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Monday, January 28, 2013

Obama ‘freedom to worship’ assaults First Amendment

My op-ed in The Washington Times today:

IMBODY: Obama ‘freedom to worship’ assaults First Amendment

Freedom of religion not just for private expression

By Jonathan Imbody


Monday, January 28, 2013
·       
President Obama marked Religious Freedom Day earlier this month by framing religious liberty as “the freedom to worship as we choose.” If the president had not been restricting and attacking religious freedom so egregiously, he might merit a pass for using “freedom to worship” as poor shorthand for religious liberty.
The First Amendment of our Constitution actually reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion in America extends well beyond the freedom to worship. It includes the freedom to live out our conscientiously held beliefs.
Worship at its core is essentially a private and personal process, a communion between God and an individual. No government could restrict such worship, any more than it could monitor and censor every citizen’s thoughts and prayers. Even forbidding individuals to worship together in public, which coercive communist governments like China’s have done, cannot actually prevent individuals from worshiping God in private. So a law that merely protected the freedom to worship would hardly be worth heralding in a presidential proclamation.
The free exercise of religion under the American Constitution, by contrast, includes the freedom to openly express, follow and live out our faith — not just in private but also in the public square — without government coercion, censorship or any other form of restriction.
The concept of religious liberty held by the Constitution’s framers included not merely the freedom to worship, but also the free exercise of conscience — carrying out one’s moral beliefs with conviction and action.
As Thomas Jefferson asserted, “[O]ur rules can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God.”
James Madison expressed this understanding in his original amendment to the Constitution: “The civil rights of none, shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.”
To be fair, Mr. Obama’s statement eventually included a more expansive acknowledgement of religious freedom: “Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose.”
Yet the record will show that the president’s gilded rhetoric belies tarnished policies. The prioritization of the president’s first statement — that religious freedom means simply freedom to worship — in fact parallels his policies. Those policies often violate not only the general principles of the First Amendment, but also the more specific Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which provides that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” and must take “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
The Obama administration has taken several actions to restrict or outright violate religious liberty. They have gutted the only federal conscience regulation protecting the conscience rights of American health care professionals.
Officials issued a coercive contraception and sterilization mandate that imposes the president’s abortion ideology on all employers, exempting virtually only places of worship. The thousands of faith-based charities that actually exercise their faith and conscience beyond the four walls of their churches now face millions of dollars in fines by the Obama administration.
The administration has argued before the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC against a religious institution in an attempt to restrict faith-based organizations’ hiring rights. In a unanimous decision, even Mr. Obama’s own appointees to the court rejected the administration’s radical arguments to restrict religious liberty.
The Obama administration failed for months to aggressively advocate on behalf of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned, tortured and now on trial, facing possible execution by the Iranian government, for simply living out and speaking about his Christian faith.
The first American Congress enshrined religious liberty pre-eminently in the Bill of Rights. Many of those leaders and their fellow patriots who ratified the First Amendment had risked everything they owned and their very lives to win those freedoms. They also recognized that threatening one group’s freedoms, by either restricting or establishing a faith, threatens the freedoms of everyone.
Unless we act swiftly to guard against current assaults on religious liberty — by reversing the administration’s coercive policies through the courts, by passing conscience-protecting laws in Congress and by re-educating the culture on religious liberty — our First Amendment freedoms will become an empty proclamation.

Jonathan Imbody is vice president for government relations at the Christian Medical Association.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Contraceptives mandate a cynical political ploy


With federal courts issuing preliminary injunctions and over 40 lawsuits nationwide challenging the administration's contraceptives mandate for bludgeoning religious freedom, one has wonder why President Obama took up the fight.
The Obama campaign cleverly calculated that a battle over contraceptives would energize their otherwise lethargic leftist base of single women, abortion supporters and non-religious voters. The campaign actually relished a battle with the Catholic Church and conservatives that they could spin as a "war on women."
What war? Contraception remained legal, cheap and, by the President's own testimony, easily accessible to women. Meanwhile, conscience-driven small business owners and nonprofit charities devoted to translating their faith into help for others suddenly faced millions of dollars in fines for simply declining to pay for pills that can end the life of a developing baby.
That such a cynical political ploy actually swayed a large number of voters is evidence of both a waning commitment to First Amendment rights and the power of simple emotional messages to mesmerize the masses. Americans need to realize that failing to fight to protect the First Amendment rights of all groups and basing our votes on propaganda rather than facts simply invites government tyranny.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When ideology trumps safety in regulating abortion clinics


Apparently no longer concerned about "back-alley clinics," ideology rather than safety considerations seem to drive the Washington Post's opposition ("Virginia’s phony concern" editorial) to a new Virginia regulation that holds abortion clinics accountable for health standards required of similar facilities.
In Pennsylvania, abortion activists had long exempted abortion clinics from reasonable health and safety regulation and oversight. In the absence of proper oversight, for years Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell operated an abortion clinic where live babies were killed with concentration camp inhumanity and women suffered and died in a filthy facility described as "a bad gas station restroom."
It took women being killed and assaulted before Gosnell was finally discovered and charged with eight counts of murder.
According to a Philadelphia District Attorney, Gosnell "induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord."
Abortion advocates commonly contend that health and safety regulations paralleling those used in other surgical facilities would shut down their clinics. What does that tell you about the level of safety women encounter in abortion clinics?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Planned Parenthood: $1.2 "nonprofit" got over half billion in our tax dollars, performed a million abortions in 3 years


According to Planned Parenthood’s 2011-2012 Annual Report, the "nonprofit" behemoth: 
  • Received $542 million in taxpayer funding, which equals 44 percent of Planned Parenthood’s annual revenue. 
  • Performed 333,964 abortions. Their previous annual reporters show that the organization performed 329,445 abortions in 2010 and 332,278 abortions in 2009, bringing the total number of abortions in three years to nearly 1 million abortions.
  • Reported $87.4 million in excess revenue, and more than $1.2 billion in net assets.
For more detail, read the fact sheet developed by the Susan B. Anthony List.  

Lawmakers introduce legislation to halt "family planning" funding of abortion groups

On Jan. 4, 2013, pro-life U.S. Representatives re-introduced the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act. This bill ensures that Title X family planning grants are used for their intended purpose and are prohibited from being used by organizations that provide abortions.
Original cosponsors include Reps. Steve, Scalise (R-LA), Chris Smith (R-NJ), John Fleming (R-LA), Joe Pitts (R-PA), Tom Price (R-GA), Phil Roe (R-TN),  Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Adrian Smith (R-NE), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Martha Roby (R-AL), Steve King (R-IA), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Bill Flores (R-TX), Lou Barletta (R-PA), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Jason Amash (R-MI), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Tom Graves (R-GA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Virginia Foxx (R-VA), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Tom Reed (R-NY) and Renee Ellmers (R-NC). 
Click here to view the legislation. 



Friday, January 4, 2013

White House AIDS meeting pairs unlikely partners

Sec. Sebelius at White House AIDS event

The odds of pro-life, faith-based  representatives attending separate meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the same day--and actually agreeing on something-- may seem astronomical.
Yet that's exactly what happened on the recent World AIDS Day, when I joined several other faith-based organization representatives to attend meetings at the White House and at the State Department that included presentations by both women on one of the very few goals we share in common--ending AIDS.
The reasons that political opponents with such vastly divergent worldviews even landed in the same room together are simple and pragmatic. In places like sub-Saharan Africa, a World Health Organization survey found that faith-based organizations provide up to 70 percent of the health care, and a Gallup survey of 19 countries in this region found that Africans trust religious institutions the most.
That means no government can achieve its AIDS-related health goals in such countries without engaging the faith community.
Key officials in the Obama administration have been quietly reaching out to a number of faith-based groups working with AIDS patients overseas. We have enjoyed candid and civil discussions with administration officials including Ambassador Goosby, Global Health Initiative Executive Director Lois Quam, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah, abo­­ut how to join together to combat AIDS and how religious liberty and conscience rights impact faith-based health care. Such conversations recently resulted in the development of a new written USAID policy to help protect conscience rights to insure competition without discrimination for government funding for AIDS projects.
I have explained during these conversations that faith-based professionals and institutions cannot separate the faith motivation that compels them to make incredible sacrifices to care for the needy and marginalized from the faith motivation that compels them to provide care according to biblical and Church standards. Evangelical and Catholic groups provide significant and compassionate care to AIDS patients in the U.S. and overseas, and the government can multiply the benefits of those efforts with grants to help achieve worldwide health goals such as the new blueprint for an AIDS-free generation.
Such efforts may come as a surprise to some AIDS activists and LGBT individuals who view the faith community as an adversary rather than as a partner. Some of this wariness may be warranted, of course, if an individual has experienced judgment or stigma from someone within the faith community.
Yet negative perceptions about the faith community can also arise from the same kind of stereotyping and misinformation that AIDS activists and LGBT individuals themselves fight to counter. Automatically labeling as homophobic anyone who holds faith-based or traditional values regarding sex and marriage is like labeling anyone who opposes human cloning as technophobic. It is entirely possible to deem certain actions morally or ethically impermissible--as we all do--and still accept, serve and love individuals who engage in these actions.
As our society becomes more sharply divided on social issues, we all need to embrace more civil dialogue. Otherwise, our democracy will morph into a form of totalitarianism, with whoever has political power eliminating all opposition by fiat. Given our history and current trends, the faith community should be among the first to recognize and resist such threats to freedom and tolerance.
We all share the same human frailties and harmful inclinations, and we will each answer individually to our God. Meanwhile, we can accentuate our commonalities, engage each other respectfully on our differences and work hard to find those areas in which we can work together.
Laboring together for an AIDS-free generation is a good starting point.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Keep an eye out for human trafficking victims

Over the years I've been privileged to work with government agency officials to stem the tide of human trafficking, or modern-day slavery. Here's a notice from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) that reminds us to be vigilant and ready to speak out to help rescue and protect victims:
Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes that DHS investigates. In its worst manifestation, human trafficking is akin to modern-day slavery. It is through the hard work and dedication of stakeholders like you, that we are able to increase public awareness, support victims, investigate cases and bring traffickers to justice.
As you travel this holiday season, be alert and aware of the indicators concerning a potential victim of human trafficking. Human trafficking is often “hidden in plain sight.” Victims may be afraid to come forward and get help; they may be forced or coerced through threats or violence; they may fear retribution from traffickers, including danger to their families; and they may not be in possession or have control of their identification documents. Recognizing the signs is the first step in identifying victims of human trafficking.
DHS relies on tips to dismantle these organizations. Report suspicious human trafficking activity to the ICE HSI Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423 or report tips online at www.ice.gov/tips.
Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-3737-888 to get help or connect with a service provider in your area. The NHTRC is not a law enforcement or immigration authority and is operated by a nongovernmental organization.
Pay attention to your surroundings as you travel this holiday season. Thank you for your continued efforts to combat human trafficking. To learn more about human trafficking, how to identify victims, and report suspected cases of human trafficking, please visit www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign

Science is objective--but not necessarily scientists


Two science apologists put lipstick on a pig in a USA Today commentary, "Does science have honesty problem?" They assure us that concerns about the documented recent rise in scientific fraud are overblown and that we can trust the scientific community to monitor itself.
Conspicuously absent from the commentary is a monumental scientific fraud case uncovered in 2010, after the journal Science published the false claim of renowned scientist Dr. Hwang Woo Suk to have created human embryonic stem cells matched to patients. The claim conveniently corroborated prevailing dogma within the scientific community and the relentless lobbying of grant-seeking researchers hyping the supposedly miraculous healing power of human embryonic stem cells.
Hardly self-monitoring, the scientific fraternity ruthlessly ostracized anyone who dared question the hype.
The cacophony of claims for cures from this embryo-destructive form of stem cell research led gullible politicians to foolishly fast-track embryonic stem cell research funding. The hype tragically diverted funding away from research on stem cells derived from sources that avoid the destruction of human embryos--research already proven effective in producing cures and therapies for myriad diseases.
Embryonic stem cell researchers already rich from government grants and scientific journal editors who fueled the fire of embryonic stem cell research hype hardly will self-report their own fraud. Self-monitoring alone simply cannot withstand substantial financial and peer pressures. We need to bolster our defense against scientific fraud with a wary and probing public, more thorough media investigations and nonpartisan watchdogs who sniff out and follow the money trail.