This is an abridged version of International News prepared prior to the departure for overseas of our editorial team on an International prayer assignment. The full edition of International News will re-appear in two weeks time.
The Trump administration has strongly protected the free exercise of religion by reversing Obama-era policies with new legal guidance issued to the Department of Justice (DOJ) by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Attorney General issued two memoranda. The first addressed to all administrative agencies and executive departments, identifies 20 key principles of religious liberty. The guidance reminds agencies of their obligations under federal law to protect religious liberty, and summarizes twenty key principles of religious-liberty protections that agencies can use in that effort. It explains that agencies should use these principles to protect religious liberty in all aspects of their work, including as employers, rule-makers, adjudicators, contract and grant-makers and program administrators.
On specific policies, the guidance states that government may not exclude religious organizations from secular aid programs and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may not enforce the Johnson Amendment which restricts tax-exempt organizations, including churches and religious organizations, from endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office. Attorney Sessions’ second memorandum, addressed to DOJ components and United States Attorney’s offices, directs the implementation of that guidance within the Department. The 20 key principles are:
1. The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law.
2. The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
3. The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
4. Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government.
5. Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.
6. Government may not target religious individuals or entities for special disabilities based on their religion.
7. Government may not target religious individuals or entities through discriminatory enforcement of neutral, generally applicable laws.
8. Government may not officially favour or disfavour particular religious groups.
9. Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.
10. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening any aspect of religious observance or practice, unless imposition of that burden on a particular religious adherent satisfies strict scrutiny.
11. RFRA’s protection extends not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations.
12. RFRA does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.
13. A governmental action substantially burdens an exercise of religion under RFRA if it bans an aspect of an adherent’s religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or substantially pressures the adherent to modify such observance or practice.
14. The strict scrutiny standard applicable to RFRA is exceptionally demanding.
15. RFRA applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties.
16. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion.
17. Title VIl’s protection extends to discrimination on the basis of religious observance or practice as well as belief, unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship on the business.
18. The Clinton Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace provide useful examples for private employers of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in the workplace.
19. Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.
20. As a general matter, the federal government may not condition receipt of a federal grant or contract on the effective relinquishment of a religious organization’s exemptions or attributes of its religious character.
This guidance demonstrates that the DOJ recognizes that religious liberty principles are in fact stalwart even when challenged by special interest groups. “We commend President Trump for instructing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to send a strong message to the rest of America that religious freedom must be protected,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “The President has reversed the Obama-era policies and committed to protecting and promoting the religious freedom upon which this nation was founded. The Department of Justice must now vigorously enforce all Americans’ civil right of free exercise of religious liberty. This is an extremely positive step in the right direction,” said Staver. Liberty Counsel is an international non-profit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION SAYS GENDER IDENTITY IS NOT A PROTECTED CIVIL RIGHT
In a reversal of federal policy that pleased marriage advocates and angered LGBTQI groups, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a memo interpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as not intended to apply to transgenders. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote to the country’s federal prosecutors that on “all pending and future matters” the DOJ will go by what Congress originally intended and not add unforeseen deviances when enforcing laws regarding equal treatment on the basis of “sex.” At issue is the word “sex.” A section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 criminalized discrimination based on “sex.” Homosexual activists say that now includes sexual orientation and transgenderism. Strict originalists say the writers of the law clearly intended “sex” to mean male and female.
Sessions defended his stand by saying it was a simple matter of the historical intent of legislators, and does not necessarily indicate a strategic change. The understanding is “a conclusion of law, not policy,” the memo read. Sessions explained that the word “sex” in the 1964 law means “biologically male or female,” so that particular statute says nothing about “discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.” Sessions went on to explain that the Obama administration overstepped its bounds in ascribing unimagined modern categories to a 52-year-old anti-discrimination law. Specifically, the former president officially interpreted civil rights legislation to include homosexuality and transgenderism.
Obama announced in 2014, “I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status.” “The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley elaborated. “Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today’s action.” O’Malley clarified that this memo applies only to historical legislation that never intended to embrace homosexuality or transgenderism. “As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress,” he said. The DOJ offered further assurances that it will enforce modern laws giving special protected class status to gays.
“This Department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals,” O’Malley said, “and will continue to enforce the numerous laws that Congress has enacted that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Sessions’ memo noted that his department does not condone the mistreatment of anyone, including transgenders. “The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals,” he wrote. “Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity, or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide different or additional protections,” Sessions continued.
The LGBTQI organization Lambda Legal lashed out against the DOJ memo. “No matter how many memos are issued, the law is on our side” director of strategy Sharon McGowan said. The Supreme Court has not decreed whether “sex” in historical legislation includes homosexuality or transgenderism. It has, however, ruled that “sex” discrimination includes treatment of people who do not conform to traditional male/female norms. Earlier this summer, the DOJ filed an appellate court brief saying anti-discrimination laws of the 1960s did not encompass sexual orientation. In the spring, the Trump DOJ rescinded the Obama administration’s threat to public schools to withhold federal funds unless they allowed transgender boys in the girls’ bathrooms. Under Obama, the DOJ filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma that is based on that administration’s interpretation of the 1964 law as including transgenders.
CANADA REPORTS NEARLY 2000 ASSISTED SUICIDES IN FIRST YEAR OF LEGISLATION
The data from Health Canada’s second Interim Report on assisted dying states that there were 1982 reported assisted deaths (1,977 reported euthanasia deaths and five reported assisted-suicide deaths) in the first year since legalization was passed to allow such activity. There were 167 reported euthanasia deaths in Quebec prior to the federal government legalizing assisted death, therefore as of June 30 there have been (1,982 + 167) 2,149 reported assisted deaths in Canada. Canadian governments have established a self-reporting system, meaning the doctor who carries out the death is the same doctor who reports the death (no oversight of the law) therefore it is possible that under-reporting and abuse of the law occurs. Based on the first Quebec government euthanasia report 14 percent of the assisted deaths did not comply with the law.
There have been several stories indicating that there are problems with Canada’s euthanasia law. For instance, Candice Lewis was pressured by doctors to die by euthanasia. Now she is feeling much better. In late September 2016, Dr. Will Johnston reported on two British Columbia deaths that appear to abuse the euthanasia law. In November, we were contacted by a man who stated that his Aunt, who died by euthanasia, may only have had a bladder infection. Canada’s euthanasia law does not protect conscience rights for medical professionals. The Coalition for HealthCare and Conscience launched a legal challenge to the Ontario College of Physicians policy that forces physicians, who oppose killing, to refer their patients to a physician who will kill.
A Canadian bioethicist published an article promoting euthanasia/organ donation and a study was published stating that up to $138 million can be saved by euthanasia. Meanwhile, a Toronto study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that requests for euthanasia are based on existential distress and not physical pain. To make matters worse, in June an Ontario judge extended euthanasia to non-terminal people by redefining the phrase “natural death must be reasonably foreseeable” in his decision, and Canadian doctors are demanding more money to kill. The number of Canadian euthanasia deaths is high when compared to Belgium, where there was 235 reported assisted deaths in the first year (2003), 349 in the second year and 393 in its third year after legalization. By 2015 however, there were 2021 reported Belgian assisted deaths.
Data from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (March 2015) indicates that more than 40% of the assisted deaths in Belgium were not reported in 2013. In the Netherlands, there were 6,091 reported assisted deaths in 2016 representing 4% of all deaths. Data from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that 23% of the assisted deaths in the Netherlands were not reported in 2015. Based on the number of reported assisted deaths, it is possible that Canada will soon surpass the Netherlands and Belgium. The euthanasia debate must go beyond theory and focus on human reality. People usually ask for euthanasia when they are emotionally or psychologically distraught by their medical or personal situation. Euthanasia abandons people at the most vulnerable time of their life. The answer to euthanasia is to care for people and not to kill them.