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Brownback: Christian media key to religious freedom

ANAHEIM, Calif. (BP) — Christian communicators play a key role in combatting persecution in foreign countries and defending religious freedom in the United States, speakers said in a public policy session Tuesday (March 26) during the National Religious Broadcasters’ International Christian Media Convention, Proclaim 19.

Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said a movement fueled by NRB members is required.

“We need a grassroots uprising saying, ‘No more to religious persecution. No more,'” Brownback, noting how the grassroots will learn about the oppression of Christians and other religious adherents overseas: “It’s through the reporting and storytelling that you do, of organizations like yours that can serve as catalysts for advocacy.”

Brownback said a partnership between NRB and his office is seeking to achieve this goal. At least once a month, NRB hosts a teleconference in which Brownback shares recent developments regarding persecution and accounts of those who have suffered for their faith.

Brownback — governor of Kansas and a U.S. senator and representative from the same state before his selection to the ambassadorship by President Trump — told the NRB audience, “Religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority for this administration. We believe this is a universal and natural right.

“Every day, I get to work on behalf of the persecuted around the world,” he said, adding that America “is in a unique spot to advocate for the persecuted around the world.”

For now, China is particularly an egregious, systematic persecutor, Brownback said, citing China’s oppression of Christianity and other faiths, including the destruction of churches and the arrest of pastors and religious adherents.

The United States is “one of the few countries willing to stand up to China,” Brownback said. “We need more allies to stand up to them, particularly on these issues of human rights and religious persecution.”

The State Department will host its second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom July 16-18 in Washington, D.C., Brownback said. Delegations from more than 80 foreign governments met last summer for the inaugural gathering of government officials, civil society representatives and faith leaders to promote the freedom of all people to practice their beliefs.

Aaron Mercer, NRB’s vice president of government relations, asked Brownback in a question-and-answer session after the ambassador’s speech how NRB members could pray. Brownback asked for prayer for himself and others “to have wisdom and discernment” regarding which battles to join and for “favor with God and man to be able to push these [initiatives] on forward.”

Also during the NRB session, leaders of two advocacy organizations expressed optimism about the state of religious liberty in the United States.

The attacks are increasing, but “the good news” is religious freedom advocates are winning the cases, said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute.

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, told attendees that religious liberty is winning court battles involving land use and zoning restrictions on houses of worship, property taxes levied against churches, bans on Bible studies, prohibitions on public preaching, discrimination against people of faith in higher education and coercive requirements of ministries.

Shackelford told the audience, “Basically, we’re at the hinge point of history where gains for religious freedom are beginning to happen that I never thought were possible.”

It appears the Supreme Court may be ready to revise its tests for determining the constitutionality of laws under both the Establishment Clause and Free-Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Shackelford said.

The nearly 50-year-old Lemon test – which requires that a law have a secular purpose, not primarily promote or restrict religion and “not foster an excessive entanglement with religion” to avoid government establishment of religion — has “created chaos and made the government somewhat hostile to religion,” he said.

Regarding religious free exercise, the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith decision means “you only get protected if they’re real specific in aiming for your religion,” Shackelford said. “If they just happen to wipe out your religious freedom by accident, then you just don’t have any ability to do anything about that.

“This country is about to change in a positive way for religious freedom under both of our religion clauses in ways I think we’ve never experienced, those of us who are alive today, and I think it’s going to be a great thing for our country,” he said of the Supreme Court’s posture in cases either before it or at hand.

The speakers encouraged attendees to be gracious while standing strongly for religious freedom.

When dealing with gender-confused people, Christians should “reach out respectfully and [lovingly]” while not compromising what [they] believe,” Dacus said.

Michael LeMay — general manager of a station in Wisconsin that challenged a sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) ordinance that failed to protect religious freedom — told the audience that Christian radio has a great opportunity to advocate for religious liberty. (NRB’s board of directors unanimously adopted a resolution on Tuesday, March 26, opposing such SOGI laws and a so-called “Fairness for All” alternative supported by some evangelical groups.)

“This is a chance for us as Christian radio professionals to shine brightly for Jesus Christ and to stand in the gap against the repressive part of our society that is trying to silence churches,” LeMay said.

LeMay said his colleagues at Q90 FM Christian Radio in De Pere, Wis., and he determined “to speak the truth full of graciousness and love.” He said he has had the opportunity during this time to share the Gospel with seven people who expressed confusion about their gender identity. The radio station and five churches won in their lawsuit.

“The People of the Cross” — an exhibit by the organization Save the Persecuted Christians — is on display during the NRB convention. The organization’s president, Frank Gaffney, also was among those who spoke during the public policy session.

Brothers David and Jason Benham emceed the session while Fox News host Todd Starnes moderated the panel discussion.