The Briefing 03-31-15

The Briefing 03-31-15

The Briefing


March 31, 2015

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


It’s Tuesday, March 31, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Criticism of Indiana religious liberty law piles on, showing priority of sexual revolution

In terms of moral and cultural change one of the things to watch is how you have a momentum towards piling on an issue. And when it comes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act adopted by the state of Indiana, piling on is, if anything, an understatement. We’ve been looking at the fact that it’s been almost an entirely deliberate effort by many to mislead people about what this bill is about. Yesterday we looked at the headline that appeared in the New York Times, basically saying this was a discrimination bill.

One of the things we need to note very clearly is that this bill, as we have said, has existed for over 20 years at the federal level, it has been adopted by 19 different states – now 20 – and by means of either court order or legislation, it is operable in 30 states. Just remember there are 50 states – that means three out of five; otherwise known as 60%, otherwise known as a majority.  And yet the piling on continues along with the misrepresentations.

For instance, yesterday the Gov. of Connecticut announced that he would be boycotting the state of Indiana. Now that’s really interesting; since when has one state boycotted another? But as NBC News report from Connecticut, Gov. Daniel Malloy will be signing an executive order to halt state-sponsored travel to Indiana after lawmakers there (that is in Indiana) passed controversial religious freedom legislation that has prompted widespread outcry. Friday morning of last week the Connecticut governor tweeted,

“When new laws turn back the clock on progress, we can’t sit idly by. We are sending a message that discrimination won’t be tolerated.”

Well, more on that in just a moment but let me ask a very real and present question for the Gov. of Connecticut. Will he go or will he allow representatives of the state government to go to the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia? Because if he does, then he will find that he will have the very same people under a law that was adopted in 1993, since the District of Columbia is under federal jurisdiction. So if the Gov. of Connecticut is going to be in anyway morally consistent he’s going to have to disallow the representatives of  his state government from going to a majority of the states and from the nation’s capital – which is to make a nearly impossible for the Gov. of Connecticut to have a functioning state government.

But of course you don’t have to worry; the Gov. is almost assuredly not going to be consistent. He is piling on; he is simply reflecting this giant cultural momentum, which is now so in favor of the new sexual revolution and the legalization of same-sex marriage that a law that doesn’t even reference either of those issues now become so toxic and controversial that people are piling on. And some are piling on in a way that we can only say is not only deliberately misrepresenting the reality, but is intellectually empty. It is simply an embarrassment that you have so many people describing the law as other than what the language of the law plainly expresses – and they know it.

Before leaving this issue, in terms of piling, one one classic example appeared in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post when the CEO of Apple announced that religious freedom laws, such as the one passed in Indiana, are dangerous – not only wrongheaded, not only unwise, but dangerous. He writes,

“There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country.

A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.”

Now let’s just note: the law actually doesn’t state that. It’s very easy to look at the law; it doesn’t reference even those issues. It does say that the state of Indiana, like our federal government, cannot infringe upon the religious liberty of a citizen without a compelling case for doing so. And it would seem that that is simply what every American who prizes liberty would expect.

But of course what we’re looking at here is a moral revolution that will leave nothing unchanged in its wake. And what we’re also looking at is that those who are largely in control of the messaging in our culture now believe that the sexual revolution is far more important in the issue of religious liberty. Amazingly enough – given what’s going on in the world, where even though the same people say they’re very concerned about religious liberty elsewhere – when it comes to the United States, when it comes specifically to the state of Indiana, they’re quite ready to say the religious liberty issues is going to have to take the back seat to the erotic liberty issue, to the sexuality issue, to the new moral revolution, and to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

2) New York churches may now be forbidden from using school facilities for worship

Next, a really interesting issue is unfolding, this time not in the state of Indiana, but in the city of New York. Bad news came for a congregation in New York City from the United States Supreme Court yesterday when the court announced that it would not accept a case on appeal from a church known as The Household of Faith. It meets in the borough of the Bronx and it has been involved in litigation for 20 years given the fact that there have been people there in the government who have been trying to evict to this church from meeting in a public school on Sunday when no one else is using the facility.

For years now many young church plants have been finding a place to worship in the auditoriums of public schools that are otherwise not used on Sundays. Interestingly enough if you go back to older established cities such as New York, many of the public schools actually have rather cavernous and a large auditoriums; which are as it turns out, a very good place for these young churches to meet. Furthermore, many of these young churches are meeting in cities in which it would otherwise be almost impossible to gain a meeting place given the cost of renting facilities in such a high-priced environment.

But what we’re looking at here is revealing in so many different ways. For instance, now you have the Supreme Court saying that it is not going to take a case from the US Circuit Court of Appeals; it’s going to let stand a ruling.

Once again we need to look at how the media is describing this. Several in the media are saying that the courts are saying that it is now unconstitutional for the city public schools to allow these churches to use their facilities. We need to note the court said no such thing. The court instead said that it is not unconstitutional for the city schools to forbid the church from using the facility – didn’t say they have to disallow the church, is said they may disallow the churches from using these facilities. That’s where an already interesting story becomes even more interesting because fairly recently elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on allowing the churches to use these facilities. In an outreach to the votes, not only of evangelical Christians but Orthodox Jews and others, the new Mayor had promised that he would try to find ways to accommodate religious groups in terms of the policies of the city government. And to the mayor’s credit, it appears that he is going to stand by that promise.

There was an alarm that was raised by the fact that the Mayor’s own legal department entered the case on the wrong side when it came to the Supreme Court, but to the mayor’s credit his administration stated as recently as yesterday that the Mayor intends to stand by his promise. And he’s going to have to act because if this precedent now stands, this church – again it is known as The Household of Faith in the Bronx – won’t be able to meet even for Sunday services this coming Lord’s day; and that church will be alone.

According to current media reports approximately 60-80 churches are using these facilities. The most immediately affected would be The Household of Faith in the Bronx but eventually all the rest of those churches would be affected by the policy as well. We can simply hope that the Mayor of New York is going to follow through on his promise and he is going to find some way, even as he does have general political direction over the New York City public schools, to find a way to accommodate not only this church but these other churches as well.

We also need to note that the arguments being used against the right of these churches to have these facilities are some of the most odious secularist arguments that we’ve yet encountered. It is basically being said by some in these communities, and even by one author who wrote a book on the subject, that allowing the church’s to use the school facilities can actually send a signal about establishing religion even during the week when it’s merely advertised that the services may be held in a public school facility. There are at least some parents who are claiming that this will send a signal to their children that the government establishes a religion when they see a religious group is able to meet in the auditorium.

One important thing we need to note, as the dissenting judge in the Second Circuit panel had noted,

“In my view, the Board of Education’s policy that disallows ‘religious worship services’ after hours in public schools … violates the [constitution] because it plainly discriminates against religious belief and cannot be justified by a compelling government interest.”

Judge John M. Walker Jr. had argued that it makes no sense for the schools to claim that it sends no message to allow PETA to use the facility, but it does send a message – an unconstitutional message – to allow an evangelical church to use that same facility. The other thing we need to note is the language used by that federal appellate court judge. He said that the action of the public schools “plainly discriminates against religious belief and cannot be justified by a compelling government interest.” Now wait just a minute, there’s that language ‘compelling government interest.’ Evidently there are some people who believe that that should be an effective legal argument at the national level, but not at the state level. That makes no sense, that’s exactly what’s at stake in the Indiana legislation; the statement that the government should have to prove a compelling interest to infringe in any way the religious liberty of its citizens.

3) Secularist opposition to religious education exposes recognition of import of theology

But there is another aspect of the New York City situation that also demands our attention. We seem to have a very liberal Mayor in New York who wants to find a way to accommodate religious groups within the life of the city. It appears that in good faith he’s trying to follow through on his campaign pledge to allow these evangelical churches and others to have access to the public school facilities. In other ways the mayor is getting credit for also trying to accommodate religious groups. For instance, in a recent front-page article the New York Times the headline was: Mayor de Blasio emerges as an unexpected champion of religion. The reporters Michael M. Grynbaum and Sharon Otterman write,

“In finding novel ways to commingle church and state, Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, has carved himself a niche as a more inclusive kind of liberal, one who is willing to embrace religious groups rather than treat them as adversaries.”

They also write,

“His moves have put him at odds with some of his usual allies, like civil libertarians, who are increasingly uneasy with what they consider to be an aggressive redefining of the proper separation between the secular and the devout.”

The article cites Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union who said,

“This is the area that has been the source of greatest disappointment for us,”

It’s a very lengthy article. On the bottom line of it is that it appears that this very liberal Mayor is trying to find some way to accommodate religious groups and it is making secularist groups within his own city very uncomfortable.

But there’s another very interesting aspect of this that should have our attention from a Christian worldview; there’s a big lesson to be learned here. Its good news we would have to say that here we have the liberal Mayor of New York City trying to find a way to accommodate religious groups rather than to deny access; that’s a good thing. That is recognition of the public role of religion and in that article in the New York Times he gets words of appreciation not only from evangelical churches but also from Orthodox Jews and others.

But there’s another side to this issue and this argument and that becomes clear in other headlines telling us that the Mayor of New York City is trying to reach two of his personal goals. Goal number one: accommodate these religious groups. Goal number two: include more children in the government funded preschool programs. He’s a big advocate of that, that’s been one of his major issues. And so as the Associated Press reported from Brooklyn and I quote,

“New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plan to expand public pre-kindergarten for all 4 year-olds depends in part on the participation of Jewish, Christian and Muslim schools, under a proposal that would permit religious instruction and prayers during midday breaks.”

The same basic news was reported by Laura Edgehill at World Magazine. The headline there: NYC mayor reaches out to religious schools to boost free pre-k access. Here’s what’s really interesting, Edgehill has a most important point to make in the lead of her article. She writes,

“New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is reaching out to the city’s religious schools in an attempt to create 17,000 additional state-funded spots for full-day pre-Kindergarteners this fall. His proposal would provide the schools with an average of $10,000 per student in state funding, making the pre-K classes tuition-free. But in order to be eligible for the funds, religious schools would be required to limit their religious instruction to a portion of the day, leaving the remaining 6 1/2 hours dedicated to ‘secular’ instruction.”

Well here you have a vast worldview collision. A collision on the one hand behind secularist who don’t want any accommodation what so ever for schools that would receive government money to allocate any time, even just over an hour during the middle the day, to religious instruction. Then you have religious groups who are saying, ‘you’re asking us to reduce religious instruction, instruction from our own theological worldview to just about an hour a day, leaving 6 ½ hours to so-called secular instruction?’

Here’s where the Christian worldview reminds us we don’t believe in the possibility of the separation between secular and religious instruction, we actually don’t. We don’t believe that there can be a worldview distinction which all the sudden a teacher could say, ‘okay I’m going to teach in a secular mode for 6 ½ hours and then I’m going to teach in a Jewish mode or the Christian mode for the other hour and a half.’ The fact is that we are just not made that way. We can’t separate ourselves into a secular and a Christian sphere. And if we’re actually teaching, in terms of the Christian worldview, that’s going to be something that will permeate every hour, every subject, every book, every essay, every conversation.

Here’s the lesson for Christians, and it’s very important from a biblical worldview. Don’t take government money, because as soon as Caesar begins to give you money, Caesar begins to tell you what he wants taught. And in this case I don’t doubt for a moment the basic good intention of the Mayor of New York City. He has two goals: he wants to accommodate religious groups and he wants to find more ways in which he can make pre-K education available to four-year-olds. He can’t do that with just the public schools. He’s going to have to find religious schools to take those students; otherwise they are not going to have access. And so here he comes with a deal and let’s just assume once again this is very well intentioned, many disastrous policies come out of good intentions. Here you have Christian schools, Jewish schools, and Muslim schools also included who are being told: if you can just separate out 6 ½ hours and teach there in a secular mode, we will give you $10,000 per child and will allow you about an hour – little over an hour – in which you can teach in a religious mode.

I’m just going to say I think it’s doubtful that any Muslim or Jewish school could actually pull that off and be fully Muslim or Jewish. But I’m going to state emphatically that no Christian school can do this and the education remain in any way remotely Christian. If we are teaching from a Christian worldview that means we teach every subject from a Christian worldview, if we are teaching from Christian truth that means we apply Christian truth in every arena of thought. But the deal being offered here reminds me of a poem my father used to tell me when I was very little boy: “Welcome to my parlor said the spider to the fly.” The parlor can look very attractive to the fly, but in this case, it’s a spider, even a well-intended spider, that says you take government money and all we require is 6 ½ hours of your daily time.

The basic principle is this: if Christians want Christian education, they are going to have to pay for it with Christian money; they can’t expect government money to pay for Christian education. In this case we actually agree with at least part of what the secularists are arguing: theology matters. They believe it matters because they’re so allergic to it, they don’t want it being taught in the schools. It matters to us because we believe it’s a matter of life and death. In any event, the moment we allow someone else to pay our bills eventually they want to determine what we teach. That’s an important lesson for all of us, all the time.

4) College senior defends shutting down free expression of ideas for the sake of free expression of ideas

Next, last week we talked about Judith Shulevitz’s article that appear in the review section of the New York Times about those ‘safe spaces,’ which basically represent the fact that on many of America’s college and University campuses free speech is simply being tuned out; it’s being outright denied, it’s even being declared to be dangerous because it could affect the emotional lives of students. The robust kind of the free expression and free exchange of ideas that used to mark the American University campus is being replaced with a therapeutic culture of political correctness. We also talked about the fact that Jonathan Chait had written about this at the New Republic, writing from the left about how even the left is beginning to shut down traditionally liberal arguments because they might be emotionally damaging. And now we see evidence, in the letters section of the New York Times, that Judith Shulevitz new exactly what she’s talking about.

In terms of the letters that appeared in Sunday’s edition of the paper, in response to her essay, comes this article by one Andrew Meerwarth, identified as a senior at Stony Brook University. And as if his sole intention was to make Judith Shulevitz’s argument, here indeed is his letter:

“To the Editor:

Judith Shulevitz’s article about safe spaces on college campuses is a direct assault on my generation and what we find important. My generation has embraced the ideas of safe spaces and safe language. Without these, many victims of trauma or discrimination would be excluded from campus discussions that seek to cultivate and strengthen campus intellectual life.”

Now let me just interrupt and say, what’s really going on here is now that there are people being excluded from the discussion, the discussion itself is being shut down. But back to young Mr. Meerwarth’s article. He says,

“Truly open-minded intellectual growth desperately needs the participation of these groups.”

Well, we might say, so good so far. But then he writes,

Not all ideas are created equal. Some ought to be unreservedly condemned; consideration of such ideas is not at all helpful in bolstering campus intellectual life.”

Now that’s about as bold and clear of a statement as I have ever seen of someone saying, we are going to shut down the free expression of ideas in order to protect the free expression of ideas. He goes on to write,

“The current generation of college students has denied validity to the failed ideas of the past. We have embraced the knowledge and empathy of the present. We are shaping the wisdom of the future.”

And that’s the end of his article. Let me just say that I think virtually every young person and every new generation thinks this, they just generally have the politeness not to say this. But having said it, none other than in the pages of the New York Times, his words bear repeating:

“The current generation of college students has denied validity to the failed ideas of the past. We have embraced the knowledge and empathy of the present. We are shaping the wisdom of the future.”

Well we can only ask: how long will it be until his grandchildren tell him that they are rejecting the failed ideas of the past? They are embracing the new ideas and the empathy of the knowledge of the present and that they are shaping the wisdom of the future. Granddad, there is the door. They are saying it now, one day it might just be that their own grandchildren will say it to them and having said this out loud there is no one more deserving of hearing that message. But the point is this: this is an open declaration of the intention to shut down the free expression of ideas. And as I have said, when you look at the shutting down of the free expression of ideas you can count on the fact that biblical Christianity is going to be one of those ideas that is going to be marginalized and is going to be denied access to the public square. We’ve already seen that with the California State University system kicking out the University Christian Fellowship with University campuses such as Bowdoin college and Vanderbilt University doing the very same. In the name of intellectual freedom, they are shutting down intellectual freedom – rarely with such candor as we confront in this letter.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to  For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to


I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Criticism of Indiana religious liberty law piles on, showing priority of sexual revolution

Malloy Bars State Travel to Indiana Amid “Religious Freedom” Law Backlash, NBC Connecticut

Tim Cook: Pro-discrimination ‘religious freedom’ laws are dangerous, Washington Post (Tim Cook)

2) New York churches may now be forbidden from using school facilities for worship

Supreme Court Leaves Intact New York’s Ban on Religious Services in Schools, New York Times (Marc Santora and Adam Liptak)

3) Secularist opposition to religious education exposes recognition of import of theology

Mayor de Blasio Emerges as an Unexpected Champion of Religion, New York Times (Michael M. Grynbaum and Sharon Otterman)

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for prayer break in pre-K classes raises concerns, Syracuse Post-Standard (AP)

NYC mayor reaches out to religious schools to boost free pre-K access, World Magazine (Laura Edgehill)

4) College senior defends shutting down free expression of ideas for the sake of free expression of ideas

Campus ‘Safe Spaces’, New York Times

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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