“A Beacon on Our Coast”: Some thoughts on international religious liberty

Last Wednesday, I took part in a panel discussion on international religious liberty and human rights in the Trump Administration. The event was hosted by the Institute on Religion and Democracy and Providence Magazine, and held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Event FlyerMy remarks were entitled “‘A Beacon on our Coast’: Religious Freedom as the First Freedom at Home and Abroad”. I offered a defense of religious freedom as the “First Freedom” as a matter of history, philosophy, and practical experience.

  • Historically, it was the early struggle for religious freedom that gave rise to concept of civil rights. As Judge Michael McConnell has argued, theological developments like the doctrine of “two kingdoms” and emphasis on liberty of conscience laid the groundwork for political concepts like separation of church and state and, more generally, limits on government power.
  • Philosophically, religion is the label we give to a fundamental human impulse: our “sense of the absolute” (to use Reinhold Niebuhr’s phrase), our attempt to define ourselves in relation to an ultimate or transcendent Reality, however conceived. The sense of religious obligation is pre-political. It flows not from civil society, but from our nature as human beings. Religious freedom honors these fundamental truths.
  • Practically speaking, religious freedom is indispensable to civil society. As Brian Grim and Roger Finke show in their book The Price of Freedom Denied, government and social restrictions on religious freedom are a powerful predictor of violent religious persecution and civil conflict. The converse is also true: higher levels of religious freedom mean reduced levels of religion-related violence. In Grim and Finke’s words, lack of religious freedom is the “Rosetta stone” – the master key – for understanding why violence and persecution persist in much of the world.

What does all this mean for international religious liberty and foreign policy? I offered two thoughts. The first (and obvious) lesson is that religious freedom must be a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The second, perhaps less obvious lesson is that history and theology matter. In the United States, we need to be attentive to our own “theological history” and the way it uniquely shaped our concept and experience of religious freedom. For religious freedom to flourish in other societies, particularly outside the West, we need to understand their unique histories and theologies. Religious freedom cannot be an American export. It must be a native product, rooted in a society’s own religious and cultural traditions.

My full remarks will be published as an essay in the next issue of Providence. The full panel discussion is available as a YouTube video. My remarks begin around the 16:30 mark.


My co-panelists were Travis Wussow, Vice President of Public Policy for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Andrew Doran, Vice President and Senior Policy Advisor to In Defense of Christians; and Emilie Kao, founder of Kids World USA and formerly with the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.

I’m so grateful to IRD and Providence, and especially Mark Tooley and Marc Livecche, for having me out and hosting me. As always happens when I go to D.C., I strengthened old friendships and made new ones.

Panel photo

Remembering Ralph Carr

Next Sunday, February 19, 2017, will mark the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, FDR’s directive to establish “military zones” throughout the United States for the internment of Japanese-Americans, Italian-Americans, and German-Americans.

Ralph L. Carr, governor of Colorado 1938-1942

Colorado governor Ralph L. Carr vocally opposed this measure. He was the only Western governor to welcome Japanese-Americans who were forcibly evacuated from the West Coast, and he worked tirelessly to ensure that internees were treated fairly.

Sign placed in the window of a store in Oakland, CA on December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor. The store was closed following orders to evacuate Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. The owner, a University of California graduate, was housed in an internment camp for the duration of the war. (Library of Congress)

Japanese-Americans believed they had a friend in Colorado, and about 7,000 were resettled here, in a camp at Amache near Granada.

Amache Internment Camp, Granada, Colorado

Carr traveled around the state advocating for Japanese-Americans and explaining why it was wrong to imprison them without due process. “An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen,” he famously said. “If you harm them, you must first harm me.”

“If you harm them,
you must first harm me.”
– Ralph Carr

For his courage, Carr received hate mail and death threats. Ultimately his unpopular stance cost him his political career. In late 1942, a year when Republicans swept the political ticket across Colorado, Carr narrowly lost a Senate race to Democrat “Big” Ed Johnson, who criticized Carr’s compassion toward Japanese-Americans. Hopes that Carr might one day be a Republican candidate for vice president were dashed. He died in 1950.

Today Carr is remembered as a hero to Japanese-Americans. In 1994, Japan’s Emperor Akihito honored Carr during a visit to Colorado, and in 1999, Carr was named Colorado’s “Person of the Century” by The Denver Post. The state’s judicial center is named after him.

Bust of Ralph Carr in Denver’s Sakura Square

Carr is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver. In 1976, a bust of Carr was placed in Denver’s Sakura Square to commemorate his efforts. Its inscription reads:

In the hysteria of World War II, when others in authority forgot the noble principles that make the United States unique, Colorado’s governor Ralph L. Carr had the wisdom and courage to speak out in behalf of the persecuted Japanese American minority. “They are loyal Americans,” he said, “sharing only race with the enemy.” He welcomed them to Colorado to take part in the state’s war effort and such were the times that his forthright act may have doomed his political future. Thousands came, seeking refuge from the West Coast’s hostility, made new homes and remained to contribute much to Colorado’s civic, cultural and economic life. Those who benefited from Governor Carr’s humanity have built this monument in grateful memory of his unflinching Americanism, and as a lasting reminder that the precious democratic ideals he espoused must forever be defended against prejudice and neglect.

A plaque dedicated to Carr in the Colorado state capitol reads:

A wise, humane man, not influenced by the hysteria and bigotry directed against the Japanese-Americans during World War II. By his humanitarian efforts no Colorado resident of Japanese ancestry was deprived of his basic freedoms, and when no others would accept the evacuated West Coast Japanese, except for confinement in internment camps, Governor Carr opened the doors and welcomed them to Colorado. The spirit of his deeds will live in the hearts of all true Americans.

Here’s a superb 10-minute documentary on Carr (created by 8th graders!):

Check out these other resources on Ralph Carr and the World War II internments:

  • Amache.org: webpage of Camp Amache in Granada, Colorado, maintained by the Amache Preservation Society
  • Densho.org: organization dedicated to preserving the testimonies of Japanese-Americans unjustly incarcerated during World War II, offering firsthand accounts, historical images, and teacher resources

Tending the garden

From the left, dire warnings and calls to ‘resist Trump’. From the right, an overcorrective demand to ‘just calm down’.

The left exaggerates the problem. The right doesn’t grasp the danger.

Christians are called neither to resistance nor to quiescence. Christ taught us not to return evil for evil, but to overcome evil with good (Matt. 5; Rom. 12). Our emphasis isn’t protest or passivism. It’s rightly ordered activism.

Whether in support or opposition, the pillars of our politics should be these: protecting the weak and promoting the common good.

The mission of Christians in the world is like tending a garden. From our inner spiritual lives, to our families and communities, to our nation and world, Christians are called to cultivate good, to do justice and mercy, to promote and practice the flourishing of life.

But tending a garden isn’t easy. It’s dirty, hard, uncomfortable, unceasing work.

In the garden, the sun brings life, but it also scorches. The rain brings life, but it also drowns. For the shrewd gardener, the question is not whether these forces are intrinsically good or evil, but whether they can be harnessed — subdued and directed — so that life can flourish. (Cf. Matt. 5:45.)

In the present cultural moment, the danger on the left is overreacting to the sun and rain. Not every ray of light is fire. Not every drop of water is a flood. These things, in measure, help the garden grow.

The danger on the right is forgetting how fast the weather changes, how quickly nature turns from friend to foe. Without preparation and — yes — resistance, drought and downpour bring death.

Tending a garden means working with nature and working against it — and rightly discerning when each is called for.

This is our call and our challenge now.

Christians in the Middle East: What Trump Can Do

On January 6, I published an essay in Providence Magazine: “How the Trump Administration Can Support Christians in the Middle East.” After reciting the litany of foreign policy challenges that President Obama leaves behind, I describe the dire situation Christians are facing in the Middle East:

The Middle East is the cradle of Christianity, and the Christian presence there stretches back two millennia. The Coptic and Syriac Churches in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq are the oldest Christian communities on earth. Indeed, Syriac Christians continue to speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Today, these ancient peoples face the very real threat of elimination from the lands that gave them birth and nurtured their faith. . . .

If Christianity is to survive in the Middle East—and it must survive—Christian communities must be restored to their homes and lands. Their churches and property must be rebuilt. They must be guaranteed physical security, economic opportunity, and political equality. But they live in a region where all of these are in short supply.

I then offer three recommendations for the Trump administration.

  • First, appoint a Special Adviser for International Religious Freedom to the National Security Council. This would elevate international religious freedom issues to the highest levels of the American foreign policy apparatus. And they belong there. As I note, “countries that respect freedom of conscience also tend to value human dignity, equality, and the rule of law.” The converse is also true. Indeed, religious persecution is often a bellwether for broader human rights abuses.
  • Second, urge Congress to pass the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act. This bill directs the State Department to financially support organizations conducting criminal investigations on genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq and Syria. It would also set the stage for U.S. aid to NGOs on the ground who are supporting beleaguered Christians.
  • Finally, demand that the UN include Christians in any international genocide declaration. There are indications the UN may recognize that ISIS has committed genocide, but not against Christians. This would mean that Christians, particularly in Iraq, will be passed over for international aid and reconstruction assistance. As documented in the “Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East” report I helped author, the ISIS genocide against Christians is undeniable. The incoming U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, must demand the UN acknowledge this.

Open Doors recently published its 2017 World Watch List on Christian persecution. Read about the “major trends” here.


Being chancellor, becoming Anglican

When it’s on the internet, it’s official.

In October of this year, I had the honor of being appointed chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of the Rocky Mountains, part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The chancellor is an ecclesiastical office recognized in many denominations. In the Anglican tradition, the chancellor serves as the legal counselor to the Bishop and diocesan organizations in matters affecting the Church.

For years, I’ve been a First Amendment attorney and outside general counsel to churches, ministries, and other nonprofits. Now as chancellor, I’m officially a church lawyer, charged with counseling Bishop Ken Ross and serving other leaders and organizations within the Rocky Mountain Diocese.


The chancellor is a non-clerical (non-pastoral) official. The historic “Holy Orders” within Anglicanism are Bishop, Presbyter (Priest), and Deacon. As chancellor, I am not ordained to one of these positions. Also, the chancellor position for me is part-time, and I continue to practice law in Colorado Springs with my law firm, where I counsel churches and ministries, advocate for religious freedom, and work for the good of Christians and other religious communities around the world.

Why Anglicanism and the ACNA?

 The Anglican tradition is both ancient and vibrant, a historical and present stream of the “One, Holy, Catholic [worldwide], and Apostolic Church.” The ACNA stands within this stream: it is evangelical, liturgical, and global. The Rocky Mountain Diocese describes its values this way: “Ancient Faith. Global Relationships. Local Mission.” I resonate with all of these.

You can read my thoughts on some of these things at KeepingAdvent.com, a resource my wife and I designed for Christians seeking a more Christ-centered, historically rooted holiday season. I talk about the graceful rhythms of the Church Calendar and the beauty I find in the liturgy, among other topics. In these essays is some explanation for why I’m drawn to an Anglican expression of Christian faith.

The coming year

2017 brings fresh challenges for the church, our country, and the world. Some books I look forward to digging into this next year (not in any particular order):

Radical Christian legal theory, part 3: Bearing witness through law

Evangelicals love to talk about the “culture wars,” usually with some mixture of zeal and disdain. I wish we could dispense with the term. It frames our moral agenda all wrong. Christians aren’t called to be at war with their culture. We’re called to be witnesses to the Kingdom of God – in our worship, words, and deeds.

I don’t doubt that bearing witness sometimes feels like war. Jesus promised, after all, that we would have trouble in the world. But rather than fight back, He urged us to “be encouraged” because He has already won the battle – “conquered the world,” as He put it – through His death and resurrection. As evangelicals, we need to focus less on fighting a war with our culture, and more (much more) on following the way of the cross.

Continue reading “Radical Christian legal theory, part 3: Bearing witness through law”

Listening Space: An authentic conversation on race, tragedy, and healing

As I sat across the table from my friend Caron, each of us nursed a coffee, hers a dark roast, mine a cold brew. And we talked about pain and hope. Pain at recent tragedies affecting the nation – the fatal police shootings of young African-American men that seem to recur with startling regularity, spurring a racial divide that our current politics only seems to widen. But also hope in what Dr. King called “the American dream” – not material prosperity, but the essential promise of equality, freedom, and justice for each and every person in this country.

My friend at the table was Rev. Dr. Caron M. Allen. As we talked quietly in a coffee shop in downtown Colorado Springs a few weeks ago, my heart quickened at the unusual authenticity of this conversation: a thirtysomething white guy and a sixtysomething African-American woman talking honestly, face to face, about race, tragedy, reconciliation, and healing.

Continue reading “Listening Space: An authentic conversation on race, tragedy, and healing”