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The Tightening Circle

By Alan Sears posted on:
October 17, 2017

So … where exactly is it still okay for Christians to be Christians?

At work? 

Not in Salem, Virginia, where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center recently presented its employees with a memo explaining that they are only “permitted to engage in private religious expression in their personal work areas that are not regularly open to the public.” The memo’s a little vague on whether employees will be punished if their personal enthusiasms extend to Christmas decorations or even “merry Christmas” greetings to veterans in more public parts of the hospital.

This is actually a small step back for the VA, who last year tried to ban Christmas trees from the hospital, unless they were accompanied by other symbols of the season. Enough employees complained about that policy to get the elbow room conceded by this year’s memo … but officials still haven’t clarified the agency’s position on religious expression. So, last month, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys sent the VA a letter reminding them of the Constitution’s protections for those wanting to live out their faith.

“It’s ridiculous that people have to think twice about whether it’s okay to celebrate Christmas as Christmas, rather than some watered-down winter holiday,” says ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “The courts have never ruled that government employees must hide any hint of religious expression,” but “have clearly stated that any such requirement demonstrates an unconstitutional hostility toward religion. If government bureaucrats are afraid of causing offense, they should realize that rules like this offend both the First Amendment and the overwhelming majority of Americans, 95 percent of whom celebrate Christmas.”

At home? 

Not in Schaghticoke, New York, where Robert and Cynthia Gifford built a barn on their farm, live in it with their family, and have, from time to time, hosted and coordinated weddings in their backyard and on the building’s first floor.

You can probably guess the rest of the story. Three years ago, a woman inquired about using their facilities for her same-sex ceremony. Based on her faith-based views on marriage, Cynthia politely declined to host and coordinate the ceremony but is happy to host other events for the couple—including their wedding reception. Not good enough. The woman and her partner filed a complaint with the state’s Division of Human Rights (DHR), which pronounced the Giffords guilty of “sexual orientation discrimination,” fined them $10,000 (plus $3,000 in damages) and ordered them to take re-education training classes to reprogram their religious beliefs.

ADF attorneys have appealed that decision on behalf of the Giffords, pointing out in their initial brief that the DHR didn’t even take into account the family’s constitutional freedoms and religious beliefs.

The government demonstrated “astonishing disregard” for the Giffords’ freedom of conscience, as protected by the First Amendment, says lead counsel James Trainor, one of more than 2,600 private attorneys allied with ADF. “The judge’s order forces the Giffords to coordinate same-sex ceremonies or no wedding ceremonies at all. The government is essentially saying to the Giffords: ‘give up your faith, or give up your livelihood.’”

“All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs, especially in their own backyards,” says ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “The government is coming after both this couple’s freedom and their ability to make a living simply for adhering to their faith on their own property.”

In their personal finances?

Not in Oklahoma, or any of dozens of other states where millions of taxpayers are unwillingly contributing financial support to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest and busiest abortion business. But ADF and some courageous state leaders – like Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin – are working vigorously to change that.

Last month, Fallin sent a letter urging her state’s Health Care Authority Board to terminate Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood. She cited “alarming” results from state integrity reviews that found a 14-20 percent error rate in the company’s Medicaid billings. She also referenced ADF reports to Congress that have outlined “a consistent pattern of federal audits of national and Oklahoma Planned Parenthood affiliates overbilling for services” – as well as “numerous False Claims Act whistleblower lawsuits” (including Thayer v. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, filed by ADF.)

 “Governor Fallin is right to recognize that taxpayer money should go to fund local community health centers, not to subsidize a scandal-ridden, billion-dollar abortion business,” says ADF Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek. “Oklahomans shouldn’t be forced to give their money to Planned Parenthood, which has a long track record of abusive and potentially fraudulent billing practices – not to mention that it has also been caught in authenticated undercover videos trafficking aborted babies’ body parts and has repeatedly failed to report the sexual abuse of girls. That tax money should be redirected to trusted health care providers.” (#DefundPP)

Across America and around the world today, so many people of faith are grappling with these steady encroachments on their religious freedom … compelled to be quiet, to bow to someone else’s aggressive political agenda, to pay up for services and agencies that violate their deepest religious convictions and conscience. Please be in prayer for the attorneys of ADF, as we stand with those who are trying to stand firm against the howling winds of an increasingly hostile culture.

Alan Sears

Alan Sears


Alan Sears served as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.

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