Working in law and justice, where’s the balance between enjoying freedom while still maintaining order?
We have been given many freedoms endowed by our Creator. At the same time, we are a nation of laws and our Founders wisely put in place the U.S. Constitution as the framework for our republic. At the American Center for Law and Justice, we understand that the rule of law and the Constitution must be protected at all costs. That is at the center of our work. By protecting our constitutional and religious rights, we are able to safeguard the many freedoms we enjoy in this great country.
From your perspective, what freedoms are currently under fire or are being infringed upon in America?
In a culture where so many people are deeply divided, it is becoming increasingly popular to attack free speech – to challenge conservative and religious viewpoints – and clearly there’s a troubling trend to eliminate such speech. I have spent my legal career – including with numerous cases before the United States Supreme Court – defending the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is deeply disturbing that so many who disagree with conservative or religious speech want to remove it from the public square. These censors want to eliminate discourse, instead of encourage it. The First Amendment is under attack right now in cities across America, on college campuses, in the workplace, and as we see every day, in the political world. We remain dedicated to protecting the First Amendment to ensure that robust free speech and free expression continue. At the same time, one of the most cherished and a fundamental freedom – the right to life – is increasingly under attack. At the ACLJ, we have two critical pro-life cases headed to the Supreme Court.
Why is the freedom of religion so important?
The freedom of religion is at the heart of who we are as Americans. There’s a reason that the First Amendment begins with these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” Our Founding Fathers understood that this freedom is paramount. We are free to embrace any religion – or no religion at all – a fundamental right that makes America unique. All you have to do is look at how Christians are under attack in many parts of the world – simply because of the belief in Jesus Christ.
Which countries or regions around the world don’t have freedom of religion? And what does that look like on a day-to-day basis?
We see that play out daily in many countries across the globe. Radical Islamic jihadists have made it clear: they want to eliminate Christians and Jews from the face of the earth. Whether its brutal attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt, or the Islamic State’s genocide of Christians in Iraq, Syria and Libya – Christians around the world are facing real life-and-death struggles. That is why it is so critical to root out ISIS – to destroy these radical Islamic jihadists. Our efforts to eliminate this real threat must intensify. Destroying ISIS and radical Islam must be a top priority – to protect Christians abroad – and to protect our religious freedom here at home.
Do you believe America’s freedom of religion is being jeopardized? How do we keep this from happening?
I do think there’s a real effort underway in this country to marginalize Christians – especially Christian conservatives. The political Left – along with a cooperating mainstream media – is intent on marginalizing Christian conservatives and their beliefs. There’s also a disturbing trend to remove any vestige of Christianity from the public square. We have succeeded in many cases where atheists and others have gone to court to challenge Christian symbols publicly displayed – in some instances for more than half a century. It is important for Christians to stand-up for their beliefs – to counter the politically-correct effort underway to silence or marginalize Christians.
Why is it important for us to know what’s going on in our government?
As we embrace the constitutional freedoms we enjoy as citizens, part of that responsibility rests with understanding our three branches of government – the executive, legislative and judicial. Every day, decisions are made in the White House, in Congress and in courts across America that impact our lives. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. So much of what we do at the ACLJ centers around all three branches of government. All of us must be engaged – all of us must be well informed. Without such knowledge and awareness, it’s impossible to protect our constitutional and religious freedoms.
What are some of the hot button topics currently being discussed in government right now?
This is a critical time in Washington – and a critical time for Christian conservatives. At the ACLJ, we’re engaged in a number of vital issues that impact Christians here and around the globe. For instance, we continue to battle the genocide of Christians by ISIS. We have raised this issue at the highest levels of government – in this country and abroad. We have filed legal submissions to the United Nations. We are demanding that the U.N. recognize the atrocities and work to protect Christians. At the same time, we’re engaged in other critical issues – including the defense of life by working to defund Planned Parenthood and put a stop to the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that go to the nation’s largest abortion provider. Further, we have seen an uptick in attacks on our national security – from classified leaks to frivolous lawsuits – all because the radical Left opposes anything President Trump does – even when it is commonsense protections for America.
Should government be involved in what’s happening in America’s churches? Why or why not?
The free speech of pastors in the pulpit is being eviscerated. President Trump recently issued an Executive Order to defend religious liberty and protect pastors. At issue: The Johnson Amendment – enacted into law in 1954 – a law that punishes pastors for any speech construed as political campaign activity in churches. It even limits non-profits like the ACLJ. Even worse, this anti-free speech law is twisted and expanded to muzzle pastors. We’ve been fighting against the Johnson Amendment for decades. We’re aggressively working in Congress to repeal it. Free speech – one of our most foundational American values – must extend to everyone – including pastors. The government has no business interfering with the free speech and free expression of pastors.
What is the mission behind the ACLJ, and what impact is it having?
Founded in 1990 with the mandate to protect religious and constitutional freedoms, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) engages legal, legislative, and cultural issues by implementing an effective strategy of advocacy, education, and litigation that includes representing clients before the Supreme Court of the United States and international tribunals around the globe. We have had tremendous success over the years and are grateful for the millions of people who share our vision and stand with us. The ACLJ was recently named as the top organization for “Positive Cultural Change in the U.S.” in a recent survey. The survey of politically engaged Christians across the U.S. conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute asked respondents “to identify the organizations they believed to have been most effective at leading positive cultural change in the U.S. during 2016.” We are honored by these findings and the results go to the core of the ACLJ’s mission to make an impact. That’s what we are doing in courts all across America, at the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, at the U.N., and beyond. We will keep fighting and making a real impact for faith and freedom.
Where does your passion for law and justice come from?
I am the grandson of a Russian immigrant. My grandfather was a fruit peddler in Brooklyn, New York. I understood at an early age that it is truly a privilege to be a U.S. citizen. We are so blessed to live in this great nation – to enjoy the freedoms and to practice our faith freely and openly. Yet, there are so many people around the world who do not enjoy the same freedoms that we do. We must help those who cannot help themselves. That’s especially true when it comes to protecting religious freedom – in this country or abroad.
What are some of your favorite ACLJ cases that have made it to the Supreme Court?
At the Supreme Court of the United States, I have had the privilege to argue 12 times – including several landmark cases which have become part of the legal landscape in the area of religious liberty litigation. The Mergens case cleared the way for public school students to form Bible clubs and religious organizations on their school campuses. The Lamb’s Chapel case defended the free speech rights of religious groups, ensuring that they be treated equally with respect to the use of public facilities. In McConnell v. FEC, the high court ensured that the constitutional rights of young people remain protected with a unanimous decision guaranteeing that minors can participate in political campaigns. Most recently, in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, we were able to secure a unanimous First Amendment decision clearing the way for governments to accept permanent monuments of their choosing – including Ten Commandments monuments – in public parks.
What is God’s stance when it comes to freedom, law, and authority?
I believe, as did our Founding Fathers, that freedom and liberty are God-given inalienable rights. The role of Government is to protect those rights that God has bestowed upon mankind.
What would you say to those who live in fear when it comes to the challenges our nation faces with regard to immigration and terrorism?
We are a nation of immigrants. As I noted earlier, I am the grandson of a Russian immigrant. At the ACLJ, we support efforts to legally secure citizenship in this country. But the truth is that many people who want to bring terror to the streets of America are using our faulty immigration system to gain entry to this country. That is why immigration reform is so important. We must work to keep out terrorists who want to kill Americans and destroy our way of life. In our view, President Trump’s immigration order is both sound and constitutional. Several lower courts have ruled against the President’s order with the issue certain to be decided at the U.S. Supreme Court, where we will file an amicus briefing urging the high court to uphold the President’s plan. A key provision of the President’s order which was put on hold by the courts temporarily paused for 90 days the entry into the United States of refugees and nationals of six unstable and/or terrorism-infested countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) that were designated as such by the Obama Administration. The clear purpose of this section was to allow time for needed improvements to the immigration and refugee screening processes with respect to these six countries. As I said, we are a nation of immigrants and will continue to be a nation of immigrants. But we must stop the unchecked entry by terrorists into our country. That is essential.
When our readers tune in to “ACLJ This Week” on Daystar what can they expect?
We are focused on providing keen insight and analysis on the issues that matter most to you and your family. There are many challenges facing Christians in today’s world. We examine issues that affect your religious and constitutional freedoms and provide information that we hope viewers find useful and helpful. We are grateful for the many that watch “ACLJ This Week” and appreciate the great work Daystar does to bring a message of hope through the Gospel to millions around the globe.
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