FOX News Opinion: The essential scorecard for religious liberty in 2016

The year 2016 has seen much conflict for religious freedom, not just domestically but worldwide. As individuals fight to defend this basic and fundamental human right — sometimes sacrificing their very lives — we find ourselves asking many questions about the future.

“My life is always filled with more questions than answers,” Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said in May as he stood in front of 500 people, honoring his longtime friend and former Cuban political prisoner, Armando Valladares.

No one knew it would be Wiesel’s last public appearance before his death two months later.

To those present, he asked a question he said had haunted him throughout his life: “What is it in the human being that he or she is capable of the worst and the best? So fast — literally sometimes overnight, in one hour — a person can change.”

At this time of year, we naturally reflect on what kind of people we want to be and what we have accomplished. But it is equally important to ask those same questions of ourselves as a society. How are those of us who have a voice working to defend those who do not?  How are we fighting to protect those more vulnerable than ourselves?

Right now the people of Cuba are yearning for change following the death of a dictator who ruled the island with an iron fist for over 50 years. Will religious people now be able to worship freely? Will LGBT individuals be free to live their lives without fear of imprisonment and torture? Will artists and poets be allowed to express themselves free from censorship?

Though Elie Wiesel’s time in the Nazi concentration camp and Armando’s Valladares’s 22 years in Castro’s gulags may seem a bygone era, the unanswered question of how to evoke change for the better in ourselves and society lingers. Can we remain silent while others suffer?

Just this month the world looked in horror as Aleppo burned. In Egypt, a bomb detonated at Cairo’s main Coptic Cathedral, killing 24 people. Millions have fled their war-torn homes, hoping for peace in a new country, while ISIS commits genocide against Christians and minority Yazidis.

Though lives have not been endangered, questions of protecting freedom of conscience have been poignant here at home as well. We’ve been forced to question how the government found itself fighting the Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns who dedicate their lives to serving the elderly poor.

A month after hearing their case, presented by Becket Law, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with what the Little Sisters had argued all along: the government has other ways to provide contraception to women who want it without hijacking the nuns’ health plan or forcing them to violate their faith.

We’ve also confronted the idea that it’s okay to infiltrate a Native American religious ceremony to search for supposed “illegal use” of eagle feathers. For the past decade Pastor Robert Soto and many of the Lipan Apache tribe of Texas have been fighting for the return of 50 eagle feathers confiscated during one of their religious services, in what the government dubbed “Operation Powwow.”

Although power plants and wind turbine farms have legal exemptions for eagles killed by their machinery, the government claimed it was illegal for the Lipan Apache to use molten feathers found on the ground. Thankfully, in what the Wall Street Journal called “a victory for religious freedom,” the government ultimately settled the case, returned the feathers, and admitted it was wrong to send an undercover agent to raid the powwow.

Meanwhile, Sikh members of the military are still left questioning when they will be allowed permanent accommodations to both honor their faith and continue their exemplary military service. Nearly a year ago, the Becket Law had to sue to get a temporary accommodation for Captain Simratpal Singh, allowing him to wear his beard and turban while serving, even though thousands are regularly given accommodations for medical or tactical reasons.

Though he received a bronze star for clearing IEDs in Afghanistan, the Army wanted to subject Singh to discriminatory gas mask testing. After Becket Law and the Sikh Coalition filed in court on his behalf under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the military continues to postpone issuing a permanent religious accommodation.

Following a year of questions, this next year should be one of answers.

How can we, as a society stand up against those who try to strip individuals like Captain Singh, the Little Sisters of the Poor and Lipan Apache Elder Robert Soto, of their rights?

The answer is simple: give voice to your convictions.

Melinda Skea is the director of communications of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

New Jersey student wins court case to keep ‘under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance

FOX News, February 6, 2015

Jones and her family were represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Historic defenders of the Pledge like the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, and the American Legion also intervened in the case.

“The message today is loud and clear: “God” is not a dirty word,” Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, also said in a statement Friday. “The Pledge of Allegiance isn’t a prayer, and reciting it doesn’t magically create an official state religion.”

Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund on FNC’s “On the Record w/ Greta”

Fox News December 8, 2014

Daniel Blomberg, counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, discusses Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, a case before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver involving the government’s effort to force an order of Catholic nuns to violate their religious conscience or pay massive IRS penalties, with Greta Van Susteren on FOX News Channel’s “On the Record.”

Watch the full segment here.

Denver nuns challenge president’s health care law in court

Fox 31 Denver December 8, 2014

A group of Colorado nuns are taking on the Federal government in court. Their birth control fight could have far-reaching implications. They’re anxiously awaiting a judge’s ruling. The Little Sisters of the Poor have challenged the president’s health care law. They’re currently facing fines for refusing to offer birth control.

Watch the full video here.

Lawsuit fights against ‘under God’ in Pledge of Allegiance at NJ school

Fox News, November 19, 2014

In a response to the atheists’ lawsuit, New Jersey high school student Samantha Jones is going to court to defend her right to recite the words “one nation under God” in the pledge. Jones and her family are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“When I stand up, put my hand over my heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance, I am recognizing that my rights come from God, not from the government,” said Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School, according to the Becket website. “If anyone wants to remain silent, that is their right. But it is not their right to silence me.”

Ground Zero Cross: Court presses atheist group to explain why artifact is ‘offensive’

Fox News June 23, 2014

The appeals court ruling Thursday cites an amicus brief filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in church-state law and protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.

“We’re thrilled that the court picked up on this issue,” said group lawyer Eric Baxter, whose brief argued that American Atheists had no right to bring a lawsuit in the first place. “Courts should not allow people to sue just because they claim to get ‘dyspepsia’ over a historical artifact displayed in a museum.”

Air Force says Proselytizing Crosses the Line

Fox News, May 2, 2013

Daniel Blomberg, with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told Fox News he was glad to see the Dept. of Defense issue a clarification, but expressed alarm at the Air Force statement. “The Air Force spokesman’s statement sounds like the government can ban servicemen and women from talking to one another about their faith,” he said. “And that couldn’t be more wrong. The Air Force must follow the Department of Defense’s example to immediately correct its statement to avoid chilling Airmen and women’s religious liberty.”