Saudis Draw Line in the Sand for Christians

Saudis Draw Line in the Sand for Christians

May 04, 2018

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to later developments in this story, please see an important update/correction here.

Imagine a country of 830,000 square miles -- bigger than Alaska -- without a single church. Right now, that's Saudi Arabia. For Christians, it's a suffocating place to live. Bibles are illegal, and Muslims knows that if they convert, there's a very real chance they'll face the death penalty. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has again identified Saudi Arabia as a country of particular concern. So this week's news -- that Saudi Arabia might finally be opening the doors to Christian churches -- is a breakthrough of epic proportions.

For the first time in history, Vatican officials sat down with Saudi officials and signed an agreement to let churches put down real roots without fear of government retaliation. Cardinal Tauran, who helped pave the way for the deal, told the royal family that Pope Francis has been following the plight of the "hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Saudi kingdom with close attention." That must have resonated with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, who's been genuinely invested in turning Muslims away from the violence of radical Islam.

With his government in turmoil, bin Salman knows this is an opportunity to make a sign of good faith to the West. Maybe he's making a bid for foreign support for his reforms. Or maybe he's trying to build a stronger alliance against Iran. Either way, it's a historic pact.

To understand just how significant this development could be, take the story of one young Saudi mom, who became a Christian years before she met her husband. When her own mother found out about her conversion, she put her under house arrest. Our friends at Open Doors, who've been trying to disciple believers in hiding like Nawal, said her mother "kept her inside for years, afraid she'd meet other believers if allowed outside." She was forced to marry a Muslim man, who even now doesn't know her secret. According to Saudi law,if he did, he's "entitled to beat her, divorce her or even kill her. Nobody will come to her rescue."

So, here Nawal is now. A wife and mother married to a man who cannot find out about her faith. That discovery may cost her life, and her daughter will grow up without a mother. She behaves like a proper Muslim, performing the Muslim prayer rituals five times a day, at least when other people are around. But in her heart, she is still praying to Jesus and asking Him to give her the strength to keep believing, even though she's completely isolated.

But the reality is that fear, depression, and the feeling of being isolated are continuously threatening Nawal's faith. On her wedding day, she grew so afraid of being exposed as a believer that she felt she had to say goodbye to the believers who were still in touch with her through social media. Her last message to them: 'I will delete your contact information, and I may not respond anymore for my own safety. But please know that I will read whatever you send me.'

Who knows how many Nawals are in Saudi Arabia, desperately wishing for the freedom to worship that we take for granted? Not surprisingly, activists like Nina Shea, who've worked their whole lives to fight the spread of these dangerous ideologies, are skeptical about such a sweeping reform coming to fruition. But, as even she's pointed out, it could be that President Trump's tough rhetoric on terrorism and Islamic extremism is finally paying off. Other Europeans are starting to speak up too, demanding that King Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud lift its ban on all "non-Muslim religious activities."

Under Obama, she explains, the State Department gave the Saudis a pass for years. "It deflected criticism of the Saudi Kingdom and reassured the public in its annual religious freedom reports that Saudi Arabia has 'reformed' and 'improved... My investigations show that it hadn't. Even after a 2014 New York Times report that Saudi texts were being used by ISIS in schools in its then-stronghold of Mosul, Iraq, the State Department concealed [it]..." Now, she says, cautiously optimistic, "the West finally seems to be waking up."

A lot of that credit belongs to the Trump administration, who, together with Secretary Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback, are once again making religious freedom a foreign policy priority -- bringing hope and help to the persecuted around the world.

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

Amazon a Prime Suspect in Charity War

May 04, 2018

The Southern Poverty Law Center was too intolerant for the U.S. Army. Too controversial for the FBI. And too inflammatory for the Obama Justice Department. But despite SPLC's baggage, the extremists seem to have found a home at one of America's biggest companies: Amazon. Turns out, you can get almost anything at the online retailer, except -- conservatives are finding out -- tolerance.

At a time when even the mainstream media is questioning SPLC, Amazon is rushing to embrace the "hate labeling" that inspired Floyd Corkins to walk into our lobby with the goal of killing as many people as possible. Now, a year after the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is also branded an extremist on SPLC's website, most people are shocked that anyone – let alone Amazon -- would use the radical organization as a resource. Yet now, when shoppers try to donate to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) through the AmazonSmile program, they can't. Why? Because, according to the company, "haters" aren't allowed to participate.

ADF's supporters, who've been using the program for five years, were shocked. After all, ADF isn't some marginal, far-Right nonprofit, but a respected legal organization that's argued -- and won -- several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. But despite the fact that ADF's been a part of the program since 2013, a spokesman said the company had reconsidered its involvement. When ADF inquired, they were told: "The AmazonSmile Participation Agreement states that certain categories of organizations are not eligible to participate in AmazonSmile. We rely on the Southern Poverty Law Center to determine which charities are in certain ineligible categories. You have been excluded from the AmazonSmile program because the Southern Poverty Law Center lists Alliance Defending Freedom in an ineligible category."

Of course, the policy change isn't surprising when you consider the politics of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The billionaire and his wife dumped $2.5 million into a same-sex marriage effort in Washington State -- the largest LGBT advocacy gift ever given. If Bezos wants to start policing haters, that's his business. But relying on SPLC to define them, a group that Politico calls "more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog," then Amazon is making a major mistake.

After all, SPLC's Mark Potok has been clear that the organization's real mission has nothing to do with tolerance. "Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on.... I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them." And, what's worse, SPLC is quite open about the fact that their labels are completely arbitrary. "Our criteria for a 'hate group,' first of all, have nothing to do with criminality or violence... It's strictly ideological." At least for now, any pretense of SPLC's credibility is gone -- and not just with its conservative targets, but with liberals, Muslims, secularists, even journalists.

Atheists like Sam Harris, who were once allies of SPLC, have roundly criticized it for applying "the powerful language of civil rights to mark those with whom it disagrees as bigots or racists..." Besides, he goes on, "the SPLC has half a billion dollars and seemingly endless appetite for such character assassination campaigns, which should trouble anyone committed to... the old-fashioned values for which journalism, academic, and other high-minded pursuits once stood."

If Amazon wants to take a stand against incivility, ADF says it would be "happy to help the company create a participation policy for AmazonSmile that does not ban legitimate, well-respected, faith-based organizations like ADF." At the very least, the organization's Sarah Kramer writes, if Amazon insists on using information from a discredited group like the SPLC to determine which organizations it allows to participate in AmazonSmile, it should certainly disclose that to its customers. After all, millions of people around the world, like many of you, share our beliefs. And I'm sure you would like to know whether Amazon welcomes your views."

If you're an Amazon shopper or Prime subscriber, let the company know how you feel about its partnership with SPLC. Call customer service at 1-888-280-4331 or tweet them @AmazonHelp.

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

Two States, One Goal: Freedom

May 04, 2018

LGBT activists have been fond of saying that same-sex marriage would never affect you. Well, now, it's not only affecting you -- it's affecting needy kids.

Across the country, Christian charities and adoption services have been bracing themselves against wave after wave of attack from liberals, desperate to kick them out of the child welfare industry. As far as these extremists are concerned, no organization -- including an explicitly religious one -- should be allowed to operate if they hold a biblical view of marriage. In places like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts, their crusade has gone so far as to close down one of the largest child placement services in the area -- Catholic Charities -- because it refused to compromise its core beliefs.

Fortunately, in some states, the bullying is prompting a counter-attack from common sense lawmakers, who think it's well within a charity's right to decide which homes are the best and most loving options for children. In Oklahoma, the state legislature followed in the suit of at least five other states, sending a measure to Gov. Mary Fallin's (R) desk that would give religious groups the freedom to exercise their faith in their placement policies. Democrats were so irate during the debate that the presiding officer threatened to have one member removed.

In nearby Kansas, legislators acted hours later, passing their version of the "Child Welfare Inclusion Act" 63-58 in the House and 24-15 in the Senate early this morning. "This is a matter of activist groups who don't like certain religious beliefs and they want to use the power of the government to crush people that operate according to those religious beliefs," said Michael Schuttloffel, the director of the Kansas Catholic Conference. With, as the AP points out, an already overloaded foster care system, the state can't afford to lose a single provider – let alone one of Kansas's biggest.

Governor Jeff Coyler (R) must have agreed, promising to make the bill law. "Catholic Charities and other adoption agencies are key to the fabric of our communities. I look forward to signing this bill because it increases the opportunities for needy children to find loving homes." Hopefully, his counterpart in Oklahoma will follow suit, recognizing that liberal activists are more concerned with pushing their intolerant agenda than they are with finding children good homes.

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.

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