Family Research Council

DOJ Fights Whisk Management in Baker's Case

September 08, 2017

It may be one of the most important religious liberty cases in a century -- and President Trump isn't about to be on the wrong side of it. In the latest sign that this isn't Barack Obama's DOJ, the administration is going to bat for Jack Phillips, the Christian baker at the center of a five-year firestorm over vendors' forced participation in same-sex marriage. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the last stop for his case, the Justice Department argues that Jack was well within his rights to turn down a wedding cake order for a ceremony that contradicts his faith.

"The government may not compel an unwilling speaker to join a group or event at odds with his religious or moral beliefs," Attorney General Jeff Session's team argued. "Otherwise, a graphic designer whose clients include 'a Jewish affinity group' could also be forced to make fliers 'for a neo-Nazi group.'" The Left is desperately trying to turn this into a debate about Christians refusing service to same-sex couples. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Like Barronelle Stuzman and dozens of other wedding vendors, Jack offered to sell the men anything in his store.

That didn't satisfy them -- nor did the long list of area bakeries who would have gladly accepted the job. Instead, they wanted to force Jack to use his creative talents to celebrate a message that violates his beliefs. "Just as a painter does more than simply apply paint to a canvas, a baker of a custom wedding cake does more than simply mix together eggs, flour, and sugar," DOJ officials went on. "Both apply their artistic talents and viewpoints to the endeavor." Public accommodations laws are important, acknowledged a Justice Department official, but "they -- like other laws -- must yield to the individual freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees."

A whopping 86 Members of Congress agree. In their own appeal to the Court, they warn about the implications for every American. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of the signers, knows exactly how dangerous this precedent would be. So do voters. According to Rasmussen, only 29 percent of the country thinks Jack should be prosecuted. "What matters," Lee points out, "is how our laws can be brought to bear against those who believe. The government cannot force you to speak where you would choose to remain silent. These are foundational pillars of Constitution." Already, bakers, florists, website designers, and dressmakers have been sued, fined, and harassed for trying to live as openly about their faith as the Left has about its sexuality.

As we've said from the beginning, tolerance is for everyone -- or else it isn't tolerance at all. Taking a wrecking ball to a young couple's business or threatening a grandmother's home isn't a down payment on "equality;" it's a death warrant for freedom. As FRC reminds the Court in our own amicus brief, "The First Amendment has never been confined within the walls of a church, as if it were a wild animal needing to be caged. On the contrary, the Constitution broadly guarantees liberty of religion and conscience to citizens who participate in public life according to their moral, ethical, and religious convictions." There is discrimination in this case -- but not against people who identify as LGBT. It's against Jack Phillips and the millions of others who share his views about marriage.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what Samuel Alito warned when the Supreme Court redefined marriage for everyone in Obergefell. "I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools." Now, two years later, clashes like this one are exploding in Christian businesses all across the country. It's time for the Supreme Court to step in and stop this crusade against faith it started. President Trump is doing his job on religious liberty. It's the justices' turn to do theirs.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

FEMA's Disaster of a Public Assistance Program

September 08, 2017

After one devastating hurricane and another on the way, FEMA's been a little busy. And from my perspective, the agency's doing a pretty good job on the ground. But that doesn't excuse the Federal Emergency Management Agency from responding to another crisis -- this time on religious hostility. In the clean-up of Harvey, Houston churches are facing plenty of obstacles, including some outdated policy guidances. The agency, which had done its share of discriminating against religious groups after Katrina, corrected a lot of the problem when it opened up its small business loan program to churches. But unfortunately, there's still a piece of the puzzle that puts faith-based groups at a disadvantage for aid: FEMA's Public Assistance Program.

The problem started back in 1998, when the agency decided that it could exclude churches and other religious institutions from disaster relief money. Now, almost 20 years later, at least three churches are fighting to change that. With collapsed roofs and flooding, Texas's Harvest Family, Rockport First Assembly of God, and Hi-Way Tabernacle are suing FEMA for the help they need to rebuild. "Hurricane Harvey didn't cherry-pick its victims," said the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, "FEMA shouldn't cherry-pick who it helps."

As far as we can tell, there's never been a challenge (or at least a successful one) to this Public Assistance Program. But with Donald Trump in the White House and the Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran case in the books, faith-based groups should have all the help they need to right FEMA's wrong. Earlier this summer, when the justices ruled that Missouri couldn't exclude a church from its tire grant program, they shut the door on religious tests for government funding. Thanks to that precedent, Becket attorneys are confident that that faith-based organizations will be just as eligible for other agency programs.

Both this situation and the Trinity Lutheran case feature churches providing services open to the public (in Trinity Lutheran the church had a playground for kids, and here the churches have been staging and shelter areas for the community during a disaster). Thus, based on Trinity Lutheran, the FEMA policy banning churches from Public Assistance is likely unconstitutional.

It is also inconsistent with the president's position and actions on religious liberty. The president's executive order issued in May calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue guidance for all federal agencies to respect and protect religious freedom should resolve this matter in favor of the churches. We are eagerly awaiting DOJ to follow the president's lead and ensure a level playing field for all.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

Title X Marks the Spot for Senate GOP

September 08, 2017

Liberals are usually the ones who like to throw money at ineffective programs. That philosophy certainly helps explain the teen pregnancy "prevention" money pit Americans have been financing for the last eight years. Despite the success of President George Bush's abstinence programs, Barack Obama walked into the Oval Office and almost immediately zeroed out sexual risk avoidance grants. Instead, he decided to use the money to pad Planned Parenthood's bottom line by $10 million through even more Title X funding. (Not so coincidentally, $10 million is the exact amount Planned Parenthood pledged to help get President Obama elected.)

Two terms (and who knows how many teen pregnancies and STDs later), even Obama's own government admitted his approach to sex ed was a disaster. The "if-it-feels-good-do-it-with-a-condom" and "if-that-fails-get-an-abortion" strategy flopped -- as conservatives knew it would. As the Wall Street Journal's editors explain in an op-ed this week, "The Obama administration last year evaluated 18 programs that replicated allegedly tested approaches: three yielded mixed results, and 11 had no lasting effect on behavior. Three had a negative effect, meaning they increased the likelihood of teens engaging in sex or becoming pregnant, which takes some doing in the current culture. A single curriculum showed positive results, but a second study then showed no discernible effect. Supporters insist results will improve over time, and it's hard to imagine they could get worse."

But Donald Trump's predecessor was always more concerned about his political health than teenagers'. His programs were designed to reward allies like Planned Parenthood, who took home an impressive wad of the Title X cash -- and were guaranteed even more with the abortion referral requirement that was part of Obama's family planning curriculum.

When Donald Trump took office, one of the first things he did was announce, on a one-page budget blueprint, the elimination of $101 million in teen pregnancy prevention funds. Republicans in the House made that vision a reality in their appropriations bills, slashing the bulk of Obama's boondoggle and restoring the money to sexual risk avoidance programs that the CDC admits are the most effective. "The feds don't need to spend $200 million on a failed sex-ed program," the Wall Street Journal argued.

We agree. So why are Senate Republicans trying to reinstate more than $100 million in Obama's failed teen pregnancy programs? (Programs, incidentally, that directly fund Planned Parenthood.) Republicans in the Senate know better than anyone that Title X family planning funding has always been a major slush fund for Cecile Richards's group, which uses the money to groom future abortion customers -- not stop out-of-wedlock births. Join us in calling on the Senate leadership to follow the House's lead and put taxpayers' money back into what works (and what parents of both parties want): abstinence.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

Previous Washington Update Articles »