Advancing Religious Liberty

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Posted 12/12/11 at 11:54 AM | Alliance Defending Freedom

California Supreme Court WIN: California Marriage Amendment Will Be Defended

Author: ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears

If you’re wondering how things stand in the ongoing battle for marriage in California – the state that has arguably the most impact to shape the future of marriage all over the country – here’s the latest: the legal team, which includes ADF attorneys, has won the latest legal skirmish and is still in the game – standing strong to defend marriage as between one man and one woman in the Golden State.

The legal team represents the official proponents of California’s marriage amendment – the law that defines marriage in California as the union of one man and one woman. The official proponents’ legal right to defend marriage in California was called into question earlier this year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to decide whether the official proponents had legal authority to “assert the state’s interest in the initiative’s validity.” Since California’s governor and attorney general both refused to defend the will of the people, the amendment would have gone undefended unless the legal team, on behalf of the official proponents of the marriage amendment, was allowed to step up and assume that defense. FULL POST

Posted 12/12/11 at 11:49 AM | Alliance Defending Freedom

Religious Freedom Not Free for All

Author: ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot

The Christmas season reminds us that religious freedom is alive and well in the USA – especially when compared to the restrictions on religion in the rest of the world. It’s easy to get discouraged hearing almost daily reports of the prospect of same-sex “marriage” and increasing attacks on churches in America. But these threats pale in comparison to the oppression many churches experience in other countries.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study on August 9, 2011, showing that numerous countries around the world place onerous restrictions on religious freedom – ostensibly to “protect” it. The study found: “As of mid-2009, 59 countries (30%) had a law, rule or policy at some level of government forbidding blasphemy (remarks or writings considered to be contemptuous of God), apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism) of particular religions or religion in general. Penalties for violating these laws, ranging from fines to imprisonment to death, were enforced in 44 of the 59.” These laws prohibiting blasphemy, apostasy, or the defamation of religion were directly tied to an overall decrease in religious freedom. FULL POST

Posted 12/12/11 at 11:43 AM | Alliance Defending Freedom

Oklahoma Church Threatened for Standing up for Family Values

Author: ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley

Jesus said in John 16:33 that “In this world, you will have trouble.” That statement is certainly ringing true for Pastor Paul Blair and Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Pastor Blair and the church were opposing the decision by the Oklahoma City City Council to add “sexual orientation” to its anti-discrimination ordinance. Hours after Pastor Blair had spoken to the City Council and outlined why adding this category to the law was a bad idea, threatening phone calls came into the church answering machine. As WorldNetDaily reported, some of the phone calls were very threatening:

“I have committed homicide more than one time and in more than one state – and yet have not been caught or charged. Think about that,” the clearly angry caller said in the first telephone call, recorded at 4:12 a.m. FULL POST

Posted 12/12/11 at 11:37 AM | Alliance Defending Freedom

City Settles ADF Lawsuit by Exempting Churches from “Driveway Tax”

Author: ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley

About a year ago, I wrote about a new lawsuit filed by ADF on behalf of two churches in Mission, Kansas. The City of Mission had instituted a new tax that was assessed against all property owners, including churches, and that calculated the tax based on the number of trips in and out of the driveway of the property. The new assessment was dubbed the “driveway tax” and in the cases of churches was calculated in a most bizarre way. The City took the amount of seats in a church’s auditorium and multiplied each seat by 5.8 trips per seat per week. The driveway tax was assessed based on those total number of trips in and out of the driveway of the church. In reality, this was a tax on church attendance because it was based on how many times people attended church. FULL POST

Posted 11/23/11 at 6:24 PM | Alliance Defending Freedom

In North Carolina, a Legal Fight To Save Lives

Author: ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. It’s worth infinitely more than that, though, to defenders of life in the womb, who know that even a glimpse of a living child through a fuzzy ultrasound image is often enough to persuade a young mother not to abort the baby inside her.

That’s one reason ultrasound laws – requiring that women be given every opportunity to look at that image and hear their child’s heartbeat before undergoing an abortion – are being passed by voters and legislatures all over the country. It’s also why groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood are working desperately to block this kind of legislation – or have such laws declared unconstitutional.

Those two groups are waging just that kind of legal attack right now in North Carolina, where they’ve filed a federal lawsuit to overthrow an ultrasound law passed last July by the state’s general assembly. On November 15, the Alliance Defense Fund and the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project, representing several eminent North Carolina medical doctors, post-abortive women, and pregnancy resource centers, filed a motion to intervene in that lawsuit. (In January, a federal court granted ADF and Jubilee intervention in a similar Oklahoma case.) FULL POST

Posted 11/23/11 at 6:20 PM | Alliance Defending Freedom

Top Legal Issues That Concern Churches – Issue #10 Financial Oversight

Author: ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot

For many years, U.S. Senate Finance Committee member Charles Grassley (R-IA), has been looking into the financial practices of large media-based Christian ministries. Although he has not yet proposed any new laws that would govern how ministries report and manage their finances, in January he asked the ECFA
(Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) to create a commission that will make recommendations about how ministries can be more fiscally accountable. The ECFA has indicated that it will look into issues such as whether churches should be required to file detailed information returns (990s), the housing allowance, and tax rules governing “love offerings.” It has also indicated that it hopes to address these issues through self-regulation rather than legislation.

You can learn more about the issues the commission will address here. Also, ADF’s own Erik Stanley has been asked to serve on an advisory panel for the commission in view of his legal expertise in the area of churches and politics. We will continue to keep you updated on the work on the work of the commission. In the mean time, the best way for churches to minimize risk of running afoul of current or future regulations is to become a member of a financial accountability organization such as ECFA. FULL POST

Posted 11/23/11 at 5:58 PM | Alliance Defending Freedom

Accommodation of Conscience: An American Tradition

Author: ADF Senior Counsel Gregory S. Baylor

I was privileged to speak at Duke Law School recently about Ward v. Wilbanks, an Alliance Defense Fund case in which Eastern Michigan University expelled a counseling graduate student for her religious beliefs and her unwillingness to perform counseling that violated her conscience. I am grateful to the Federalist Society—both the national organization and the Duke chapter—for hosting the event. FULL POST

Posted 11/23/11 at 5:40 PM | Alliance Defending Freedom

Republican Presidential Candidates Discuss Repeal of Johnson Amendment

Author: ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley

On November 19, the Republican candidates for President of the United States discussed the repeal of the Johnson Amendment during a forum that took place in Des Moines, Iowa. During the forum, a question arose about pastors speaking politically from their pulpits. Representative Michelle Bachmann stated that pastors cannot speak freely because of the Johnson Amendment which she called “unconstitutional.” Herman Cain attributed the intimidation and fear pastors may feel in speaking from their pulpit to the IRS and the tax code. The video is available here, and the relevant comments begin at about the 58:00 mark and last for about 4-5 minutes.

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Posted 11/19/11 at 2:00 PM | Alliance Defending Freedom

Lions (and Tigers) and Prayers, Oh My!

Author: ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman

My colleague, Jordan Lorence, wrote a blog post about the recent prayers that took place on the Penn State Nittany Lions’ football field before last Saturday’s game. In it he was surprised to see that no groups on the left had come out and criticized this event. His very logical conclusion was that even those groups would have the public relations sense not to criticize prayers that were lifted up over such a tragedy as has been recently exposed. Sorry, Jordan, you not only spoke to soon, but you also assumed that such groups would have the common sense or decency to let it go. No such luck.

Just this week, I came across a press release sent out by our atheist friends at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). Can you guess what it was about? Yep. The prayers offered at the football game. Apparently not too worried about the public relations debacle that the objection presents, the FFRF had some harsh words for the two schools. Before it lashed out at those involved, it made clear that it spoke for its 17,000 members across the country, 600 of which were in Pennsylvania. Of course, FFRF does not speak for the 100,000+ at the stadium or the millions of viewers on television that did not object to the prayers. FULL POST

Posted 11/15/11 at 5:23 PM | Alliance Defending Freedom

Top Legal Issues that Concern Churches – Issue #9: Housing Allowance

Author: ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot

The long-standing tax provision that permits churches to provide pastors with a non-taxable housing allowance was recently challenged in the case Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Geitner in a California federal court. The radical group that filed the lawsuit voluntarily dismissed it after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in ACSTO v. Winn – an ADF case that severely restricts the ability of anti-religious organizations to challenge government programs that acknowledge the autonomy of religious organizations and the benefits they provide our communities.

But the atheist organization filed another lawsuit challenging the housing allowance in the federal court in Wisconsin on September 17, 2011. We at the ADF Church Project are monitoring that case closely and will move to intervene if the Department of Justice does not vigorously defend this important acknowledgment of the value of churches and pastors. Critics of the housing allowance ignore the unique benefits that churches provide communities. For instance, a Baylor University study found that kids attending church in low-income neighborhoods have a better chance of staying in school and succeeding academically. Another study concludes, “Churches and religious groups offer a vast array of services to their local communities…that sometimes are not being provided elsewhere, such as [a]fter-school programs, refugee resettlement, homeless shelters, [and] food banks….” FULL POST

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