Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom of Religious Belief: The Differences Matter

Extremist feet (size 13) in even more extreme shoes. Photo taken at the Holland display in Royal Park Rajapruek, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2015.

Three years ago, Wesley J. Smith writing for described the assault on freedom of religion being conducted under the banner of freedom of worship. Aren’t they the same thing? There is an important difference. When governments provide only for “freedom of worship,” they may be willing to allow you to worship as you will in certified houses of worship, but when it comes to how you live your life outside of worship services, practicing your religion becomes more problematic.

Smith warned that in spite of explicit protection for religious freedom in the US Constitution and even in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18), that liberty is being limited and assaulted in many quarters:

Strident secularism is on the march and freedom of religion is the target, with secularist warriors attempting to drive religious practice behind closed doors by redefining religious liberty down to a hyper-restricted, “freedom of worship.”

In his list of specific examples of trouble spots, Smith warned that Obamacare would force those who oppose abortion on moral and religious grounds to provide or facilitate that gruesome service, contrary to their religious beliefs. His concerns have proven to be grounded in reality. As Sarah Torre wrote at in 2014:

Perhaps the most egregious example of this whittling away of religious liberty is Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate. The legal showdown over the now famous rule entered a new round last week. The federal government continued its fight to force the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity dedicated to caring for the elderly poor, to cover abortion-inducing drugs and contraception in violation of their faith. While the Supreme Court stopped enforcement of the mandate against some family businesses, non-profit religious organizations like the Little Sisters remain in danger of devastating fines for not complying with the coercive rule.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s HHS mandate is hardly the only assault on religious freedom and the right of conscience in the United States.

Obamacare is finding new ways to force individuals and families to pay for health plans that cover elective abortions. The law’s lack of transparency about abortion coverage, coupled with a mandatory abortion surcharge, is so serious an affront to conscience that it has led at least one family to file a federal lawsuit. The health care law also only includes limited protections for medical professionals who decline to participate in, perform, or refer for abortion because of their moral or religious beliefs. Those loose protections, coupled with the administration’s weakened guidance on federal conscience regulations, could endanger the ability of doctors, nurses and hospitals to continue working in accordance with their values.

Outside the doctor’s office and beyond the intricacies of health insurance, Americans are also facing new threats to their freedom to work in accordance with their beliefs about marriage. With the redefinition of marriage in a number of states (more often through the rulings of judges than the votes of citizens) has come increasing intolerance in both culture and law toward those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Most recently, a couple who runs a farm in upstate New York was fined $13,000 for declining to rent their family farm for a same-sex wedding ceremony. Others involved in the wedding industry, like photographers, florists and cake makers, have been hauled into court for declining to use their artistic talents to participate in same-sex weddings. Facing coercion by state governments to place children with same-sex couples, some Christian adoption agencies have even been forced to end foster care and adoption services rather than abandon their belief that children do best with a married mother and father.

In July of this year, Little Sisters of the Poor suffered a serious setback when a Federal Court ordered them to comply with the HHS mandate requiring them to subsidize contraceptive and some abortion services for employees or face large fines from the IRS. These Catholic sisters are free to listen to mass in Latin, English, or Vulcan if they wish, but when it comes to living their lives outside of worship services, their freedom of religion is curtailed as the State pressures them to promote something they find evil and reprehensible.

Freedom of worship is not much better than freedom of belief, and both are far less than the fundamental freedom that our Founding Fathers sought to protect. Freedom of religion should be the law of the land in the United States and other nations that have ascribed to that sacred concept, but it is being replaced with the much more limited freedom of worship or belief.

The difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship came up again recently when a US Senator grilled Homeland Security about a subtle change in wording on the government’s test for immigrants to the US who wish to become citizens:

A Republican senator from Oklahoma pressed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at a hearing Wednesday about why the U.S. is “misrepresenting” Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion to immigrants who are applying to become U.S. citizens.

“We in the United States actually have freedom of religion, not freedom of worship,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told Johnson yesterday during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing.

Lankford was referring to the department’s decision to include “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” as a basic American right listed in the civics test that all immigrants must take to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Again, the difference needs to be understood and attempts to replace the greater freedom with the lesson one should be called out. I don’t think the change in wording is just a careless mistake.

Here in China, where the social, religious, and political situation is much different than in the US, I am happy to report that we at least have freedom of belief. In fact, we foreign LDS members enjoy currently surprisingly generous freedom of worship, provided we carefully respect the law and avoid proselyting among native Chinese. (If you come to visit or live in China, please come worship with us, but don’t bring religious literature to give to Chinese people, and don’t get into detailed conversations about matters of faith–respect the law here!) In terms of officially condoned public worship, it is generally restricted to official locations provided for the five state-recognized religions in China: the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (a Protestant organization) and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (which does not recognize the Vatican), whose leaders are generally members of the Communist Party or selected by the Party’s Administration of Religious Affairs.

Latter-day Saints are not one of the official five, obviously, but in several cities foreign-passport-holding Latter-day Saints like myself are allowed to meet and worship together quite freely at appointed locations, provided only foreign-passport holders attend our meetings. We are intensely grateful for this freedom, and we strive to respect the laws of China in order to preserve this right and the trust that has been given us. Given China’s history and current needs and concerns, I can understand the reasons for China’s policies. In the US, however, our heritage and fundamental privilege extends much beyond freedom of belief or freedom of worship. I hope that freedom can be preserved as well. Here in China, in my opinion, the trend over the past few decades has been one of increasing freedoms, still with challenges and problems. But the trends of decreasing freedoms that I see in the West are alarming.

Unfortunately, even freedom of belief and freedom of worship in the US and the West in general may soon come under fire. At least that’s my cynical take on the news that the United States is collaborating with the United Nations to help stamp out ideologies (belief systems) that they label “extremist.” Here’s part of the Sept. 29, 2015 announcement straight from the United Nations, which begins by discussing the obvious problem of terrorism–now called “violent extremism,” but paves the way for dealing with much broader issues and belief systems than the small groups that like to spread terror:

The Leaders’ Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, hosted by United States President Barack Obama on the margins of the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate, brought together representatives from more than 100 nations, more than 20 multilateral institutions, some 120 civil society groups from around the world, and partners from the private sector.

“Addressing this challenge goes to the heart of the mission of the United Nations, and it requires a unified response,” stated the Secretary-General, who intends to present a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism early next year to the General Assembly.

Our objective must be to go beyond countering violent extremism to preventing it in the first place,” he added.

In this regard, he outlined five key priorities: the need to engage all of society; the need to make a special effort to reach young people; to build truly accountable institutions; respect for international law and human rights; and the importance of not being ruled by fear – or provoked by those who strive to exploit it.

“We have a major challenge before us – one that will not disappear overnight – but one that we can address concretely by forging societies of inclusion, ensuring lives of dignity, and pursuing this essential endeavour inspired at all times by the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Opening the meeting, President Obama said that it is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield.

“We have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place. And this means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas – a more attractive and compelling vision.” …

And in all countries, it is vital to continue to build true partnerships with Muslim communities, based on trust and cooperation, so that they can help protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized, Mr. Obama continued.

“This cannot just be the work of government. It is up to all of us. We have to commit ourselves to build diverse, tolerant, inclusive societies that reject anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry that creates the divisions, the fear and the resentments upon which extremists can prey.

Does it take a lot of paranoid imagination to see how “engaging all of society” and reshaping the minds of the young to denounce and curtail those who allegedly “exploit fear,” threaten “dignity” (the sweeping new right mysteriously found in the Constitution that overturned the right of States to regulate and define marriage), and create “divisions” (i.e., disagreement with sanctioned PC views)  could point to government intrusions in not just freedom of religion, but even freedom of belief? After all, these statements imply that it is the belief systems that are responsible for extremism in the first place, and not just the relatively tiny fringe groups who exploit Islam in some parts of the world to promote terror. The language of this UN announcement shows that much broader religious belief systems are being targeted.

In fact, for many of our elite opponents, religion, especially Christian religion and most especially conservative Christian religion such as Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism, is inherently extreme, divisive, bigoted, hateful, and fear-based. In their view, opposition to their political or social goals is an expression of hate and bigotry. There is a divide, but divisiveness is due only to the existence of opponents on the other side. Their anger is just righteous indignation toward the unrighteous hate of the others. Tolerance is not a two-way street, but a strictly enforced one-way road.

Do you think there is no threat that some of the power-hungry who despise religion, if given the opportunity and power, will hesitate to make further incursions into the liberties that we now enjoy or once enjoyed?

If you don’t believe that there might be a little bait-and-switch ruse in this effort to reshape global society, ask yourself this: If the problem being addressed is ISIS and the terrorism of other militant Islamist groups, then why does the mission of this international effort depart from stomping out militant Islamic groups and capturing the most dangerous terrorists among them (some of whom may be posing as immigrants crossing borders with documentation), instead morphing to the new goal of “reject[ing] anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry that creates the divisions, the fear and the resentments upon which extremists can prey“? Whoa, it’s you allegedly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant folks who are causing all that bloodshed? That’s the real enemy now? Or maybe it’s actually you anti-abortion folks who are the real problem here.

You can be as pro-Muslim and pro-immigrant as you want (for example, I’ll take Daniel Peterson as a wonderful example of a Mormon who deeply respects Islam and has given us tools to appreciate it), but if you’re in the cross-hairs of those who despise your particular religion, I bet the eye of the beholder will see something that looks horrifically ugly, or rather,  divisive, bigoted, and extreme.

Admittedly, that’s an extreme opinion. Just one more reason (in addition to my shoe size) why I’m an extremist in need of reeducation or something. And yes, the broad statements in the UN announcement have not been passed into law yet. That won’t happen, of course, until we go through the complex and often lengthy process involving both Houses of Congress and loaded with checks and balances as described in the US Constitution–or until an executive order is issued, which takes about 10 minutes on a Friday afternoon.

So is there really any risk that the US government might somehow brand large numbers of Christians as “extremists” who might need the helpful attention and services of, say, the US military? Is that utterly paranoid and ridiculous? A clue about the probability of such a bizarre situation might be found in an incident in 2013, as reported by Nicola Menzie in The Christian Post:

A U.S. Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief describes “Evangelical Christianity” and “Catholicism” as examples of “religious extremism,” according to the Archdiocese for the Military Services and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, who shared a copy of the documents with The Christian Post.

“The number of hate groups, extremists and anti‐govt organizations in the U.S. has continued to grow over the past three years, according to reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They increased to 1,018 in 2011, up from 1,002 in 2010 and 602 in 2000,” reads the first page of the slide presentation labeled “Extremism & Extremist Organizations.”

Listed alongside “extremist” groups and organizations like the Klu Klux Klan and al-Qaida, the U.S. Army slideshow has “Evangelical Christianity” as the first bullet, followed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and farther down on the slide, Catholicism.

According to the training documents, “Extremism is a complex phenomenon” that is present in every religion due to “some followers that believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only ‘right way’ and that all others are practicing their faith the ‘wrong way,’ seeing and believing that their faith/religion superior to all others.”

Here’s the offending slide from the presentation to US soldiers, published by the Christian Post. As stated, the list of religious extremists leads with Evangelicals. Further down is Catholicism. Toward the end is “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Real Mormons aren’t on the list, I’m relieved to report. Whew, close call, but looks like we’re safe, right? Perhaps, unless you also affiliate with the Jewish Defense League (I think some Mormons might) or have a very strong dislike of Islam (“Islamophobia”). That’s not me, for the record, but I suspect there are some Mormons that fall into that camp. And some Mormons who converted from Catholicism might still retain some of their former “extremist” ways. Of course, this list is not meant to be complete. The list of potential extremists and their insidious traits could become very, very long. The shoes of extremism are so big that they can fit almost any foot, when it suits the accuser.

Of course, once Catholics, Evangelicals, and perhaps some other targeted “extremists” got wind of this, they objected and the US government quickly washed its hands, pointing out that this was an isolated incident, not representative of what the military is really doing, etc., etc. Maybe it was just a rare, inexplicable mistake. But the organization that helped prepare the materials appears to still be in good standing as an important ally of the Administration. Watch for more efforts to give government more tools and more power to fight the never-ending battle against the extremist spooks that haunt dark corners everywhere.

A crack down on “extremism” of any kind could be a beautiful tool for those who seek ever more power for government. It’s not just the US government (and the UN) calling for this. David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK, gave a speech at the United Nations last year calling for something similar:

We must be clear: to defeat the ideology of extremism we need to deal with all forms of extremism – not just violent extremism.

For governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this. We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad. We must work together to take down illegal online material like the recent videos of ISIL murdering hostages. And we must stop the so called non-violent extremists from inciting hatred and intolerance in our schools, our universities and yes, even our prisons.

While we all may dislike hate and intolerance, the danger is in defining those terms. If I’m the one making that call, should you be worried that anti-Mormon speech might be treated as hate speech? Will I find you are suffering from Mormophobia or Christophobia and need a few months in a reeducation camp? No, I wouldn’t do that–but do you want to find out what a Mormon would do with that kind of power? Should we give anyone that kind of power? Some of the abuses we’ve already seen with “hate speech” legislation and policies suggest that an all-out international effort on stamping out any form of “extremism” that politicians dislike could be a very dangerous thing. Note, however, that extremism in government power will never be on the official list of extremism to stamp out.

May all Americans, whatever our faith, stand up for freedom of religion, not just freedom of worship and belief. Let me know what you think–but please don’t say anything that might be viewed as divisive, bigoted, or extreme. I’ve got your IP address, and may have to report you. Make sure your words create a society of inclusion and harmony–or else.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

32 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom of Religious Belief: The Differences Matter

  1. Important case in point: Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk jailed for contempt of court after refusing an order to issue “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples. Davis is defying a court order. But the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer recently wrote in “Clerk the Only One Obeying the Law” that the courts have no constitutionally granted power to strike down law and then pointed out that the Kentucky constitution reads:

    "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."

    Thus Kim Davis would actually be breaking the law and violating the constitution of the state of Kentucky by issuing same-sex licenses.

    Bottom line: Kim Davis is the only one in this sorry saga who is following the law and the Constitution.

    When she took her oath of office, it was an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Kentucky. She did not take an oath to uphold the rulings of the Supreme Court, especially when submitting to such rulings would require her to violate her oath to uphold the Constitution.

    Also related is the case of openly lesbian Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker, who said in 2012 that “she refuses to conduct marriage ceremonies for straight couples until same-sex couples can also wed,” reported by New York’s Daily News at that time. Given that judges may refuse to perform marriages, Parker’s case wouldn’t involve the kind of “violation of civil duty” of which Davis is accused. Yet it is perfectly analogous to another recent case, that of Marion County, Oregon, Judge Vance Day. Like Parker, Day decided to stop doing weddings altogether — in his case, nearly a year ago — over the faux-marriage issue. Like Parker, his reason is that the current law conflicts with his sense of right and wrong. Unlike Parker, however, his problem is that he didn’t want to feel pressure to “marry” same-sex couples after a 2014 federal court ruling expressing the belief that faux marriage should be government sanctioned in Oregon.

    And, unlike Parker, Day is now being investigated by a judicial-fitness commission.

    The Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct just issued a ruling in August on the very same matter, stating in part, “A judge may not decline to perform all marriages in order to avoid marrying same-sex couples based on his or personal, moral, or religious beliefs." A judge can refuse to perform marriages -but not for politically incorrect (e.g., Christian) reasons – and not to avoid performing faux marriages. So when Parker exited the marriage business because she thought such unions should be endorsed by government, it was hardly a blip on the radar screen. When Day does so because he believes such unions shouldn’t be, he’s investigated as unfit for office. Such hypocrisy.

  2. Are you sure you are talking about and advocating genuine freedom of beliefs?

    Case 1:

    The Little Sisters of the Poor are celibate women who care for the non-child bearing elderly. Without regard for the fact that they aren't actually dealing in issues of pregnancy and child bearing, they filed a legal challenge to the provisions of Obama care lest they have to provide insurance that covered abortion services for any potential employee. They did this regardless of the fact that the Affordable Care Act gave them the option of signing a document which would have exempted them from being required to provide the objectionable services. This option had been available to them prior to their lawsuit.

    The ruling that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals made to their suit acknowledged that they had never been coerced, had never had their freedom to act on their beliefs impacted and that signing the request for an exemption was not onerous.

    The problem that the Little Sisters then had — much like Kim Davis — was that in signing the request for exemption, thereby permitting someone other than themselves to provide the services/licenses, they gave up their ability to coerce others who don't share their beliefs.

    Case 2: You can't reflect on Kim Davis and the Little Sisters of the Poor without remembering how closely this mimics the actions of the LDS in the case of CA Proposition 8 which enshrined in civil law discrimination against gay Californians under the guise of religious beliefs. Once again the "freedom" only seemed to extend in one direction a fact eventually recognized by the Ninth Circuit Court and the US Supreme Court.

    It gets difficult to overlook the consistent application of the law here, doesn't it?

    Case 3

    All this calls to mind that BYU is currently holding an international symposium on the law and religious freedom. Professor Mark Juergensmeyer who had been invited to speak at the symposium has since sent his regrets because he simply couldn't support the irony that "the institution sponsoring [religious freedom] fundamentally violates this principle in its policies towards Mormon students …[when] non-Mormons are allowed to enroll in BYU, and they are welcome to convert to the Mormon faith if they wish, but if Mormon students change their religious affiliation they lose their scholarship, their campus housing and jobs, and are expelled from school even if they are months away from graduation."

    If you wish to draw attention to the free practice of beliefs in daily life let's at least be honest about what that freedom requires of everyone on the spectrum of belief and non-belief and recognize that the law is the guardian of the rights of all.

  3. As China allows more freedoms, the U.S., and other Western countries are taking freedoms away……religion being one.

    Yes, the laws are not being enforced equally across the country. Yes, there is hypocrisy.

    Concerning BYU…..BYU gives members a break. Non members are not. Everything BYU uses and needs is paid for by members. When a student enters BYU as a member they are given these little privileges. So when a student leaves the church they lose their privileges. Other religious schools do the same.

    What formerly LDS students have been expelled from BYU for leaving the LDS church?

    They lose member privileges and rightly so. Every religion has a right to set certain regulations at a member funded school.

    When the Catholic church and LDS church fought gay marriage they did so knowing that legalizing gay marriage was going to lead to more and more religious freedoms being taken away. And that is exactly what has happened and is happening. The gay agenda was not to get gay marriage legalized……it was the first step to destroy marriage….period. The gays have even said so. Gay marriage is just one step forward to destroying marriage for all. And to destroy religion and religious freedoms.

    The last fifty years the marxist, facist progressives have slowly worked to destroy this country in the name of diversity, freedom for all, equality for all and other lies. We have had all kinds of seemingly innocuous laws passed and political correctness pushed in society. Smooth talkers told society nothing will change, no one will lose rights and freedoms. These same smooth talkers lulled society into a false sense of security, exactly how Satan works.
    Society did not push back because it was beaten into all that to push back meant you were a bad person. Today those that are pushing back because they see what is really happening, are being bullied, harassed, called every bad name in existence, lose jobs, and much more.

    The end goal is for this country is to be a facist marxist country….to h,e, double hockey sticks with the Constitution. That is exactly what is happening. Religions are attacked, freedoms are attacked, then boom! We are under facist rule. It is happening.

  4. Why would BYU kick out a student who enrolled as a Mormon then leaves Mormonism? BYU allows non Mormons to enroll.

    The former Mormon may lose privileges given only to Mormons, but getting kicked out????? Does not make sense.

    I have read that colleges owned by other religions have certain activities and other privileges for only those of that specific faith.
    A church owned and church run school has a right to do so. Any private institution has rules and regulations.

  5. Today a Ten Commandments monument was removed from the Capitol of Oklahoma.

    People are not understanding the Constitution. Therefore the assault on our rights.

    Unfortunately and very disturbing, judges do not understand the Constitution and rule in favor of those destroying the Constitution. All in the name of being offended.

    I hope this country had another true revolution.

    We need it.

  6. Yes! It's judges who have studied the law and had careers practicing the law and risen to the top of their profession to be named to the US Supreme Court who do not understand the law.

    Thank god there are red necks in OK who only recognize one kind of religious beliefs (which, ironically, probably doesn't include Mormonism) who understand the Constitution.

  7. I don 't know the names of kids who have been kicked out of BYU for changing their religious beliefs. I do, however, remember when Chad Hardy was refused a diploma just short of graduation for making a calendar that was considered unflattering.

    I guess kids have gotten smart enough at this point to keep their beliefs or lack thereof to themselves until after graduation.

    I guess Chad Hardy's gone on to recover and live his life however he manages to but he still does not have an undergraduate degree despite doing all the work required. And he didn't even leave the LDS. He just challenged it's authority in his business life.

  8. I seem to recall the conflict between state authority and individual conviction coming up way back in ancient times. Some ancient sage had an insightful take on it, I think. He said something like, "Give the Emperor that which is the Emperor's, and give God that which is God's."

    Now who was that ancient guy? Confucius? His saying does sound more Chinese than American to me.

  9. To Anonymous @ 1:36 and Anonymous @ 1:46

    From an article at Christian Today which appeared at the time of BYU's reaccreditation:

    "If Mormons, the other name for LSD members, stop believing in church doctrine while at school, they could stand to lose their endorsement and be expelled from the university.

    This was confirmed by a November 2014 statement from BYU's spokesperson Carri Jenkins.

    'A former Mormon who decides to leave the church distances themselves from those promises and commitments,' Jenkins had said in the statement.

    'The result is that they are not eligible to attend BYU,' she added."

    The full article is available at

    Note that the BYU spokesperson does not say they will be charged non-Mormon rates and fees. She says "the result is that they are not eligible to attend BYU." Religious freedom in action!

  10. Jeff, the Army training slide about religious extremism is a total nothingburger, and the Nicola Menzie quote is almost certainly false. The slide you reproduced is certainly no smoking gun. There's nothing in it that "describes 'Evangelical Christianity' and 'Catholicism' as examples of 'religious extremism.'"

    Think about how PowerPoint slides are actually used in lectures. They typically do not say all that is going to be said; they serve merely to provide points of reference that are explained and elaborated on by the speaker. Having endured many, many of these slide presentations, I can assure you that what happened at the training was something like this: The speaker put the slide up on the screen, then referred to the "Evangelical Christianity" bullet point, and then gave examples of extremist groups that identify as Evangelical Christian. (Would that include the Army of God? the Hutaree movement? I dunno–I'm not an expert. But the trainer giving the lecture probably knows.)

    This is obviously a far cry from describing Evangelical Christianity itself as an example of religious extremism.

    Ditto for Catholicism, ultra-orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam, etc.

    Jeff, do you seriously think a U.S. Army official actually equated Evangelical Christianity, qua Evangelical Christianity, with religious terrorism? Before an audience that was probably filled with Catholics and Evangelical Christians? To think so is to put the absolute worst possible spin on the evidence of the slide.

    (A little Googling reveals that this paranoid and ideologically motivated interpretation of the slide was picked up by FOX news and spread all over the right-wing blogosphere — but I really think someone as smart as Jeff Lindsay should not have been so quick to fall for it. And as so often happens, a lie goes halfway round the world before the truth can even get its boots on.)

    As for Kim Davis, Anon. 12:15, she really needs to get a clue. Her signature as county clerk on a marriage certificate issued to a gay couple does not signify her endorsement of gay marriage. It certifies that the couple meets the legal requirements for marriage. That's it. It's a morally neutral statement of what is now a fact. Davis might not like that fact, but acknowledging the fact is not a violation of her religious belief. She’s simply wrong, and instead of being exploited by grifters like Mat Staver and politicians Mike Huckabee, she needs to have someone sit down with her and patiently explain the facts.

    Note that the exact same thing is true of Davis's signature on a certificate issued to a heterosexual couple that incudes a divorced man. Jesus quite clearly said "that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (which is a lot more than the guy ever said about gay people). Adultery is condemned in the Ten Commandments (whereas gay sex is not). I could go on, but you get the point. Divorcee remarriage is a clear violation of Christian doctrine, but its legality is a simple fact.

    So, how is it that Davis has managed for years to blithely sign off on marriage licenses for straight couples that include a divorced man? Think of the Ten Commandments, woman! The Word of God is clear!

    Why did this not affront her tender Christian sensibilities and drive her to martyrdom?

    What is so different about gay people?

    I think we all know the answer. The most obviously explanation is that the whole thing is not about her religion, it's about her prejudice. (As for Huckabee, it's also about the fact that there's no longer any political benefit to trashing divorced people.)

    There's much more to say — especially about abortion coverage in health insurance policies — but Jeff's Big List would exhaust me. For now I would simply ask that he retract the section about the Army Training Manual.

  11. Jeff, do you seriously think a U.S. Army official actually equated Evangelical Christianity, qua Evangelical Christianity, with religious terrorism?

    No, that's not what I said at all. I said they are equating Evangelical Christianity with extremism, not terrorism. Remember, the bait-and-switch that I'm talking about is using terrorism as the excuse to go after "extremism" (along with its cousin spooks such as "divisiveness," "fear," hate, etc.). The SPLC has already made it quite clear that they consider outspoken supporters of traditional marriage to be "hate groups" and extremists.

    I think you need to be more willing to recognize that we may have an ugly problem of extremism growing in some quarters you may be fond of. It's hard to see that, I know, when the extremism goes your way, against those you detest. But the lessons of history (French Revolution, Cultural Revolution, Stalin, Cambodia, Cuba, etc.) show that once governments grow out of control and begin to target enemies relentlessly, former friends and supporters often find themselves on the receiving end of trouble (or the guillotine, as some French revolutionaries experienced). Gay or straight, white or black, big footed or small, it's in all our interest to prevent extremism in government power. Allowing the US government or a global body under the UN to target anyone they label as "extreme" is a threat to liberty of all kinds. And no, I'm not saying that we're suddenly going to become Nazi Germany, but that we may gradually (or suddenly) find erosion of some important liberties.

    The erosion of liberty in the name of suppressing a feared enemy–undefinable "extremism" of any kind in this case–is a well traveled road in world history that usually leads to an ugly destination and a costly return trip.

  12. Orbiting, what is your basis for saying Menzie's quote is "almost certainly false"? The US Army spokesman trying to cope with the backlash did not deny that the reported incident happened, but merely said it was an isolated event and not representative of official policy. "Army spokesman George Wright later said it was an isolated incident not condoned by the Dept. of the Army. And the slide, he said, was not produced by the Army nor did it reflect their policy or doctrine." He didn't even say the slide was being unfairly interpreted.

    The information used apparently came from the Southern Policy Law Center, a group which branded Dr. Benjamin Carson as an "extremist" for his views on traditional marriage (here), though they finally removed him from the extremist list this year after much backlash. They have a track record of labeling pro-family groups as "hate groups" and extremists (e.g., here). They've called many principled supporters of traditional Christian values "extremists" and "hate groups." Some black pastors have expressed outraged at the bigotry and extremism of the SPLC in condemning conservative Christians and pro-family groups as extremists (here). The slides provided for Army training are quite consistent with the track record of this radical organization. It's also consistent with the relationship that SPLC has had with the Obama Administration (see here). According to Judicial Watch in 2014:

    Last year JW obtained files from the Obama DOJ that reveal SPLC co-founder Morris Dees actually conducted a “Diversity Training Event” for the agency. Later in the year, another shocker was exposed by the conservative coalition working to chip away at the SPLC’s influence in government; the radical group also provides the U.S. military with training supplies and briefings. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a DOJ entity, also endorsed the SPLC as a source and listed it as a resource on its hate crime web page.

    Fortunately, last year, after public pressure and outrage, there was a touch of progress when the FBI decided to quietly change its hate crimes resources web page where SPLC had been listed as one of their trusted sources of information. Now SPLC's name is absent. But that doesn't make me think the bigoted influence of SPLC has been diminished.

    For a detailed look at this organization, its history, and its agenda, see Southern Poverty Law Center: Wellspring of Manufactured Hate at As we know from FIFA requests, This radical group has close ties to Eric Holder and the Obama Administration, in spite of the FBI deleting their name, and I fear they will continue to influence US government policy. They may need to be more subtle in their ongoing steps, but I don't think we're looking at a "nothingburger."

    If you can provide some support for the Army training incident being a fabrication by Nicole Menzie or some kind of vast right-wing/Fox News conspiracy, I will certainly consider the evidence.

  13. James, when the Emperor happens to think he is God, how do you manage that? Just a hypothetical question, of course.

  14. It's not just Nicole M. and Fox News calling out the US Army on what happened. The Archdiocese for Military Services, USA, issued this statement, so I presume they have something more than somebody's "almost certainly false" rumor to motivate this press release:

    AMS Calls on U.S. Defense Department to Review Army Reserve Training Material for Anti-Religious Content

    Concern raised by brief citing Catholicism as example of “religious extremism”

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) issued the following statement today on the mischaracterization of “Catholicism” as an example of “religious extremism” on slide #24 of this U.S. Army Reserve training brief:


    The Archdiocese for the Military Services and Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty recently became aware of a U.S. Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief that expressly listed “Catholicism,” “Evangelical Christianity” and other religious groups as examples of “religious extremism” alongside groups such as “Al Qaeda”, “Hamas” and the “KKK.”

    The Archdiocese is astounded that Catholics were listed alongside groups that are, by their very mission and nature, violent and extremist.

    According to an investigation and reply from the Army Chief of Chaplains office, the training in question appears to have been an isolated incident not condoned by the Department of the Army. The Archdiocese and the Chaplain Alliance explained that the Army can and should take steps to prevent such incidents in the future.

    The Archdiocese calls upon the Department of Defense to review these materials and to ensure that tax-payer funds are never again used to present blatantly anti-religious material to the men and women in uniform.

  15. Okay, Jeff, extremist rather than terrorist. But so what? You're just evading the fact that the evidence — the slide itself — does not bear out Menzies' statement. The slide does not cite Evangelical Christianity (or Catholicism or any other religion) as an example of religious extremism. It just doesn't. And I have yet to see any evidence whatsoever that the training itself did what you, in harmony with the wingnuttosphere, insist on saying it did. Instead of responding honestly to my central point about PowerPoint slides and how they're actually used, you point me to a bunch of irrelevancies, such as the fact that other organizations have bought into this silliness.

    As I keep saying, you're smarter than this, Jeff. Mormanity is a better blog than this. You have the education and the intellect to rise above the petty politics of faux-outrage, but for some reason would rather swim in the swamp. I really don't understand it.

    And really, who can honestly argue that Christians are oppressed in this country? Christianity is a central part of the dominant culture. That's one reason that political candidates make such an effort to highlight their Christianity (even when they have to lie to do so). When was the last time you saw a Christian candidate fibbing about his atheist bona fides in order to win votes? When was the last time you looked up and saw a U.S. Supreme Court that was not dominated by Catholics, Jews, and Protestants? When was the last time you saw a Christian jailed simply for being a Christian? (As opposed to violating some law whose secular purpose ran afoul of someone's religious belief, which of course is a very different thing.)

    Christian oppression in this country just ain't happening. What IS happening is that we've got a bunch of political spinmeisters stoking paranoia among the gullible.

    Sensible, educated people know that in actual practice, the need to balance legitimate secular interests against freedom of religious practice is a complex problem that for generations now has been thought through very carefully in the courts. So here's another suggestion: Back away for a spell from some of the hot-button, anger-prompting outrages du jour that are being so wildly misrepresented in the sleaze-o-sphere, and take some time to do what any good, educated, engaged American citizen ought to do, and read up on the actual jurisprudence of religious liberty, paying particular attention to the reasoning behind the various decisions. (Perhaps in your case this will merely be a refresher course.) And then, when you return to the contemporary issues, frame your arguments at the higher level your newfound knowledge will make possible. Do your part to elevate the discussion.

    And don't worry — I don't charge for my advice. 😉

  16. About emperors claiming godhood:

    I don't know what the original thinker would have said about that, but I believe that when he himself later got into trouble with his local state over a religious dispute, he declared that God would not be emperor. That's not the same point, but it's somehow related, I guess.

    For myself, I guess I'd say that giving the emperor what is really his doesn't necessarily mean giving the emperor everything that the emperor claims is his. The state isn't entitled to claim everything. But over goods which the state itself creates, I figure the state gets to make the rules.

  17. Here's another thing I thought worth mentioning in response to a post, which, as Jeff suggests right up front, is about the importance of making careful distinctions. Consider this statement from Sarah Torre about Obamacare and religious freedom:

    The federal government continued its fight to force the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity dedicated to caring for the elderly poor, to cover abortion-inducing drugs and contraception in violation of their faith.

    I'm sure you can spot the problem with this statement: The feds are not forcing the Little Sisters "to cover abortion-inducing drugs and contraception."

    It's the insurance policy that covers the abortion-inducing drugs.

    And it's the individual policyholder who decides whether or not to use those drugs.

    And then it's the insurance company that pays for the drugs.

    As Jeff might ask, Aren't these all the same thing? And as I would answer, No. There are important differences between–

    (1) Having an abortion. This is clearly a sin for Catholic.

    (2) Purchasing a health insurance policy that covers abortion (but, obviously, doesn't compel anyone to actually have an abortion).

    (3) Contracting with a health insurance company, in compliance with a secular law, for a policy that covers abortion (but, again, doesn't compel Catholic policyholders to ever have one). Is this a sin for a Catholic organization? I doubt it, but in any case it's certainly not as clear as it is in (1).

    I think all of us would wholeheartedly agree with someone who says, "My Catholic religion forbids me from using birth control, and therefore, if the feds require me to use birth control they are violating my religious freedom."

    But that's not what is happening here.

    How many of us would agree with the person who says this? — "My Catholic religion forbids me to use birth control, and therefore it violates my religious freedom to require me to facilitate some other person getting an insurance policy that will cover the cost of birth control if that other person chooses to use it."

    Before answering, consider this one:

    "My Quaker religion forbids me to kill anyone. Therefore it violates my religious freedom to require me to pay taxes that will cover the cost of the bullets that some other person will use to kill Viet Cong guerrillas."

    Or how about this one:

    "My Jewish religion forbids me to eat pork. Therefore it violates my religious freedom to require me to pay taxes that will cover the cost of agricultural research that will increase the productivity of pig farms that will produce bacon that someone other than me will eat."

    The point is that in all of these cases there are multiple degrees of separation between the commission of the actual sin and what the complaining citizen is actually being required to do. (Torre's rhetoric misleadingly collapses this separation.)

    So, how much of this type of separation is enough for us to say it is no longer reasonable to claim a violation of religious freedom?

    What should we make of arguments like these? —

    My Baptist faith tells me that the earth is 6,000 years old; the Wisconsin state government requires me to pay taxes that help cover the salaries of college professors who teach that the earth is billions of years old; therefore, my religious freedom is being violated.

    My snakehandling faith tells me I must rely solely on God to heal me if I ever get bitten by a rattlesnake; the tyrannical federal government requires that my company's insurance company cover the cost of antivenom for other people; ergo….

  18. The Little Sisters of the Poor may have to pay slightly higher insurance premiums for policies which cover abortion than they would for policies which did not. On the other hand, if the chance that any claims would ever be made for abortions is really low, then competently competitive insurance agencies would surely make the premium step very small. Making it flat zero, in fact, would probably be a good marketing move on the part of the insurer.

    This may just be my own bias, but I don't find the subtle distinctions OrbitingKobol raises to be all that subtle. I can't help wondering whether people who are upset about anti-religious tyranny in these cases may just have applied far less thought to these cases than they would apply to, say, an apologetic argument in support of their own beliefs. Is there a certain shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later attitude to anything that smells even a bit like state encroachment on religious freedom?

    Sometimes states really do constrain religious freedom, of course. In some countries you can wave placards on street corners with your religious views, and in some countries you can't. If you're in a pretty free country, then on the one hand you should maybe use your freedom to defend your freedom, and protest threatened encroachments before they really get serious. On the other hand, though, raising alarm about a familiar bogeyman is also a convenient way to rally the faithful.

  19. Orbiting, let's imagine that you friendly parsing of the presentation is completely correct. If the slide was just a way of listing different religions and discussing which ones were and which ones were not extremists, with kind respect being paid to Catholics and Evangelicals, and not a bigoted word against them being said, then how would you respond if you were the Army presenter or the spokesman for the Army, fully aware of the facts? Don't you think it would cross your mind to deny that Evangelicals and Catholics had been labeled extremists, along with all other extremist groups under the header "Religious Extremism"? Don't you think you, in defending your presentation or your organization, would offer an explanation as to why this was NOT an act of bigotry? Why on earth would you just distance yourself from the presentation and say it was an isolated event not in harmony with the high standards of the Army? If no bigotry toward Christians or Jews was involved, why not say so? Why add the distance and the excuses? Would you have responded that way if the facts fit your fanciful scenario?

    If that was just a poorly worded header that should have been something like "Sampling of religious extremists and some very nice non-extremists, too, let's discuss the differences", why not explain that? If an apology was needed for political reasons, why not apologize for the misunderstanding caused by using an abbreviated header that left off the nuances, and apologize for not making the slide more clear, and apologize for any misunderstanding, etc.? Why admit that something was awry by saying that the event was isolated and not consistent with Army standards?

    This should be a pretty clear and obvious point, IMHO. Especially when we know that the organization that has been helping out on these issues and was apparently the source of the slides has already got a track record of calling Evangelicals and Catholics extremists. That is not irrelevant data. Again, this is not a bizarre, paranoid concoction. It's the most direct and logical way to interpret what happened–otherwise, again, why wouldn't the Army explain the innocence of the sadly misunderstood slides.

    Having given many Powerpoint presentations and having seen many, if someone has a header with a big label like "Religious Extremists" and then lists some organizations under that label, they intend to show those organizations belong under the label. If some are and some aren't, they would use a question mark after the header or after the bullet points, or some other clue.

    Normal PowerPoiont usage, normal parsing of English, the behavior and apology of the Army, and the known track record of the SPLC all point to the scenario at odds with your wishful thinking. But you're free to feel whatever way you want–for now, anyway. Once we root out all the unacceptable beliefs and feelings that are the root of extremism, that may change. 🙂 (Insert eerie, chilling music here. Key of F-minor, transitioning to D-flat-minor.)

  20. If the slide was just a way of listing different religions and discussing which ones were and which ones were not extremists, with kind respect being paid to Catholics and Evangelicals…

    I apologize if I have failed to make myself clear, but your paraphrase above is not at all what I meant.

    Look at it this way.

    Suppose I was preparing a PowerPoint slide to accompany a lecture on religion and film. I might wind up with a slide very much like the one in question. What would I mean by it, and how would I use it? I would use the "Evangelical Christianity" bullet point to anchor my remarks on Left Behind and The Lion King, and the "Catholicism" bullet point to remind me when it's time to discuss Jesus of Montreal and Passion of the Christ, and so on.

    Once we understand this, is there any reason to think my slide would be suggesting that all Evangelical Christians are filmmakers, or that Evangelical Christianity itself is intrinsically cinematic, or that Evangelical Christians make good films while Muslims do not, or anything of that sort?

    Of course not. The assumption underlying the lecture is the obvious and completely uncontroversial fact that there are some films that are Evangelical Christian, some films that are Catholic, and so on. To look at the presence of an "Evangelical Christianity" bullet point on a slide titled "Religious Films" and read it any other way would be perverse.

    Ditto for the "Religious Extremism" slide. The "Evangelical Christianity" bullet point is simply there to anchor the presenter's discussion of extremists who are evangelical Christian (Eric Rudolph, maybe?), before moving on to discuss extremists who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. If you're reading more into it than this, I humbly suggest there's a bit of persecution complex involved — either that or a desire for the cultural cachet that nowadays comes from being a victim.

    As for why the question of why the military would distance itself from the presentation, etc., that's simple. It's as simple as the phrase "public relations." As we all know, the PR objective in cases like this is not to defend the Truth but to make the controversy go away. What's the most effective way to do that? —

    (1) To calm the roiling waters of internet outrage with a wordy, reasoned explanation of the ways in which PP slides are actually used, and how easy it is to misread things when someone is already predisposed to misread it? I can easily imagine someone in some PR Department meeting rolling her eyes and saying, "Yeah, like that would work."

    (2) Throwing the presenter under the bus and saying, "Rogue presenter. We gave the fellow a good talking to, and it won't happen again."

    (1) is true, but (2) is better calculated to make the problem go away. That's why we got (2).

  21. Who exactly made this powerpoint slide? The only attribution I see is 'used by the US Army Reserve'. I don't know what that really means, because I don't know just what the US Army Reserve is really like. From what I know of reserve forces in other countries, though, at this point I can easily imagine a scenario in which one reservist sergeant gets tasked with making a lecture for some annual reservist refresher course, and he whips up a slide in his spare time one night at home before going off to his training weekend. Maybe he has an ideological axe to grind, or maybe he just filled in a template carelessly after a long day at his civilian job, or maybe it's like OrbitingKolob's picture and he just put up some bullet points that would be cues for him in speaking.

    In the end it's still dumb for any branch of the armed services of the United States to be presenting such a slide in any training. At some point somebody wearing the army uniform stood beside those words on a screen, while other people in the same uniform sat in chairs and looked up at them. Depending on just where this slide was used, though, it seems to me that this may very likely represent something very much less disturbing than an official classification of Christianity as extremist by the US Department of Defense.

  22. When I'm trying to account for some puzzling phenomenon, and the basic choice is between incompetence and conspiracy, I go with incompetence every time.

    Especially when the government is involved.

    Jeff seems a little too eager to go with conspiracy.

  23. If this was an isolated incident, maybe you'd be right, Orbiting. Problem is, we also know that the Army is making rules forbidding chaplains from preaching Christianity. You know, their job? You can be court-martialed as a Chaplain if someone complains you are preaching the gospel of Christ to a soldier. I think Islamic chaplains are exempt.

    But sure, there's no evidence of persecution.

  24. Anon 5:42, it would be nice if you were to be a little more specific. Are you referring to the Wes Modder case? It's tough for us to know what you mean by "evidence of persecution" if you don't tell us what that evidence is.

    Also, if you think a military chaplain's job is "preaching Christianity," you are dead wrong.

  25. Indeed. No military chaplains of any faith are allowed to proselytize. Chaplains exist for the military purpose of maintaining morale, by ministering to the spiritual needs of servicepeople who come to them voluntarily. No preaching to anyone who didn't walk into the church tent looking for preaching all by themselves. The last thing any military wants is wars of religion within its own ranks.

    As commissioned non-combatant morale officers embedded with front-line troops, chaplains also provide a fast track for serious personal problems. If your girlfriend or boyfriend is in a car accident, for example, any chaplain can call up the commanding officer and get you a weekend of compassionate leave, maybe within minutes — and any chaplain will do that, regardless of your faith or theirs.

  26. Orbiting, that clarification helps, but I still find it implausible. Extremists can be found everywhere, so why not list Democrats, Hollywood stars, and university professors among the mix? The list of radicals and terrorists happens to include some Christian groups that SPLC has already come out and called extremists. So you think the slides they allegedly provided for this session list those Christian groups along with other extremists because they were just going to point to a couple of outliers among a perfectly acceptable, normal group? A stretch. Your explanation would make more sense if the Muslim radicals it listed were all just under the label "Muslims." A slide showing, say, Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, etc. would fit your theory. But I don't think the details of the slide, the reported content of the presentation, the military's response, and the track record of the SPLC favor your interpretation. Still not a nothing burger, IMHO.

    I do tend to share your views on the prevalence of incompetence in government, but having seen too much of how things get done in the world, I find it very hard to ignore the reality of intent, the influence of ideology, and the tendency for people with an agenda or goal to pursue agendas and goals, often in the dark when what they are really doing and why is not aligned with what they are publicly supposed to be doing. I don't think the erosion of liberty and the steady expansion of intrusive government is the result of silly dumb mistakes over and over. The history of the world is filled with tragedies from greedy, power hungry people using government for their own ends. I don't think we can ever become blind to that. But even if it is all incompetence, giving the incompetent more power to regulate our lives and decide whose beliefs are bad and need stamping out does not sit well with me.

  27. Well, Jeff, about all I can do at this point is conclude that you're yet another victim — and practitioner — of the paranoid style in American politics. Would that you were the only one.

  28. The cumulative effect of small changes is equivalent to a large change. Since the American people would never submit to such drastic changes as are desired by those who revile the American Revolution, incrementalism is the order of the day. Thanks for playing, Mr. Orbiting, but I'm not buying what you're selling.

  29. Actually, Anon 10:54, the "cumulative effect of small changes" is not necessarily "equivalent to a large change" — only when the small changes cumulatively trend in the same direction.

    In most cases, the small changes move us sometimes in one direction, sometimes in the other, and the net effect is to cancel each other out.

    As a moment's thought will confirm, the pattern (or lack of one) is what counts. And what far too many people do is to think they see a pattern where in fact there isn't one. Out of the noise of a multitude of everyday events they believe they have picked out some alarming signal of impending doom — e.g., in the normal run of earthquakes and such they think they see the signs of the apocalypse. This happens for a variety of reasons, such as confirmation bias and the tendency of the media to focus disproportionately on the kind of controversy that drives clicks and sells ads. It also happens because many people rely on too few sources of information.

    Sure, many important changes do happen incrementally. But that hardly means that every purported trend actually is a trend. As we've seen in the case of global warming, sometimes picking out a trend requires a great deal of care and expertise.

    In any case, welcome to cultural politics. Personally, I'm glad that over the past several years so many people have been buying what I and my compatriots have been selling. First Obamacare, then gay marriage — we've been on a roll lately. And far from submitting to these things, polls consistently show that majority supports them. Please remember that after the passage of Obamacare the American people rejected Mitt Romney and chose decisively re-elect Barack Obama. How this constitutes tyranny is beyond me. To describe this state of affairs as "the American people submitting to something they don't really want" is just silly.

    You're using "incrementalism" here to describe the perfectly honorable practice of open and sincere political persuasion. Just because you've recently suffered a couple of big losses in the marketplace of ideas doesn't mean you should put such a negative spin on such a good thing. Instead of spitting on the practice of open and sincere politial persuasion, you should work to become more persuasive yourself.

    As for your use of the term revile, I'll just say that we each have our own way of honoring the American Revolution.

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