he completes the description of the full armor of God: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people,” (Ephesians 6:18, NIV).
I pray our Christian convictions will impress on us these important principles of our Christian faith, that we may remind each other in the days ahead as we prepare ourselves to deal with the next “Manchester.”
The pressure to criticize, cynically mock and downplay anything President Donald Trump does is considerable these days. I, like many, many, Americans have decided to give the frustrated their space to vent, while I focus on bringing about positive change in the best way I can.
Today, that means I want to praise President Trump for taking such a clear, strong stance in favor of religious freedom, by signing his religious liberty executive order today.
It does not go unnoticed that he did so today, bringing renewed attention to our oft-forgotten National Day of Prayer, and that he commemorated it with a beautiful ceremony in the Rose Garden.
It was so refreshing to see the President of the United States acknowledging and boldly standing in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who had been so unjustly dragged into court, all the way to the Supreme Court, by the previous administration. The moment President Trump asked them to stand with him on stage was the highlight of the day.
Some might dismiss that as insignificant. I choose not to do that. To me, it sends a clear message that will reverberate at every level of government and much of the culture. My daughters got to see that. Because of their age, they had never seen anything like it, all they know is President Obama.
The contrast is stark. President Trump said today:
Faith is deeply imbedded into the history of our country. The spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation … Today my administration is leading by example, as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty in the United States of America. We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.
President Obama, on the other hand, stood with the bullies of religious people. Recall, on the topic of judges, for example, President Obama said he wanted judges concerned with specific groups, and religious people were emphatically not included among those he wanted to protect. He said:
We need somebody who’s got the heart— the empathy – to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African American or gay or disabled or old — and that’s the criteria by which I’ll be selecting my judges.
President Trump’s first selection to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, you may remember, is a champion of religious liberty with a proven track record of upholding the First Amendment right in cases like the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Little Sisters v. Burwell.
Today, President Trump said, “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.” I am grateful for those words.
Here is what the exact language of the main section of today’s Executive Order states:
Section 1. Policy. It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom. The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government. For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans’ first freedom. Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government. The executive branch will honor and enforce those protections.
The executive branch’s hostility towards religious persons and groups was not a small problem under the Obama Administration. Here is a simple refresher that came out with the IRS scandal where they demand groups “detail the content of your members’ prayers.”
Sec. 2. Respecting Religious and Political Speech. All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech. In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury …
This is the part that aims at the “Johnson Amendment” which generally prohibits non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Like, with the IRS problem, the issue in this area, more than the law itself, is the abuse and misuse of that law to intimidate churches and pastors.
The IRS, atheist groups and other groups, like the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, would use vagueness and empty threats to intimidate pastors into silence on political, cultural and social issues by urging “caution.”
In the same way, President Trump’s simple effort to make clear where his Administration’s pressure points lie can have a significant positive effect on religious liberty. More needs to be done, no doubt, but the truth is that even though the First Amendment should be enough, these small administrative changes can have considerable impact.
Sec. 3. Conscience Protections with Respect to Preventive-Care Mandate. The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate promulgated under section 300gg-13(a)(4) of title 42, United States Code.
Again, you can see here the beginnings of something much needed, even while acknowledging that more is to come. This section is directed at people like the Little Sisters of the Poor and other individuals and groups that should not feel hostility from the federal government as they engage in the public square. Sec. 4 similarly instructs further action from the Attorney General to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.”
All these small steps are good and a very encouraging development for our country. President Trump should be commended, even as we encourage him to take further action.