A Blow against Religious Freedom in Mississippi

July 22 2016

A federal judge in Mississippi issued a preliminary injunction last month preventing a religious-liberty law, just passed by the state legislature, from going into effect. The law, known as HB 1523, preserves the right of those with “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” about homosexual marriage to refrain from participating in or validating such marriages, provided their actions do not impede the ability of same-sex couples to marry. Calling the judge’s decision “extraordinarily misguided,” Richard A. Epstein explains his objections:

HB 1523 represents the kind of sensible accommodation that has long been the hallmark of religious liberty. . . . Judge Carlton W. Reeves struck down the Mississippi statute because he did not grasp the fundamental distinction between forcing others to yield to your beliefs and just asking to be left alone.

The new bill is intended to augment the state’s earlier Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed restrictions on religious liberties when they compete with “a government interest of the highest magnitude.” Traditionally, Epstein points out,

this language meant that the state could curb religious freedom in order to prevent riots in public places. . . . Not anymore. . . . [T]he argument has [now] commonly been made that the elimination of discrimination in all areas of American life counts as a compelling state interest, of course of the highest magnitude. . . .

Judge Reeves’s decision goes even farther, identifying the mere refusal of, say, a caterer to provide food for a gay wedding as doing “harm” to the couple—even if there are multiple other local caterers the couple could choose from. Such an “overbroad” definition of harm, according to Epstein, sets a precedent where any slight, real or perceived, against one individual could be cause to limit the rights of another.

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Read more at Defining Ideas

More about: American law, Freedom of Religion, Gay marriage, Politics & Current Affairs, RFRA

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela