Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Religious liberty for all?

Religious Liberty | Research on how evangelicals can drum up more support for their rights
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 10/09/18, 04:33 pm

Evangelicals believe their religious liberty is more threatened now than anytime in the last 30 years, according to data compiled by Andrew Lewis, a University of Cincinnati researcher. But a novel experiment by Lewis shows they might be able to muster more support for their religious freedom by insisting it applies to every religion, not just their own.

Lewis presented a religious liberty case study to two national samples of men and women using the Qualtrics online survey platform. One group read a news story about a Muslim truck driver fired for refusing to haul beer because his faith disallowed the promotion of alcohol consumption. The other group used the same scenario but it involved a Hindu truck driver who refused to haul beef because his beliefs forbid it.

Participants were then asked first whether they supported the Muslim or Hindu men’s religious liberty claims and second if they supported a small business owner’s right not to serve gay or lesbian people if doing so violated their religious beliefs. The responses were compared to those of a control group that did not read the news articles.

In results he shared last month, Lewis found that respondents overall did not support the men’s religious liberty claims. Only 28 percent said they agreed with the Muslim and just 24 percent with the Hindu. Among evangelicals and Republicans, those who read the articles and those who didn’t had about the same level of support for the men. But among non-evangelicals and Democrats, those who read the articles and could put faces on the problem had a statistically significant higher level of support for the men whose religious liberty was in jeopardy than those who didn’t read the articles.

“Democrats and nonevangelicals are less opposed to religious exemptions to non-discrimination against LGBT individuals after reading about a Muslim or Hindu faith-based exemption,” Lewis wrote in a paper presenting his research. “Thus, while fundamental rights have become strongly polarized in American politics, they are perhaps not hopelessly so.”

Lewis, who is Southern Baptist, said the politicization of religious freedom concerns him. But he suggested evangelicals could win over some liberals by supporting universal religious freedom.

“If it becomes overly tainted in some circumstances, it will have negative repercussions on how we live together among people who are religious and not religious,” he told me.

Two Southern Baptists I spoke with agreed the results reflected their own observations but contended the survey lacked information that could shed light on why the respondents answered as they did.

“It is notoriously difficult to measure the opinions of evangelicals about anything, since it is so difficult to know who does and who does not count as an evangelical,” said Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas.

Lewis allowed respondents to self-identify as evangelical or not. That can be problematic, said Thomas Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University. But, even without clearly defining “evangelical,” the study rings true, he said.

“If you look at actual, practicing evangelicals there would be this kind of a split opinion” about the application of religious liberty to Christians compared to other religions, Kidd said. “That’s been true for all of American history.”

Facebook Facebook Godspeak Calvary Chapel

Leasing liberties

A county court in California dismissed a lawsuit in October that could have kept a Los Angeles–area church from moving into an old YMCA building.

The YMCA in Thousand Oaks, Calif., sold its facility to a nonprofit foundation that intended to lease it to Godspeak Calvary Chapel, pastored by Thousand Oaks Councilman Rob McCoy. The Dos Vientos Community Preservation Association sued the city of Thousand Oaks for allowing the sale and renovation, according to Liberty Counsel, which represents the city and church.

Liberty Counsel reports that the case was an example of religious discrimination and pointed out that the association did not take issue with the Chabad synagogue located in the same business complex, adding, “Only a handful of people are behind the association who are adamantly opposed to a Christian church in the area.”

The YMCA decided to close due to declining membership and annual operating losses, the Ventura County Star reported in December. At a Thousand Oaks City Council meeting that month, local real estate agent Raymi Schwartz said the opposition wasn’t about religion. “We are a very inclusive community, a very diverse community and we don’t want anything up here that only one type of being can go to,” she said. Other speakers said they wanted another fitness organization to move into the building instead. City Attorney Tracy Noonan responded that the sale was between two private organizations, and “the city is not involved in that.”

A Ventura County judge dismissed the case because the plaintiffs did not complete procedural requirements for complaints. They have a chance to refile before Oct. 17. Liberty Counsel said if that happens, its attorneys will review the case and will likely file another motion to dismiss. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Institute for Justice Institute for Justice Ron Hines

Animal rights

A Texas veterinarian is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision about pregnancy care centers to bolster his free speech case.

Dr. Ron Hines has provided online veterinarian advice for years from his personal website. But in 2012, the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners told him the state prohibits veterinarians from sharing expertise without examining the animal in person, according to the Institute for Justice, which represents Hines.

Hines sued in 2013 but lost the case when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the advice was not speech, but occupational conduct. Now, Hines is suing again, this time with new regulations and a Supreme Court ruling to support the case.

Last year, Texas expanded telemedicine laws to allow medical practitioners to give advice online without an in-person examination but did not include veterinarians, essentially imposing stricter laws on those who practice on animals than humans.

The new lawsuit cites this year’s NIFLA v. Becerra decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled California couldn’t force crisis pregnancy centers to advertise local abortion services.

“In June of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that ‘speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals,’” Institute for Justice attorney Jeff Rowes said. “That means Ron should have prevailed in 2015. We’re going back to court to correct this injustice.”

As telepractice grows, Hines’ case may prove a litmus test to how much professional advice will be covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and whether lower courts will follow the NIFLA ruling. —R.L.A.

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Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and the University of Texas School of Journalism. Bonnie resides with her family in League City, Texas.

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  • Rich277
    Posted: Wed, 10/10/2018 06:35 am

    The example given of religious liberty above is not really equivalent.  If the truck drivers owned their own trucks, refused to haul alcohol or meat, and then were fined so severely by the government that they went out of business, it would be similar to what is going on now with Christians.  

    That said, I would still side with the truck drivers sited above, if it were feasible.  I don’t see how a truck would ever have only a portion of their cargo be alcohol or meat.  Usually, these deliveries are made by trucks specifically designed for these products.  If you don’t want to deliver alcohol, don’t get a job with a beer distributor.  If you don’t want to deliver beef, don’t get a job with a meat locker.  But you will have to forgive me.  I live in the real world, and I keep forgetting that much of the population refuses to join me there.

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Sat, 10/13/2018 02:43 am

    Hey Rich277,

    I'm right there with you in the real world. That's where I live, too.

  • RC
    Posted: Wed, 10/10/2018 01:46 pm

    “Raymi Schwartz said the opposition wasn’t about religion. “We are a very inclusive community, a very diverse community and we don’t want anything up here that only one type of being can go to,” she said.” 

    So how is excluding a Christian church make it an "inclusive” community?

    What does Raymi mean with one type of being? It looks like Raymi thinks Christians are some type of alien being because they cannot even be called human beings?   So how would another exercise facility be inclusive of people who don’t want to exercise there? Exactly who and how many are in the opposition group and by what right are they speaking for the whole community? 

    I am glad that the Court saw through the irrational and baseless desires of the “opposition”.       

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 10/10/2018 10:02 pm

    God judges us as we judge others.  If we want freedom of conscience for ourselves, then we need to grant it to others.  The Lewis study helps us to question whether we are doing this, whatever its particular scientific merits.

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 10/11/2018 12:14 am

    The truck drivers are working voluntarily for private companies.  If a vegetarian gets a job at a butcher shop, what are we to say?  This isn't anything like what Christian bakers face who are forced by the state to promote homosexuality or go out of business under the penalty of law.  A person who is fired can always get another job.  If they state says you may no longer work in your field, what are you to do?

  • Laura W
    Posted: Wed, 10/17/2018 08:22 pm

    What about a pro-life nurse who is voluntarily working for a private hospital? Should she be allowed to object to participating in abortions? (Though of course, if she goes and gets a job at Planned Parenthood, that's really her problem.)