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Evangelicals: Religious Freedom and Refugees Top Priorities for This Year

02-13-2017
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A survey of evangelical leaders showed the most important public policy issues that evangelicals should focus on in 2017 are religious freedom and immigration/refugees.

The findings are from the year-end Evangelical Leaders Survey, a monthly poll of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals.

"If the first weeks under the new administration are any indication, evangelical leaders accurately identified key policy issues and pressure points for the year," said Leith Anderson, NAE president. 

"We have a great opportunity to stand for religious freedom for all, and on behalf of refugees and immigrants in our communities," he said.

Specifically, the survey showed 63 percent considered religious freedom the most important public policy issue for evangelicals to address this year.

"Evangelicals have been pushed back on our heels by accusations of hatred and bigotry," said Randall Bach, president of Open Bible Churches. "We cannot submit to such intimidation but should lovingly and assertively work toward policies and implementation of policies that respect and protect, rather than deteriorate First Amendment protections."

Recently, in the last week alone, more than 100,000 people signed an American Family Association petition, calling on President Donald Trump to make religious freedom a top priority by signing an executive order to protect that liberty.

"Religious freedom continues to be of paramount importance to many Americans," said AFA President Tim Wildmon. "With evangelical Christians being so instrumental in the election of Donald Trump, many have been buoyed by the great strides he has made so far, just weeks after the inauguration."

"AFA wants to ensure that the president and his administration will keep this crucial issue front and center, especially as many Americans have paid a hefty price for fighting for their religious liberties, such as losing their businesses, savings and more," he continued. 

"Now, we urge President Trump to keep his momentum — and his promise — to protect people of faith from religious discrimination," Wildmon said.

Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for Becket, a non-profit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom, said regardless of who's in power, that freedom is always at risk.

"The government is always tempted to trample on religious freedom, and not just at the federal level, but also at the state and local level," he told CBN News. 

"And it's... critically important to remain vigilant, defending not just religious freedom for evangelicals and other Christians, but defending religious freedom for all because if one group doesn't have religious freedom, then nobody has religious freedom," he continued.

Goodrich said one very important religious freedom case before the U.S. Supreme Court that evangelicals need to follow is Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley. The church sued the state of Missouri, accusing it of discrimination related to a state grant program.

Another religious freedom case that he believes should be on the radar of evangelicals is Gaylor v. Lew.

"Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist organization, has challenged the parsonage allowance as unconstitutional," Goodrich explained. "And bottom line -- if their lawsuit succeeds, churches all across the country and ministers all across the country will face over $1 billion in new taxes every year."

Following religious freedom, 46 percent of the year-end Evangelical Leaders Survey respondents pointed to immigration/refugees as the top public policy issue.

Fast forward to now, and thousands of evangelical pastors and leaders have signed a letter asking President Trump to reconsider his controversial executive order on refugees. 

Jenny Yang, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy on Refugee Resettlement for World Relief, said the increase in signers "demonstrates how many evangelical churches want to welcome refugees." World Relief works with churches to settle refugees across the country and coordinated the letter.

The executive order bans all persons from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for ninety days and suspends all refugee processing for 120 days. It bars refugees from Syria indefinitely.

"America is pretty much a nation of immigrants and their descendants," Anderson said. "More than any country in the world we should be known for our welcome and treatment of refugees and immigrants in our generation."

Not every Christian leader, though, has been a critic of the president's executive order.

Evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, told The Huffington Post that it's "not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come."

According to CNN, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and a member of Trump's evangelical advisory board, said Christians endure more persecution than other faiths, and in line with the president's pledge, should receive preferential treatment.

Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, advocated for an even-handed approach in a letter he wrote to the president.

"Achieving the right balance between compassion toward refugees — one of the most vulnerable groups of people among us — and protection of Americans is crucial if the United States is to remain a model for freedom around the world," Moore wrote. 

"It is one thing to debate whether the vetting process is adequate. It is quite another to seek to potentially turn our backs on Syrian refugees permanently," he continued.

The Evangelical Leaders Survey also showed that leaders considered poverty, abortion, racial tension, court nominations, marriage/family and health care as other important public policy issues.

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