The Briefing 03-24-16

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Brussels attack the latest in an almost daily cycle of Islamic terror around the globe

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Yesterday's oral arguments at SCOTUS featured clash between religious and sexual liberty

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Religious liberty in peril under coercive economic pressure from businesses in Georgia

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Transcript

The Briefing

March 24, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Thursday, March 24, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Brussels attack the latest in an almost daily cycle of Islamic terror around the globe

The death toll from Tuesday’s bombings in Brussels is now at 31, with 270 wounded. And yet what is most interesting about this story, perhaps at one level, is how shocking it is for not being shocking. We’re living in a world in which it is increasingly predictable that these kinds of events, these kind of terrorist attacks, will take place. Even though every one of them taken in isolation can be shocking, the net effect of all of this is a moral numbness that now begins to affect the entire world. That was addressed directly on the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal yesterday, when Sohrab Ahmari wrote in a column for the Wall Street Journal that what we’re looking at is now global jihad’s deadly calendar. He wrote,

“Islamist terror struck at the heart of the European Union on Tuesday. Islamic State jihadists staged a triple-bombing in the Belgian capital—two at the Brussels airport and a third at a metro station downtown—that killed at least 30 people combined. It was the latest reminder that Islamic terrorism is now a permanent and ubiquitous hazard to life in every city, on every continent.”

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He then writes that,

“In coming days European authorities will level reproaches about the missed warning signs, security lapses and the larger failure to integrate Belgian Muslims [into society].”

That will be expanded to the entire culture of Europe. As he says,

“Sympathetic memes will proliferate on social media.”

Even as so many millions said, “We are all Parisians now” in 2015, he says “We are now all Belgians.” That’s going to become commonplace, and yet he says,

“This routine has become numbingly familiar.

“This routine has become numbingly familiar. And these habitual responses, while understandable, defer a reckoning with a larger truth.”

And this is the point of his article, and I quote,

“Not a single day now goes by without an Islamist suicide bombing, rocket attack, shooting spree, kidnapping or stabbing somewhere in the world.”

What follows in his article is a stunning recitation of day after day, beginning on Sunday, March 13, 2016, when he says,

“Jihadists sprayed gunfire on sunbathers in Grand Bassam, a resort town in the Ivory Coast.”

On Monday, March 14, the very next day,

“Two Palestinians fired on Israelis waiting at a bus stop in Kiryat Arba, in the West Bank.”

On Tuesday, March 15,

“Al Qaeda’s Somali franchise, al-Shabaab, kidnapped three Red Crescent aid workers in the country’s southwest.”

On Wednesday, March 16,

“A pair of female suicide bombers blew themselves up at a mosque in Nigeria, killing 24.”

On Thursday, March 17,

“The stabbing intifada claimed a fresh victim when a pair of Palestinian terrorists jumped and wounded an Israeli soldier with a knife.”

On Friday, March 18,

“Suspected al Qaeda fighters fired rockets at the Salah gas facility in Algeria.”

On Saturday, March 19,

“A bomb went off in a tony shopping district of Istanbul, killing three.”

On Sunday, March 20,

“Al-Shabaab overran a Somali military base just 28 miles from the capital, Mogadishu, killing at least one person and seizing several vehicles.”

On Monday, March 21,

“Islamist fighters likely affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb targeted a hotel in the capital of Mali.”

The very next day was the deadly attack in Brussels. That is day, after day, after day, consecutive without a single interruption for over a week. As Mr. Ahmari writes, this is the reality of the world we now live in. In moral terms, what it points to is the fact that we are unable as human beings even to keep adequate moral count of the carnage we’re looking at here. This is something that happens to human beings faced with trauma either near at hand or far from ourselves. We tend to become numb to report after report, to headline after headline. That raises another very horrifying question. Just how horrible does a terrorist attack now have to be to gain our attention? That is something else that is pointed to in this Wall Street Journal article. We’re becoming so accustomed to this kind of terrorist attack that in order to have the same terroristic effect these jihadists are going to have to move to ever-escalating attacks with ever-growing casualty rates.

As Ahmari wrote.

“Brussels was the first major terrorist incident in the West since November’s jihadist killing spree in Paris and December’s in San Bernardino, Calif. You could create a calendar like this one that stretches back for weeks and months, and the above doesn’t even include the civil wars and humanitarian calamities in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.”

Now, to our great embarrassment, we go back to the late 1980s and the early 1990s and we recognize the intellectuals in Europe and in the United States were predicting that we were entering a new age of global peace. The fall of the Soviet Union in what was described as the inevitable spread of democratic liberty around the world was creating a new golden age of peace and yet, to state the obvious, that has not happened. As a matter of fact, in many ways, its opposite has happened. A new disorder has entered into the world that if anything is more immediately dangerous than the world that it replaced. We are now looking at the reality that the secular worldview has no adequate explanation for why we are not in this new age of global peace. Economic prosperity has been spreading, rates of famine and poverty have been falling; all kinds of indicators economically and politically would point to the fact that there should be a new age of global peace. But it isn’t happening. It reminds us of what is described in Scripture, when there were those who were condemned for crying “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace.

And once again, we were given a graphic example of the inability of the Western intellectual elites living in a larger secular worldview and conditioned by a culture of political correctness to see the obvious and even to admit the truth. In the aftermath of yesterday’s attacks in Brussels, John Kirby, spokesperson for the United States Department of State, in the Daily Briefing of our State Department, made this statement of the attack,

“This isn’t about a religion. This is about a warped and brutal, depraved ideology that continues to be attractive to a small number of people in the Muslim faith – radicals and extremists. And we don’t believe that it is indicative in any way of the Muslim faith or the people who practice Islam as a religion. But it is a group that remains deadly, remains lethal. And we are going to remain focused on defeating them.”

Now this is where the spokesperson for the State Department spoke the truth: We should be very thankful that the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not jihadists. But this is where he misses the point entirely and in moral terms, completely undermines the credibility of his entire statement: When he argues that the jihadists who undertook these attacks in Brussels and elsewhere are not acting in religious terms, driven by theological beliefs, he denies what is now obvious, what these attackers are stating in their own words and what they are citing from their own Islamic authorities.

Sadly enough, you just have to wonder how long it will take before the Western secular elites finally come face-to-face honestly with the fact that theology matters, that it matters in every case, but certainly it matters when you have people who are willing to kill and to die in terms of these suicide bombers in the name of radical Islam. Yes, we should be comforted and encouraged by the fact that the vast majority of Muslims around the world are not involved in a jihad around us. But that is not helped in terms of credibility by the fact that it is denied that a significant number of Muslims, driven by their own Muslim convictions, are indeed involved in a jihad against us, one that is now coming to us, as this article in the Wall Street Journal makes very clear, day, after day, after day. We now face the reality of Western elites who keep saying, “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. And they also keep saying “No theology! No theology!” when there certainly is right before our eyes theology in a very deadly form.

Yesterday's oral arguments at SCOTUS featured clash between religious and sexual liberty

Next, back in the United States, the big story yesterday before the United States Supreme Court were the oral arguments in the contraception challenge to ObamaCare, in the center of which is a group known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. As I explained yesterday on The Briefing, I and Southern Seminary have both entered into this case on the side of the Little Sisters of the Poor, because this is not just about a challenge to their religious liberty, but to our religious liberty, to the religious liberty of all. Yesterday’s hearing before the Court were complicated by the absence of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and the most that those who are fighting for religious liberty in this case can hope for is a 4-4 split, which would allow lower court decisions to stand. It really presents the entire nation with a test case in terms of religious liberty. The Obama Administration, through the ObamaCare legislation, is now requiring religious institutions—yes, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, but also including many evangelical institutions, including evangelical colleges and universities—to violate conscience by being forced to participate in contraception coverage that could include contraceptives that might cause an early abortion in terms of the insurance coverage provided to employees.

As we have seen, this was a situation that could easily have been avoided by the Obama Administration. But as we cited yesterday, it now appears that the Obama Administration more or less picked a fight with the Little Sisters of the Poor in order to make a point. And what would that point be? Well, that point was made graphically clear in an opinion piece that ran in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. Elizabeth Deutsch, writing in the column for the New York Times entitled, “No Contraception? No Equality,” makes the feminist case for contraception coverage and for abortion exceedingly clear. She also makes a great deal more clear as well. She wrote about the oral arguments yesterday and then said,

“This time, the objection comes from a handful of religious nonprofits that argue that the government’s religious exemption itself infringes on their religious freedom. The groups contend that filling out a one-page form or sending a letter to the government to get the exemption amounts to ‘facilitation of sin’ because it starts a process that ultimately allows employees to get contraception though a third party.”

Now once again, the issue is not just contraception; it is about the mandated coverage of contraceptives that could cause an early abortion, an abortifacient contraception. Secondly, we need to note that this is not an accurate summary of what is required of these religious nonprofits. What is actually required is their signature, their statement in terms of their institutional authority that they’re going to facilitate someone else offering this coverage because on religious conviction, they cannot. That, we need to note, is simply unnecessary. The federal government’s requirement of that statement is indeed an infringement of religious liberty, because it requires the violation of conscience and for no necessary effect. But the real worldview impact of this article is buried several paragraphs below the lede, and it gets to that worldview issue of greatest importance here. And that is the feminist ideology in looking at what is described as reproductive health as a matter of equality. We need to listen to her argument. She writes,

“An unintended pregnancy is virtually certain to impose substantial, unplanned-for expenses and time demands on any family.”

Notice these words: “and those demands fall disproportionately on women.”

Well, we have to acknowledge, of course they do. It is inevitable that they must, because only the woman can become pregnant. You’ll also notice there’s no gender confusion in this article. This is a feminist argument. They understand who a woman is. For just a moment, the New York Times is pretending temporarily to understand who a woman is as well. Deutsch goes on to write,

“Access to reproductive care is central to equality between the sexes. By requiring employers’ health plans to provide contraceptive coverage, the Affordable Care Act represents an important legislative link between sex equality and reproductive rights. Before it was passed, women were paying more for health care than men largely because of the cost of reproductive health coverage.”

Here’s the point, notice the language that is used here: “reproductive care.”

She uses it again. As a matter of fact in a later paragraph she writes,

“In fact, the Supreme Court has repeatedly failed to see how women’s access to reproductive care has implications for their status as legal equals.”

Now the background to this is the claim made by feminists going all the way back to the early age of the abortion movement, that equality between the sexes requires that a woman be no more coerced to be pregnant than a man can be. That is their ideological vision of equality between the sexes. Now notice once again—I just can’t pass this by—they are speaking here of two sexes. This is a very interesting argument. This ideology of equality between the sexes argues that a woman must have the right to terminate the unborn baby in her womb, otherwise she will not be equal with a man who in the same professional setting would not be by their ideology coerced into being pregnant by the fact of the pregnancy. But notice the language used here: “reproductive care.” It’s used once; it’s used twice; and yet we need to notice this. This is actually not about reproductive care at all. As a matter of fact, the entire argument isn’t about reproduction, about facilitating reproduction; it’s about preventing reproduction. This tells us something of the Orwellian nature of the world we live in. George Orwell, in a short novel 1984 about the communist ideology, pointed out that one of the ways a totalitarian worldview enforces itself upon a society is by changing words so that they mean the opposite of what they should mean. In this case, that’s exactly what is happening with the two words “reproductive care.” When it comes to this Orwellian construction, it’s not about reproduction, it’s about preventing reproduction. And when it comes to care, it’s certainly not about the care of that unborn child, but rather about the woman’s claimed right to aborted it in the womb.

At the conclusion of the article this author, who is at the Yale Law School, simply dismisses the argument about religious liberty. She writes,

“Difficult questions surely arise when reproductive rights conflict with religious beliefs. But as it weighs religious objections to contraception coverage, the Supreme Court should recognize that it is only when women’s health care rights are fully recognized by the law that women can participate in society as equals.”

This again goes back to the argument that was made by those who are clamoring for abortion rights in the Roe v. Wade decision. In that case, the proponents of abortion argued that it was a matter of equality that women can be no more coerced into continuing a pregnancy than a man. And you’ll notice that this author is simply dismissing the religious liberty issues as having to be subservient to be trumped by, once again, the issue of erotic liberty or, in her Orwellian phrase, “women’s reproductive care.”

But looking at the issue of religious liberty here, we need to go back to an article I cited on yesterday’s edition of The Briefing. It’s an article that appeared as an editorial in Tuesday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times. On Tuesday, the editors of that paper called upon the Supreme Court to strike down the claim being made by the Little Sisters of the Poor and to stand for the contraception mandate exactly as it now exists. The paper also recognized that if the decision goes the wrong way by its reckoning, it will be because the Court honored what is known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, overwhelmingly adopted by Congress. That is, there were no actual votes against it in either house and signed into law. That particular Act was celebrated by everyone in this country on the left and on the right during the 1990s. But now when the issue of religious liberty runs into a direct confrontation with erotic liberty, with sexual liberty, the sexual libertines are saying religious liberty is going to have to give. In an astounding conclusion to the editorial on Tuesday, the editors of the Los Angeles Times wrote this,

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was a noble attempt to provide additional breathing room for religious freedom, and it was enacted with bipartisan support.”

That, I need to interject, is a radical understatement. But the editors went on to say,

“But the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the law is extreme and unpersuasive.”

Listen carefully to the final sentence,

“Were the court to accept it, Congress would have good reason to consider revising the statute or even repealing it.”

That is breathtaking. Here you have the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times suggesting that if the Court were to rule in its judgment the wrong way on this case, then the Religious Freedom Restoration Act itself needs to be changed so that it has no teeth or is actually repealed. That tells you just how imperiled religious liberty is in this country. A landmark law that was passed by both houses of Congress and bipartisan support in the extreme is now extremely endangered, because the issue of sexual liberty in this culture now puts religious liberty, virtually every day at risk.

Religious liberty in peril under coercive economic pressure from businesses in Georgia

Next, as if to make that peril even more apparent to us, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times included a headline article,

“A Clash of Religious and Business Interests in Georgia.”

Alan Blinder, reporting for the New York Times, takes us to that Religious Freedom Restoration Act that is now being undertaken and passed by both houses of the Georgia legislature and will now go to the Georgia governor. What we’re looking at here is the aftermath of the Obergefell decision that legalized same-sex marriage and the risk, the reality that the religious liberty of Christians and others will be infringed upon by that legal action undertaken by the Supreme Court of the United States. But what you see here is the economic pressure—we’ve talked about this in recent days—but this article makes it ever more abundant, and what makes this article newsworthy and noteworthy is that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, that law that was cited before the Supreme Court yesterday morning by the Little Sisters of the Poor, that is the very law that now comes under suspicion in this New York Times article on the legislation passed in Georgia. Blinder writes,

“The Georgia General Assembly’s approval of a proposal to strengthen legal protections for opponents of same-sex marriage has set in motion a high-stakes showdown that has drawn some of the nation’s most influential companies into a battle between gay rights activists and religious conservatives.”

He goes on to explain,

“The bill, which lawmakers approved on Wednesday, now faces the scrutiny of Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican. But it is clear that companies and sports organizations, including Apple, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and the National Football League, will have a significant effect on public debate and the governor’s decision to sign or veto the measure.”

As I said, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is actually cited in this article. It shows up on a later paragraph in which Blinder writes,

“The measure would also mostly prohibit the state government from taking action to curb a person’s exercise of religion. Although a similar provision was included in a 1993 federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, gay rights groups say state versions of that law amount to invitations to infringe on the rights of same-sex couples. Supporters of the state laws, which more than 20 states have adopted, argue that they are crucial shields for religious liberty.”

Now what is at stake here? The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was a landmark act, and it applied to actions undertaken by the federal government. It does not apply to actions that might be taken by one of the states. That’s why every single state needed as far back as 1993 to adopt its own RFRA, its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But here you also have gay-rights groups that are saying that if a state passes the legislation that is just like the federal legislation, it is infringing on other liberties and in particular sexual liberty. What is now clear is that the act of defending religious liberty undertaken unanimously by the House of Representatives and without a dissenting vote in the United States Senate would likely now not even be passed or would be passed over a very divided vote.

Back as recently as 1993, virtually everyone in the United States Congress wanted to say, “We’re for religious liberty.” Now you have a significant number of Americans and major American corporations, not to mention colleges, universities, and all the rest, who are saying that religious liberty, yeah, it’s important, but if it has to go in the name of erotic liberty, it will have to go. That’s the situation in which we now stand, and we’re soon going to find out if the Governor of Georgia will stand for religious liberty.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing