Baptist Joint Committee

Big New Jersey religious-liberty case: Did you hear who backed efforts to build a new mosque?

Big New Jersey religious-liberty case: Did you hear who backed efforts to build a new mosque?

So, did you hear about that major victory for religious-liberty activists the other day?

In this case, the reference to "religious liberty" in that first statement is not framed in scare quotes for a simple reason. This particular case did not have anything to do with debates about the Sexual Revolution clashing with ancient religious doctrines and traditions.

This important case involved a win for Muslims in Somerset County, N.J., who have been fighting their suburban powers in defense of their right to build themselves a mosque.

This is where things get interesting. The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge had the U.S. Department of Justice on its side, but also received help from a broad coalition of religious-liberty activists. This was a rare sighting of the old left-right coalition that used to stand together back in the heady days in the 1990s, when Democrats and Republicans all embraced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (click here for GetReligion links on that).

Kudos to The Atlantic for spotting this important angle of a major story:

An uncommonly wide range of religious groups came to the Society’s support -- from groups that lean left, like the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Sikh Coalition, to more conservative groups, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Such unequal treatment of the mosque in this case represents a potential threat to the free exercise rights of each of the amici represented here,” the 18 supportive groups wrote, “and is an affront to our nation’s commitment to religious liberty for all.”

Alas, it was hard to find evidence in other mainstream news coverage showing that journalists knew that key religious conservatives, as well as liberals, were celebrating this victory for supporters of this New Jersey mosque and, thus, a victory for religious liberty. 

Consider The New York Times coverage, for example: "Settlements With New Jersey Suburb Clear Way for Proposed Mosque." Here is the overture, with many interesting details about the flexibility demonstrated by these Muslim believers:

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It's already time for Christmas Wars! So, journalists, who you gonna call?

It's already time for Christmas Wars! So, journalists, who you gonna call?

Here they come again -- the Christmas Wars.

No, I am not talking about Fox News specials on whether cashiers in megastores should be forced by their employers to say "Happy Holidays" to customers instead of "Merry Christmas." We have to wait until Halloween for those stories to start up. I'm talking about actual church-state battles about religion in the tax-dollar defined territory in the public square.

Public schools are back in session, so it's time for people to start planning (cue: Theme from "Jaws") holiday concerts. This Elkhart Truth story -- "Concord Community Schools sued in federal court over live Nativity scene in high school's Christmas Spectacular play" -- has all the basics (which in this case is not automatically a compliment). Here's the lede:

DUNLAP -- Two national organizations Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against the Concord Community Schools over a live Nativity scene that has been part of the high school’s Christmas Spectacular celebration for decades.

You can see the problem looming right there in the lede. It's that number -- two.

Anyone want to guess which two organizations we are talking about? I'll bet you can if you try.

The suit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union alleges that the Christmas Spectacular -- which ends with a scriptural reading from the Bible as religious figures such as Mary, Joseph and the wise men act out the scene -- endorses religion in a manner that is illegal in a public school.
The complaint, filed on behalf of a Concord student and his father, asks the U.S. District Court to instruct school officials not to present the live Nativity scene in 2015 or  in the future. The complaint also seeks nominal damages of $1 and legal fees, as well as “other proper relief.”

Now, let me stress that the problem with this story is NOT that it quotes the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU.

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Concerning a head scarf in Tulsa and yet another sighting of an old church-state coalition

Concerning a head scarf in Tulsa and yet another sighting of an old church-state coalition

Through the years, your GetReligionistas have made quite a few references (like this one, for example) to a remarkable period of time in American church-state history when a strong, diverse coalition stood together on religious liberty (no scare quotes) issues. This coalition ranged from Pat Robertson over to the Unitarians, with the Baptist Joint Committee somewhere in the middle.

It was a remarkable time for First Amendment liberalism, as classically defined. After all, it would be hard to call the Clinton White House right wing. This coalition stood together in the development of equal access rules protecting religious expression in the public square and, earlier, in the famous case protecting the rights of neo-Nazis to march through a Chicago suburb that included many Holocaust survivors. The coalition stood united -- supporting religious freedom at the global level -- to back the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Some journalists (hurrah!) even noted this at the time, every now and then. Here is a sighting of this coalition, in a 1993 New York Times story about the slam-dunk passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

President Clinton hailed the new law at the signing ceremony, saying that it held government "to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone's free exercise of religion." ...
His sentiments were echoed by many other members of an unusual coalition of liberal, conservative and religious groups that had pressed for the new law. The coalition included the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Council of Churches, the American Jewish Congress, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mormon Church, the Traditional Values Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union.

This brings us to the recent 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a 17-year-old Muslim in Tulsa, Okla., who was rejected for a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because of her head scarf. Read this piece of The Los Angeles Times coverage carefully:

The court’s liberal justices have long championed religious minorities in discrimination cases. But as Christian conservatives have more frequently found themselves on the defensive over issues such as abortion and gay rights, the court’s conservatives have also embraced claims of religious liberty.
Last year, a conservative majority ruled that the religious owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores did not have to comply with a government mandate to offer certain birth control methods as part of the company’s health plan.

What in the heckfire is that all about?

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