Notable & Quotable: I’m With Fidel

The Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2016

When I was 23 years old I refused to do something that at the time seemed very small. I refused to say a few words, “I’m with Fidel.” First I refused the sign on my desk at the postal office that said that, and after years of torture and watching many fellow fighters die, either in body or in spirit, I still refused to say those words.

Washington Lets Apaches Wear Feathers

June 13, 2016, The Wall Street Journal

The federal government has agreed to allow a group of Native Americans to practice their religious faith. Yes, that’s news given Obama Administration hostility to freedom of conscience. On Monday lawyers for the Department of the Interior and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty intend to ask a federal judge to approve a settlement allowing the Lipan Apache tribe of Texas to use eagle feathers in the traditional exercise of their beliefs.

Notable & Quotable: Armando Valladares

March 23, 2016, The Wall Street Journal 

From remarks by Cuban poet and human-rights activist Armando Valladares upon receiving the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Canterbury Medal in New York, May 12:

When I was 23 years old I did a very small thing. I refused to say a few words, “I’m with Fidel.” First I refused the sign on my desk that said as much, and after years of torture and watching so many fellow fighters die, either in body or in spirit, I persisted in my refusal to say the few words the regime demanded of me.

Big Win for Little Sisters

May 16, 2016, The Wall Street Journal

“The solution the justices pointed to has been around for years but this administration has refused all opportunities to compromise,” says the Becket Fund’s president, William Mumma. “On Monday the Supreme Court smacked them down for it.”

Watch Out for the Pharaoh Effect

Wall Street Journal August 28, 2014

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pending offer to subsidize students at religious schools’ full-day pre-kindergarten classes has proved both predictably and surprisingly controversial. It was entirely predictable that the New York Civil Liberties Union would break out in hives. What’s surprising is how many religious organizations are declining the mayor’s offer because of the strings attached to it—regulations on an assortment of things, from prayer after meals to covering up religious symbols to limits on referring to sacred texts.

Read the full article here.

Are Firms Entitled to Religious Protections?

Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2014

A lawyer for Hobby Lobby, Lori Windham, says that the public-health interest can’t be that significant given that the law exempts from the contraception requirement employers who haven’t altered their health plans since the law passed.

Gay Marriage Collides with Religious Liberty

Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2013

“Wherever government is giving you access to something, licensing the power to perform certain acts, government can abuse that position to promote a particular point of view,” says Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

White House Stands Firm on Contraception Rules

Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2013

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public-interest law group representing several of the groups suing to block the requirement, said the final rule was “the same old, same old.” “This doesn’t solve the religious conscience problem because it still makes our non-profit clients the gatekeepers to abortion and provides no protection to religious businesses,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the fund. “The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires. Instead this issue will have to be decided in court.”

WSJ: The Church of Kathleen Sebelius


In the church of Kathleen Sebelius, there is little room for dissent. “We are in a war,” the Health and Human Services Secretary declared to cheers at a recent NARAL Pro-Choice America fund-raiser. Give the lady her due: Her actions mostly match her words.

Mrs. Sebelius’s militancy explains the shock her allies are now feeling after last Wednesday’s decision to overrule the Food and Drug Administration on Plan B, a morning-after pill. The FDA had proposed allowing over-the-counter sales, which would give girls as young as 11 or 12 access without either a prescription or a parent. Now the secretary’s allies are howling about her “caving in” to the Catholic bishops.

On this score they needn’t worry. Notwithstanding the unexpected burst of common sense on Plan B, the great untold story remains the intolerance so beloved of self-styled progressives. In this Mrs. Sebelius has proved herself one of the administration’s most faithful practitioners: here watering down conscience protections for nurses and doctors who don’t want to participate in abortions; there yanking funding for a top-rated program for victims of sexual trafficking run by the Catholic bishops, because they will not sign on to the NARAL agenda; soon to impose a new HHS mandate that will require health-insurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs known to induce abortion.

Alas for her president, her zeal for this agenda has yielded two unintended consequences. Within her party, it is creating a rift between the Planned Parenthood wing and the president’s Catholic and religious supporters. Outside her party, it is illuminating the danger of equating bigger government with a more just society.

Thus far, attention has mostly focused on the politics. One reason is that even Catholics who supported President Obama on his signature health bill recognize the contraceptive mandate as a bridge too far. These include the Catholic Health Association’s Sr. Carol Keehan, whose well-publicized embrace of the Affordable Care Act gave the president critical cover when he needed it. Others simply question whether forcing Catholic hospitals to drop health insurance for their employees rather than submit to Madam Sebelius’s bull is really the image the president wants during a tough re-election year.

Then there are the Catholic bishops. Just two years ago, many seemed to regard ObamaCare as a compassionate piece of legislation if only a few provisions (e.g., conscience rights and abortion funding) could be tweaked. Now they are learning the real problem is the whole thing is built on force—from the individual mandate and doctors’ fees to the panels deciding what treatment grandma is entitled to. The awakening has led to a new bishops’ committee on religious liberty, and tough, unprecedented criticism.

Predictably the press has been treating all this as a purely Catholic battle. If the church looms large here, that is because Catholic institutions have always been at the fore of social service. Still, it would be nice to come across a story that recognized that even if HHS were to widen the religious exemption (it’s so narrow Jesus Christ wouldn’t qualify) the new contraceptive mandate would still be imposed on non-Catholic as well as Catholic individuals and insurers.

Whether you approve or disapprove of contraception or sterilization is beside the point. Today nine out of 10 employer plans offer what Mrs. Sebelius wants them to. The point is whether it is right or necessary for Mrs. Sebelius to use the federal government to bring the other 10% to heel.

There was a day when liberals and libertarians appreciated the importance of upholding the freedoms of people and groups with unpopular views. No longer. As government expands, religious liberty is reduced to a special “exemption” and concerns about government coercion are dismissed, in the memorable words of Nancy Pelosi, as “this conscience thing.”

“Religious liberty is better seen as more a liberty issue than a religion issue,” says Bill Mumma of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The more we drive religious and private associations off the public square, the more that space will be occupied by government.”

Of course, some might answer that they object to lots of things their money underwrites—say, the war in Iraq. Mrs. Sebelius’s HHS rule, however, doesn’t involve tax dollars: It involves forcing Americans to spend their private dollars on things they deem unconscionable. How far this is from the understanding in 1776 that the way to uphold liberty and keep these conflicts to a minimum was to keep government small and limited.

A new TV ad from features a little girl. “Dear President Obama,” she says. “Can I ask you a question? Why are you trying to force my church and my school to pay for things that we don’t even believe in?”

It’s a good question. Apparently it’s not enough that contraception be legal, cheap and available. As Mrs. Sebelius illustrates, modern American liberalism cannot rest until those who object are forced to underwrite it.

Read more about this case here.

WSJ article found here.






Gov. Gregoire vs. Religious Liberty

By WILLIAM P. MUMMA, Wall Street Journal Online

With unemployment above 9 percent Washington governor Christine Gregoire is working hard to shutter small businesses and force workers from their profession. The reason? Some pharmacists and pharmacy owners have religious beliefs that conflict with Gregoire’s agenda, and she would rather put them out of business than accommodate their consciences.

A federal trial that started earlier this week in Washington State is the culmination of a four year battle over this issue. The controversy centers on Plan B and ella, emergency contraceptives that can destroy fertilized eggs, the stage of fetal life that DNA is determined and pro-life ethicists consider to be the beginning of human life. U.S. law and the U.S. medical community have long respected the right of medical professionals, including pharmacists, to refer patients elsewhere when providing certain treatments would violate their conscience. In 2006, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy continued this tolerant tradition when it unanimously confirmed the right of pharmacists to refrain from dispensing medications, such as Plan B, that violated their religious beliefs, and instead to refer patients to a nearby provider.

Letting businesses send customers to a nearby competitor doesn’t sound like much to ask, but it was too much for Gov. Gregoire. Without any evidence that any patient had ever lacked timely access to any drug because of conscientious objectors, or for any reason, the governor insisted that every pharmacy needed to dispense emergency contraception on demand. She publicly reprimanded Board members for their “mistake” and promised “to help them get the right answer”—and threatened to replace them if they didn’t. She then appointed local Planned Parenthood and NARAL leaders to the Board during the rulemaking process, and took the unprecedented step of having Planned Parenthood and NARAL screen new candidates. Unsurprisingly, the Board buckled and—over the objection of the State Pharmacy Association—eliminated the conscience protections.

The new regulations quickly hurt Washington state pharmacists and small business owners with conscientious objections to dispensing Plan B.

Margo Thelen has worked as a licensed pharmacist for more than 35 years. She cannot in good conscience dispense Plan B due to the drug’s abortifiacient potential. Now her employer can no longer afford to accommodate her, and she lost her job. Rhonda Mesler manages a pharmacy; she will likely lose her job if the regulations stand. Stormans, Inc., is a family-owned businesses that operates a pharmacy in Olympia. The Stormans believe that human life begins at fertilization, and they cannot in good conscience allow their store to dispense Plan B, though they’re willing to refer customers to any of the 33 nearby pharmacies that do. Their business soon became the target of a state investigation. The governor’s mansion piled on to the boycott that ensued, setting a powerful example by cancelling its own account with another Stormans store. After years of litigation and false promises by the state, the case will go to trial in late November.

Unfortunately, attacks on freedom of conscience in the healthcare industry are becoming more frequent. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued new guidelines listing “preventative care” benefits for women that all insurance plans must cover, without copay or deductible. Some of the requirements are benign, like requiring that cancer screenings be covered. However, the guidelines also demand that employers cover every FDA-form of sterilization and contraception that FDA has ever approved, including controversial emergency contraceptives like ella and Plan B.

Many employers have religious objections to providing coverage for “treatments” they view as immoral, and some religious groups asked for robust religious exemptions. Instead, HHS offered what some might call “abstinence only” conscience protection: a narrow exemption that protects only churches and religious orders that abstain from hiring or helping people outside their own religion. Religious schools, hospitals and charities, and even churches that dare to reach beyond the boundaries of their own faith, wouldn’t be protected. Ironically, seminaries and monasteries appear to be about the only institutions that clearly are protected.

The Obama administration has already signaled its enthusiasm for forcing religious institutions to cover contraception. In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accused Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college run by Benedictine monks, of “gender discrimination” because it refused to include birth control in its employees’ health-care plan. Cases like this are popping up around the country, and forcing religious freedom groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to come to the rescue. While they may have won for the Benedictine monks, the hydra threat will grow ever harder to defeat. And the new regulations are just another tool for the government to use in clamping down on conscience rights.

Federal and state lawmakers have long used religious exemptions to advance their policy agendas while respecting “the conscientious scruples” of dissenters, as George Washington put it. So why the change? What motivation could Governor Gregoire and friends have for forcing people to do something they object to on religious grounds?

America’s struggling economy can’t afford more boarded up businesses, just because some in government power find conscience protections unsavory. More fundamentally, neither can the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Mr. Mumma is the President of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.


Posted on Wall Street Journal Online.

Read more about this case here.

The Cult of Anti-Mormonism

The Cult of Anti-Mormonism

The faith of Romney and Huntsman is a target of liberals and conservatives.

By William McGurn

Here’s some advice for Republican candidates appearing at Tuesday’s presidential debate at Dartmouth College. When you are asked, as you will be asked, what you make of the Christian pastor who called the Mormon faith a “cult,” there’s only one appropriate answer.

It comes from the last sentence of Article VI of the Constitution, and it reads as follows: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

The Mormon issue arose Friday, when a Dallas pastor introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry to a gathering of social conservatives in Washington. Shortly thereafter the same pastor, Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church, told a group of reporters that Mormonism was a “cult” and definitely “not Christian”—a not so veiled reference to the GOP front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Since then, the press has had a field day trying to get the other Republican candidates on record whether they share Mr. Jeffress’s theological understanding.

This is not the first time Mr. Romney has seen his faith become an issue in a GOP presidential contest. In December 2007, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the New York Times ran a story quoting Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, as asking, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Mr. Huckabee went on to beat Mr. Romney in those caucuses, and some say Mr. Romney’s Mormonism cost him among the evangelicals who flocked to Mr. Huckabee.

This time around, Republicans have not one but two presidential candidates from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The other, of course, is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Still, public allusions to the Mormon faith remain sensitive, as the media attention generated by the cult remark indicates.

Partly this has to do with white evangelicals, who are an important bloc in the Republican coalition. Thus many stories on the issue of Mr. Romney’s Mormonism invoke a striking May survey from the Pew Research Center. According to this survey, 34% of white evangelicals report themselves “less likely” to vote for a Mormon for president.

That’s fair enough as far as it goes. The same Pew survey, however, shows something much less reported. This is that, overall, more Democrats than Republicans are hostile to a Mormon candidacy (31% to 23%). More interesting still is Pew’s finding that when it comes to this particular animus, “liberal Democrats stand out, with 41% saying they would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate.

As disappointing as these attitudes might be, far more alarming for Mormons are the attacks on Mormon property and Mormon livelihoods just three years ago that registered barely a peep among the same media now so obsessed with Mr. Jeffress. These attacks happened during the 2008 campaign in California over Proposition 8, a state referendum to ban same-sex marriage. When opponents of the measure found that Mormons had contributed heavily to its passage, ugly attacks followed.

LDS temples in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City received envelopes filled with white powder, provoking an anthrax scare. A Book of Mormon was burned outside an LDS chapel in Denver. Other Mormon chapels were vandalized.

Individuals fared even worse. The head of the Los Angeles Film Festival was forced to resign after his contribution was made public. Ditto for a fellow Mormon who ran the California Musical Theater. A former gold medalist who served as U.S. chef de mission for the 2012 Olympic Games in London likewise stepped down. A 67-year-old woman who had donated just $100 stopped working at the restaurant her mother owned to spare it further protest.

Hannah Smith of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty puts it this way: “At the heart of the First Amendment is the freedom to participate in the political process regardless of faith,” she says. “When people of any faith face retribution—either through violence or intimidation or loss of their livelihood—as a direct result of that participation, America has lost something.

So it’s good to see Republican feet now being held to the fire on an issue the Founders resolved in 1787. Even more encouraging would be a press willing to give attention to very real concern among politically active Mormons: whether a Romney nomination would mean LDS members staying on the sidelines out of fear of the kind of attacks on their property and their livelihoods that their co-religionists experienced with California’s Proposition 8 and its aftermath.

So amid all the coverage given to Pastor Robert Jeffress, ask yourself this question. If you were a Mormon, which would you consider the real threat to your liberty: what some Dallas Baptist says about your faith—or organized attacks intended to intimidate and drive you off the public square?

Click here to view the original article.

Europe’s Religion Delusion

The Wall Street Journal – December 11, 2009

“Three children walk into a European state school – a Muslim, a Sikh, and an atheist. The Muslim and the Sikh are expelled because they wear religious clothing: a headscarf for the Muslim girl, and a turban for the Sikh boy. The atheist is welcomed into the school, but feels uncomfortable because her classroom has a crucifix on the wall. Whose religious freedom has been violated?”