First Freedom: A Day to Celebrate


First Freedom: A Day to Celebrate

January 16, 2019

When George H.W. Bush died in November, he was remembered for so many things -- his leadership in the Cold War, America's invasion of Kuwait, his World War II service. What almost never came up was January 16, 1993. Four days before President Bush left office, his dream of a second term lost, he did something significant. He heeded Congress's call to set this day apart, so that we could honor what sets our nation apart: religious freedom.

In a tradition carried on by every president since, Religious Freedom Day gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on a concept that -- 233 years later -- doesn't seem nearly as radical as it did in Thomas Jefferson's day. Like so many things we take for granted, Americans don't always appreciate their liberties until they're threatened. Even then, the smallest taste of persecution we experienced pales in comparison to the fear and oppression suffered by half of the world's Christians today. We bow our heads in public, drive to and from Sunday services, or sing along to praise and worship without a second thought. But for millions of families huddled in underground churches or behind prison bars, faith still exacts a price.

They understand, better than any of us, what drove America to a bloody Revolution more than two centuries ago. They know the shackles of a government that attempt to dictate what people believe -- and punish the ones who refuse to conform. And they long for men and women as brave as our founders, who were willing to give their lives for a nation that lets everyone order their lives by their own beliefs.

Twenty-six years, five presidents, and two deeply divided parties later, our country could use a reminder of what Religious Freedom Day means. When Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786, he was trying to stop the government from dictating what Americans believe. Now, a full two centuries later, his fears are suddenly relevant again. Under Barack Obama, we saw the dawning of a new age -- one where men and women of faith were singled out for attack. They were chased out of jobs, hauled to court, vandalized, ridiculed, and financially ruined. They were forced to violate their beliefs -- or pay for them.

Over time, the legislative and political attacks gave way to actual violence. Even now, President Trump warns, two years into his work to cajole faith out of hiding, "efforts to circumscribe religious freedom -- or to separate it from adjourning civil liberties, like property rights or free speech -- are on the rise." This day, which, as FRC's David Closson points out, should be an opportunity to celebrate our shared principles, only reminds us of how fractured we are on what should be the common values of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

That's not to say both sides won't commemorate the day. But there are two very different parties now -- one who embraces religious freedom in theory, and another who defends it in practice. One who sees conscience as a necessary casualty on the road to political correctness, and another who sees it as the only avenue to co-existence. One who gets its way through force and coercion, the other who wants ideas to compete openly. One whose spokesmen wonder if 230-year-old principles still apply, and another who knows America couldn't exist without them.

Our country has a long way to go in healing these rifts. But when we do, it will be because we dug down to the roots of who we are as a people. Nothing defines us more -- then or now -- than the dignity of the human person and the freedom of everyone, everywhere, to live out their beliefs. Two hundred forty-three years later, they're what makes the experiment called America work. Today, we celebrate the sacrifices that bought that freedom -- and pray for the courage to keep it burning.

For more on the significance of January 16, check out these new columns from FRC experts David Closson, "Religious Freedom Day" on NRO; "When Free Exercise Comes at a Price" by Alexandra McPhee; and, "On Religious Freedom Day, Consider Life in Countries without It" from Travis Weber.


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


House Dems Get on Their Hyde Horse

January 16, 2019

House Democrats don't think abortion should be rare -- they think it should be free! Apparently, that's the new majority's rallying cry in the lead-up to the 46th anniversary of the deadliest U.S. Supreme Court ruling in history. But don't expect it to be a popular one. Despite two years of pushing the party into some of the most radical terrain in Democratic history, liberals' position on the issue is a far cry from most voters'.

At a press conference announcing the Each Woman Act, the House Pro-Choice Caucus declared, "We're going to end the Hyde amendment." For Democrats, whose platform already encourages abortion-on-demand right up to the moment of birth, the push to topple the wall between taxpayers and the abortion industry is just another example of how out of touch Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) party is with most Americans. Just yesterday, the Knights of Columbus released their annual Marist Poll, showing that voters believe in regulating and reducing abortion -- not subsidizing it!

Regardless of whether they're "pro-choice" or "pro-life," Carl Anderson explains, "the majority of Americans in both parties -- support legal restrictions on abortion. Two-thirds of Americans want Roe revisited to allow for state regulation of abortion or to ban it altogether." That must not register with House Democrats, who vow to force every taxpayer to bankroll abortion-on-demand. "We cannot dictate from the halls of Congress what the best treatment is for any woman," argued Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). "That should be left to [women]..." So should the payment for any "treatment" that ends an innocent human life.

Standing next to Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Planned Parenthood's Leana Wen bemoaned the fact that abortion was "siloed, stigmatized, and attacked in a way that no other part of health care is." That's because, pro-lifers point out, abortion isn't health care! Of course, not only does the far-Left want abortion to be a routine medical procedure, it wants America to pay for the whole world's! As part of their Roe v. Wade "celebration," House Democrats are reintroducing their Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights Act, which would funnel taxpayer money overseas for abortions abroad -- an idea that's even more unpopular than overturning the Hyde amendment! Seventy-five percent of Americans -- including 56 percent of Democrats -- don't want to ship U.S. dollars to other countries to end babies' lives.

Fortunately, there's little chance they'll succeed at any of their agenda, thanks to President Trump and the Republican Senate. Even so, it ought to disgust people at how low some politicians will sink to protect one of the worst forms of violence in America. On the opposite side of the Capitol, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.) couldn't believe that this is actually the state of Democratic politics in America.

"The life of a child shouldn't be a partisan issue... It is my guess that anyone who disagrees with [me] has already tuned me out because as a culture, we don't want to think about this life. Because if for a moment we pause and consider that maybe she's really alive and has purpose and value, we would have to swallow hard and acknowledge the millions of little girls just like her that have died in abortions in America -- millions. And so to fight against having to deal with that, we just tune it out."

"I pray there is a day that we're not proud that we looked away from little girls and little boys and said, 'You're not human enough yet.'"


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


An Open Doors Policy on Faith

January 16, 2019

While Americans stop to celebrate Religious Freedom Day, there are 245 million Christians around the world who would give anything to experience even the smallest taste of it. That was one of the more startling findings of Open Doors 2019 World Watch List. The other? Christian persecution is getting worse. Almost half (73) of the 150 countries they studied showed "extreme," "very high," or "high levels" of persecution. Last year, it was 58.

The persecution has a particularly harsh impact on women in many places. In some areas, like North Korea, that trend isn't as pronounced, since all believers are persecuted there. But it shows up in plenty of other places (many governed by radical Islam) in ways like forced marriages. At the report's unveiling at Heritage Foundation, Open Doors' David Curry talked about a girl named Esther who was abducted by Boko Haram and ordered to renounce her faith. When she refused, they raped her multiple times and sent her back to her village, pregnant, and a subject of shame in that culture.

India is increasingly problematic, and is #10 on the list because the prime minister's party is responsible for whipping up anti-Christian and pro-Hindu rhetoric. In his remarks, Curry specifically appealed to major Indian-American businesspeople like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Indra Nooyi (a woman who is a former CEO of Pepsi and perhaps next head of World Bank), and Google CEO Sundar Pichai -- and encouraged them to speak out against the Christian persecution in India.

For now, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan remain in spots #1, #2, #3, and #5. Libya jumped from #7 last year to #4 on this year's list (due to an increasingly brutal culture of radical Islam with regard to Christians). Elsewhere, Sudan dropped from #4 to #6, while Syria rose four spots to #11. India, Iran, and Yemen each bumped up one spot, and Nigeria bumped up 2 spots.

As we've said before, America's silence under the last administration led to a rise in the global threat that Donald Trump is now working furiously to control. Conservative leaders like retired Rep. Frank Wolf spent the better part of Obama's two terms begging him to get off the sidelines and defend the persecuted church. But if the president wouldn't recognize the First Freedom of Americans here at home, how could he fight for the world's?

Fortunately, the current White House has no interest in tip-toeing around the issue of persecution. President Trump has been a staunch advocate for the persecuted, and we look forward to all that he, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Ambassador Sam Brownback will do to highlight the issue at the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, just announced today.

In the meantime, FRC's Travis Weber says, the Open Doors Watch List should serve as "a reminder to all of us in the United States to never take our freedom for granted. Indeed, we must use our freedom to advocate for freedom of religion for all around the world, even as we guard against its infringement here at home."


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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