Congress: The Good, Bad, and Ugly
Despite Congress's gridlock on a host of issues related to our national security and economic stability, last week included two bright spots for conservatives interested in common-sense policy reforms. The good news: coming just a day after news of Meriam Ibrahim's safe travels with her family to Italy, Congress gave advocates of international religious freedom one more reason to celebrate. Late Friday, the House passed by unanimous consent S. 653, the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014, a bill which establishes a Special Envoy to advocate for religious minorities in the region of the world most impacted by the violent persecution of believers. Human rights advocates like Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) have long championed this bill as a necessary tool for forcing the State Department to prioritize the protection of religious freedom in our diplomacy abroad; with the House agreeing unanimously to approve Senator Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) Senate-passed companion bill, the legislation now heads to the President's desk for his signature. Given this administration's anemic defense of religious liberty abroad -- including on behalf of those Americans still detained in foreign prisons like Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran -- this legislation is critical. As we continue to see in Iraq, when the U.S. remains silent regarding the targeted annihilation of religious minorities, radical groups advance their bloody agenda unchecked. These vulnerable religious communities desperately need defenders, and with passage of S. 653, the administration may at long last be forced to take up their case. Passage of this bill and criticism of the Administration's mishandling of religious liberty surely played into the President's nine month overdue nomination for the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. It is important that Senators ask questions of the President's nominee, Rabbi David Saperstein, regarding his view of religious freedom since he has criticized the Hobby Lobby ruling as "deeply troubling." He is an adjunct professor at Washington's Georgetown University, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and a board member of People for the American Way. Any nominee should support the fundamental principle that religious liberty is not confined to one's house of worship or for only some people.
More good news included the fact that the House also took up the case of families on Friday -- passing H.R. 4935, the Child Tax Credit Improvement Act. Long championed by FRC, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) recognizes the importance of the family in society and the importance of children to future economic growth. The House took action to not only index the credit for inflation, but also to eliminate existing marriage penalties in the credit. Congressman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee spoke about FRC's support during floor debate on Friday, noting that "A fair system of taxation does not penalize marriage and family." We couldn't agree more.
The bad news: the Senate is unlikely to join the House in advancing the Child Tax Credit Improvement Act -- the common-sense tax proposal passed in the House will likely go nowhere in the Senate. Instead, the ugly news: under Majority Leader Reid's (D-Nev.) leadership, the Senate continues to confirm extreme liberal justices to federal courts. Today, the Senate confirmed progressive liberal justice Pamela Harris to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals by the narrowest vote possible, 50-43. Her confirmation is a reminder that our efforts to support good legislative outcomes like those highlighted in the House last week aren't enough -- we still must work to defeat radical judicial nominees and slow the progressive liberal agenda in the Senate.
Christians Not Welcome in Baton Rouge?
The degrading comments of a city councilman aligned with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and other prominent businesses in my hometown are sending a message to Christians and conservative businesses that they are not welcomed in Louisiana's Capital City. In attempting to pass a special rights measure based upon sexual behavior last Wednesday, Councilman John Delgado ironically lashed out at opponents in his closing remarks alleging that their opposition to the controversial ordinance was using the council to impose a "Christian version of Sharia law on the citizens of Baton Rouge." The comments came after three and half hours of public comment on the so-called "Fairness Ordinance", a measure similar to the one recently adopted by the Houston, Texas council and now the focus of a citizen-led referendum to overturn it.
The "Fairness Ordinance" would create a new cause of action in District Court for allegations of discrimination on the basis of various categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity, something the Louisiana Constitution explicitly prohibits.
Led by my good friend Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, over 75 different churches and a number of prominent pastors assembled at the Metro Council meeting in opposition to the ordinance, many making the point it was not Christians and churches trying to make impositions upon the citizens but rather homosexual activists that are less than 3% of the population.
Dr. Tommy Middleton, head of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge made a compelling presentation saying, "It's a matter of conscience" and asked, "What is wrong with speaking your mind? What's wrong with someone who has Biblical values?" And my former physician, Dr. Jere Melilli, who is also a pastor and founder of Christian Life Academy spoke against the proposed ordinance and drew the council's attention to the alarming, but often covered-up, health consequences associated with homosexual behavior.
As the fallout from these types of special rights ordinances spreads from major city to major city, pastors and citizens are making the trips to city council meetings, they are making the phone calls, sending the emails and even preaching the sermons knowing that the freedom of speech -- and more importantly the freedom of religion -- is at risk.
While not surprised at how the advocates of these measures slander the opposition, it is alarming that the Baton Rouge Area Chamber would want to be a part of sending a such a religiously-discriminatory message that only certain citizens are welcome to participate in the democratic process. To my friends and business associates in Baton Rouge, I would strongly suggest you find another, more tolerant voice to represent you and your business like the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish.
For those in Baton Rouge, the measure will be back. Unable to muster the needed votes to pass, the supporters of the controversial ordinance used up the allotted time so that it would not be voted down, and will carry it over to their next meeting on August 13th. If you live in Baton Rouge I would encourage you to again contact your city council representative and encourage them to support true fairness and vote against the fairness for some measure advocated by Councilman Delgado and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
While this matter may be local, it represents a pattern of attack by activists hostile to religious freedom across the country. The only way we will stem this tide is to stand together against it.
Join Us at The Twilight's Last Gleaming
This year America is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the song that became our National Anthem: The Star Spangled Banner. Few citizens have ever heard the story of how God used ordinary Christians to do extraordinary things during the desperate days of 1814. But on Sunday, September 14th, at 7:00 p.m. ET, we will tell that story as it's never been told before during a live nationwide simulcast we are calling "Star Spangled Sunday." This fast paced, 90-minute simulcast event promises to be the largest nationwide, pre-election gathering of Christian citizens and will be a wonderful way for Christians across America to celebrate the 200th birthday of the Star Spangled Banner. Click over to the Star Spangled Sunday website to learn how you and your church can take part.
**Tomorrow, Rev. Richard Owen Roberts, former pastor, author, sought-after speaker, and one of America's leading scholars on the history of revivals and awakenings will share from his heart at FRC, tomorrow, Tuesday, June 29, at Noon ET. Click here to learn more about this webcast event.
***I'll be away from the Update for the rest of the week as the Perkins family will be on a summer camping trip, (watch Facebook for pictures), but I'll leave you in the hands of the capable FRC staff to keep you informed on the latest happenings in the nation's capital.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.