Christians United for Israel (CUFI) sits at the nexus of the two things the far-left and the far-right commonly despise: Christian political advocacy and the Jewish state of Israel. As a result, from time-to-time, an overzealous college/graduate...
This past Sunday, the United States commemorated International Religious Freedom Day, marking the 15th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA).
IRFA created an international religious freedom office in the U.S. State Department, headed by an ambassador-at-large, and the independent, bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which I chair. Since its inception, USCIRF has monitored religious freedom worldwide and made policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress in response to governments that violate this fundamental right.
Last year, Republicans pushed through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that ensured that chaplains could harbor their own theological beliefs and matters of conscience, and preach them to their constituents, without any fear of retribution. This is not enough for them.
A currently pending bill would add to beliefs and matters of conscience, free speech and actions, thereby allowing anti-gay chaplains, who are all officers, to tell all service members that homosexuality is an abomination, against the will of God, and worthy of death. They could also freely deny gay service members access to counseling and other programs. Such rhetoric and actions would be highly detrimental to the well-being of LGB soldiers, and push thousands of them back into the closet – or keep them there – in contravention of the recent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It also threatens to undermine unit cohesion.
The first clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion. Not the second clause or the third amendment - but the first clause of the First Amendment. It was clearly an important issue for our founding fathers.
In keeping with those protections, throughout our history multiple groups across the United States have been exempted from certain laws due to their beliefs or traditions. Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos living in Alaska are exempted from provisions in the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Amish aren’t required to pay Social Security taxes. Uniform restrictions regarding head coverings were relaxed for Jewish troops in our Armed Forces.
The uproar over the regulation requiring contraception coverage as part of the package of preventive health services guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, and the exemption that allows religious institutions to refuse to provide it, has taken on an air of unreality that some have attempted to exploit for partisan political advantage.
Recently, Republican Party Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote in Politico earlier this month, “[t]he president’s contempt for the constitutional restraints on power was evident before. His disdain for respecting those limits, including freedom of religion, is now on full display.”As one of the architects of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, I take seriously the government’s obligation to respect, and to accommodate, the religious beliefs and practices of all Americans.