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Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Do we have a “right” to life?

If you’ve ever attended a pro-life rally or an abortion protest you’ve heard fellow Christians talking about the unborn’s “right to life.” But is this a phrase that Christians should use? Does it have a biblical basis? Can Christians claim a right to life, or for that matter, any rights at all? Rights vs. wishes It all depends on what you mean by the term “rights.” We'll sometimes hear special interest groups claim a "right" to healthcare or a "right" to a free college education but that's a trivialization of the term. They are using it in a way that is really no different than claiming a "right" to pepperoni pizza, or a "right" to free parking. These are items some might want at taxpayer expense, but describing your wishlist as rights does not make them so. Rights are better understood as that which it is wicked to deny. So, for example, if a government doesn't provide free college tuition, we aren't going to hold tribunals to investigate their human rights abuses – it is not a monstrous evil to deny citizens a tax-funded post-secondary experience. But if governments violate their citizens' right to property, then there should be an outcry because we recognize that the right to property is one that governments would be wicked to deny – this is a fundamental right. Rights before God? When it comes to the pro-life movement's "right to life" slogan, I've run across some Christians who object to the term. Since we are sinful creatures, wholly dependent on God’s grace, they argue that God doesn’t owe us anything. Are we in any position to make demands of our Maker, to make any claims of “rights” before Him? Clearly not. But as Stephen Pidgeon explains in this article, just because we have no rights before God doesn’t mean we don’t have rights given by God. In the Ten Commandments God spells out a number of prohibitions, and it is from these prohibitions that our rights spring. God has said, “Thou shall not murder” so from that we all have a God-given right to life. No man, no group, no government has the right to murder us because God has forbidden it. Since this right comes from a God-given prohibition, no authority on Earth may take this right from us. Individuals and governments can violate the right to life – they can and regularly do murder, ending the lives of one-quarter of all citizens here in the United States and Canada before they are even born. But even as they violate the right to life, and deny the unborn's claim to it, the right remains nonetheless. Governments and individuals did not award this right, so they cannot take it away. Of course, God can rightfully take our life – we are his, and He can do with us as He pleases. We have no rights before God. But we do have God-given rights that we can hold to before Man. And, made in His Image (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:6), the unborn, too, can claim a God-given right to life. And we can pray for the day when our governments start to recognize, honor, and protect that right.

Economics, Human Rights, Satire

On equality...

I was recently confronted with the disturbing statistic that evidences the ultimate case of gender inequality: the life expectancy of males is 6.1 years lower than that of females. This phenomenon must be properly discussed. What is a more valuable commodity than life? Nothing, I would say. And yet females habitually possess over 8 percent more of it than men. It is clear that when it comes to life, there is no level playing field in our society between males and females. I, therefore, call upon the government to take measures to empower men to overcome this glaring inequality. What we need is legislation, programs, and lots of funding. First of all the government should enact human rights legislation which will unequivocally state that males have the right to the same life expectancy as females. This legislation will empower the government to make proactive adjustments in Health, Social, and Education programs. I would like to share with you the following suggestions for such adjustments. An immediate transfer of medical research dollars from female diseases to male diseases. The inclusion of a mandatory life expectancy rights component to be taught in all our schools starting at the kindergarten level. The appointment of kommissars (also call commissioners) for each federal and provincial ministry who are to scrutinize all proposed legislation for life expectancy bias. Mandatory sensitivity training for all our judges to ensure that crimes against women are not more discouraged than crimes against men. Mandatory affirmative low-stress jobs action for all businesses employing more than 10 people to ensure that men will be employed in at least 50 percent of such jobs. The creation of Men's Issues Department at both the federal and provincial levels. Thus far my suggestions. If we do not want to lose the image of Canada as a caring and nurturing society we had better implement these suggestions regardless of costs. Of course, some naive people may suggest that it would help if men changed their lifestyle by smoking, drinking, fighting, and fornicating less, and by being more spiritual and less macho. However, though in the past this might have been a solution, we now know that we can only lead fulfilling lives if we are true to ourselves. Since institutions of education and our public media zealously indoctrinate the populace with this new gospel, it would be futile to appeal to "the man kind" itself to heal the wound of life expectancy; the government is our only hope. This post first appeared way back in the May 1999 issue, but doesn't it seems like it was written for today? As Christians we believe God calls us not to be partial to rich or poor, black or white, young or old – He calls us to equality. But what kind of equality does God call us to? Is it an equality – as is called for in this article – of outcomes? Or is the equality meant to be in how we treat people? The world says the former, but God is calling us to the latter (Leviticus 19:15, James 2:1-9, Acts 10:34)....

Human Rights

Should Christians be free to obey our conscience?

In recent years there’s been a worrying downward trend for religious freedom in both Canada and the United States. Examples abound of Christian T-shirt printers, bakers, photographers, print-shop owners, wedding dress makers, florists and caterers who are being forced – through human rights commissions, or through lawsuits – to participate in same-sex weddings in violation of these various business peoples' consciences. Each of these Christian business people said they would bake, cater, arrange flowers, print invitations, take photos, print T-shirts, etc. for a gay person's birthday or retirement party or any other celebration – they just wouldn’t do it for a same-sex wedding (the only exception was the wedding dress maker, for obvious reasons). This means the objection is not about discriminating against gay people. It never was. It's very specifically about endorsing a definition of marriage or a specific act that fundamentally violates God's design for marriage. Stand up for others I know of Christians who can, with a clean conscience, bake, photograph, etc. a gay wedding. And I know some who can't (see 1 Cor. 8). This is a legitimate discussion to have between Christians. The much bigger question is: should the State force the latter group to do as the former? If you are a Christian and you advocate that the State is justified in making Christians participate, in any way, in a gay marriage, I believe you've ripped the rug from under yourself – if it is fine for the State to violate other Christians’ consciences this time, what's to prevent them from violating yours next? If a Christian photographer has to shoot a gay wedding, does a church have to rent their hall for a gay wedding? (This happened in British Columbia in 2005). Or must an organist play for a gay marriage ceremony? Or will a Christian marriage commissioner be forced to officiate for such a celebration? (In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this is the case). Negative implications of the bill for Christians Does this mean that I’m ready to let the State allow the same kind of discrimination against Christians? If an atheist decides he doesn't want to take photos of a Christian wedding, am I okay with that? Well, the State can't force all citizens to embrace, encourage and support the Christian faith, because that wouldn't be freedom of religion, would it? Freedom of religion is freedom from the State, and not from fellow citizens. Your Charter rights protect you from the busybody government interfering in your religious practices and beliefs. They are not meant to make the government interfere in your personal or professional relationships in order to promote, oppose or defend your religion. So, to be clear and consistent, I do expect and accept being shunned by others because of my Christian beliefs. (Christ predicted it, didn't he?) I would not expect the State to go to bat for me if a gay bookstore refused to sell my book on a Biblical understanding of gay-marriage, or if an Islamic school refused to hire me as a janitor. If I wanted to publish a Christian defense of capital punishment, I wouldn't expect the State to force a Mennonite printer to publish it for me. With liberty comes responsibility. That includes responsibility to go find another printer, or baker or candlestick maker. André Schutten is the General Legal Counsel, and Director of Law & Policy for ARPA Canada....

Human Rights, Parenting, Politics

How mom and dad can fight Big Brother

Governments in BC, Alberta and elsewhere have shown they want to use government schools to teach children that their gender is something they can choose. But gender isn’t a choice, and to teach impressionable children otherwise is to mislead them. Still, despite many parental objections, governments continue to move forward with these plans. It's important we understand, then, that this isn’t the first time a government has tried to override parental rights in education. Politicians and bureaucrats in various jurisdictions seem to be regularly devising new ways to thwart the freedom of parents to direct the education of their children. These government have the backing of intellectuals who produce academic materials arguing that parental rights in education need to be severely curtailed or even abolished. These intellectuals aim to persuade lawyers and judges that parental rights are unnecessary and no longer need to be recognized in law. Thankfully, not all intellectuals think that way. In recent years, a law professor named Stephen Gilles at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut has written a number of scholarly articles defending parental rights in education over against statist arguments. “Statist” here refers to the belief in the supremacy of the government – the State – over individual and family freedom. Arguments and counter arguments One of Professor Gilles’ most famous scholarly articles is entitled “Hey, Christians, Leave Your Kids Alone!” which was published in the Spring 1999 issue of Constitutional Commentary, an American law journal. In it he took on the Statist arguments of another law professor, James Dwyer, that Dwyer proposed in his Religious Schools v. Children's Rights. ATTACK #1: Parents harm their children What Dwyer argued was that religious education is harmful and damaging to children and therefore the government needs to protect children from the harm their parents will impose on them through a religious education. In short, Dwyer sees parental rights as an obstacle that must be eliminated to ensure the wellbeing of children. This differs only in degree, but not in kind, with what provincial governments have sought to do via their school systems. In BC the school curriculum was rewritten to promote homosexuality and parents were limited as to whether they could opt their children out of these classes. In Alberta and Manitoba the government wants to use the schools to promote transgenderism, over against our objections. And in Quebec the government wants schools to teach the equal validity of many religions, which is the very opposite of what we as parents want to teach our children. Our secular governments thinks they knows best. ANSWER: No, Parents know their children best But if our governments think like Dwyer, we have a friend in Professor Gilles. He completely rejects Dwyer’s statist perspective and demonstrates that following Dwyer’s proposals would, in fact, be positively harmful to children. Why? Because parents have a much better grasp of what their children need than government officials, so transferring decision-making power to those government officials would undermine the children’s well-being. ATTACK #2: Government knows best Dwyer’s statist thinking gives us a glimpse of where our government may be heading in the future. Dwyer provides a theoretical foundation for the use of government coercion against conservative Christians, an idea that is popular among some left-wing intellectuals. As Gilles explains, …many law professors see religious traditionalists – especially Christian Fundamentalists – as extremists whose beliefs and practices are irrational, without value, and positively dangerous to themselves and others. The dispositions these opinions induce are not limited to preventing religious traditionalists from gaining government power; they also include using government power to counter and undermine religious traditionalism as a movement. ANSWER: Parents know best In contrast Gilles wants to promote what he calls “parentalism,” which maximizes parental rights. This view has not just the Bible but history behind it. In the past, in the Anglo-American countries (of which Canada is one), it has always been assumed that parents act in the best interests of their children. Gilles calls this the “parentalist presumption” which he summarizes as follows: the state may not override a parental decision unless it overcomes the presumption and demonstrates that the parents' choice is in fact harmful to the child. ATTACK #3: Some parents are lousy Naturally, then, the next question is to determine what constitutes “harm” such that the parentalist presumption can be overcome. Gilles answers this way: If parents starve or brutalize their child, or prevent the child from acquiring foundational skills such as reading, writing, and calculating, there is consensus that they are doing harm, and state intervention is entirely appropriate. From time to time there are instances where the government may legitimately need to take action to protect children. While God calls on parents to care for their children, He also gives the State the power to administer justice, so when parents neglect their children the State does have the jurisdiction to step in. Most people would agree that children who are being starved, or tortured, or deliberately prevented from acquiring literacy and numeracy skills by their parents would need help. However, outside of these extremely rare occurrences families should be left alone by the government. ANSWER: The government always makes a lousy parent Now, parents are imperfect. We all fail to one degree or another. That leaves an opening for opponents of parental rights to point to these instances of parental failure and use them to justify increased government control over children. But Gilles points out that this line of reasoning is faulty: The relevant question is not whether robust parental rights are perfect when measured by the yardstick of children's best interests, but whether they are superior to alternative regimes that give the state more control over children's upbringing. To this question, the longstanding answer of our legal tradition has been that state authority over childrearing is more to be feared than comparable authority in the hands of parents. Parents make mistakes…but they are far better than a “government as parent” alternative. Of course, that’s the very point that Dwyer, and others of his ilk, will dispute. He argues that the government is much better suited to determine what is best for children. Therefore the government, rather than parents, should have ultimate control over education. So what answer does Gilles give? The flaw in this approach is its blithe assumption that state agencies, and above all courts, will expertly and disinterestedly pursue the best interests of children. A moment's reflection will show that courts are neither as well-placed as parents to discern the child's best interests nor as interested in ensuring that the child's welfare is in fact advanced. Unlike parents, judges will never have the time or the day-to-day contact necessary to acquire an intimate understanding of the procession of children who would come before them. Nor will they have to live with the many-faceted ramifications of their childrearing decisions. God has crafted a wonderful way to raise children that the government simply won’t be able to improve on. Parents have much more at stake in the well-being of their children than any employee of the government. Parents know their children much better and will have to endure the consequences of any bad decisions they make. In other words, the incentive for parents to watch out for the best interests of their children is infinitely higher than any social worker, teacher, or judge. That’s why it is absurd to suggest that these public employees are better at determining the best interests of the children. Nevertheless, theorists like Dwyer write as though teachers and judges are best suited to determine what’s good for children. Really? Gilles will have none of it: I find it naive to describe the run of state employees in such idealistic terms, let alone to believe that they will more often be better judges of a child's best interests than that child's parents. State agency personnel may spend years thinking about what is best for children – but parents spend decades doing what they think is best for their own children, and living with the consequences. Parents are far more likely to get it right, even if they have fewer course-credits in child development or education theory. Because children are young and immature, they need to be under the authority of adults. People like Dwyer who claim to be promoting children’s rights are not suggesting that the children be allowed to determine their own best interests. They just want the determination of best interest to be done by government employees rather than parents. Gilles notes that this is an issue of who has authority in the lives of children: Thus, the question is not whether our childrearing regime will entail other-determining governance of children by adults; it is which adults will enjoy the freedom to engage in this other-determining behavior. That’s how we need to present the issue: which adult will do the job best. When the government treads on parental toes we need to ask, “Are you trying to say that you think a government employee working 9-5 is a better parent for my child than me?” ATTACK #4: We should have a broad understanding of harm Historically, Anglo-American nations have recognized parental rights, with the only limits on these rights involving the rare instances where parents harm the children. So if the State can only act when a child is being harmed, we can predict what statists will do – they’ll want to greatly expand what we view as harm. So, for example, Dwyer hates conservative Christianity and what it stands for. Thus he argues that teaching children certain Christian doctrines is harmful. What are these harmful doctrines? Dwyer believes that teaching children that sex is only for married couples harms those children because it restricts their freedom. He also believes teaching girls that women have different roles than men is harmful. So he wants the government to prevent parents from teaching conservative Christian tenets to their children…to protect the children from “harm.” ANSWER: Labeling anything the government disagrees with as harmful is arbitrary As Christians we need to highlight the sheer arbitrariness of Dwyer’s definition of harm. We need to highlight that he is simply defining as harmful that with which he disagrees. In fact, Dwyer’s proposal has clear totalitarian implications, as Gilles points out: If the government can forbid parents and teachers to communicate any message it decides (based on value-laden and highly debatable criteria) is “harmful to children,” then the government can control the transmission of ideas to future generations. Conclusion Prof. Gilles has shown us what to watch out for, and how to present well-reasoned argumentation for defending parental rights in education. Since parents have such powerful incentives to promote their children’s best interests, it is clear that they should have virtually unhindered authority over their children. Government employees and institutions never have as much at stake in the well-being of children as the children’s parents. A tiny number of parents occasionally abusing their authority do not undermine this fact. To think that government employees will make better decisions about children than parents is naïve at best. And to use an anti-Christian ideological concept of harm to determine what children should be taught, clearly leads to a totalitarian government. Parentalism, as Prof. Gilles calls it, is much more reasonable and consistent with freedom than the statist perspective of the left-wing intellectuals. A version of this article was first published in the March 2016 issue under the title "Government knows best? Stephen Gills shows us how to defend parental rights"...

Human Rights

A Christian perspective on freedom of speech

To say American author and columnist Ann Coulter is “outspoken” is rather like saying Solomon was  “a smart fellow.” Both statements are correct, in so far as they go, but they really don’t go far enough. Ann Coulter can, in a single sentence, be brilliantly insightful and insulting, and that – along with out-of-context quotes broadcast in five second clips on the nightly news – has made her controversial. So when she was scheduled to speak March 23, 2010 at the University of Ottawa it was predictable that there would be protests. What wasn’t predictable was the escalation of hype and hysteria that caused the speech to be cancelled. The hype was started by a letter written the previous week from the University of Ottawa’s provost, Francois Houle. He warned Coulter that she should be careful what she was going to say, or else run the risk of criminal charges. On the evening of the 23rd a mob of two thousands students surrounded the speaking venue, preventing many from entering. Those that did get in were subjected to screams from a handful of students who also made it inside. “There were five of us in there. We were loud,” one of the students told Global TV, “It was amazing that five of us could shut it, could just have them stop speaking.” Another admitted that, “Yes that was our aim, to stop Ann Coulter from speaking.” Outside students banged on the doors while others screamed: “This is what democracy sounds like! This is what democracy looks like!” Forty minutes after the speech was scheduled to start it was cancelled over safety concerns. There were three ironies evident that night. The first, that this happened in a country that prides itself on being polite and peace-loving. To that point Coulter had done more than 100 speeches on college campuses in the US and never before been prevented from speaking by an angry mob. That only happened in Canada. Freedom to hear Then there was the painful irony of many in the censorious mob insisting they were only exercising their “freedom of speech.” They misunderstood it as a freedom to screech, as if they had the right to shout down anyone they disagreed with. But of course freedom of speech means very little if it doesn’t also include a freedom to hear – screaming at the top of your lungs just to make sure others can’t be heard is not a form of free speech, but censorship. Here is where the media failed us – reporters did ask the mob’s leaders why they thought they had the right to stop Coulter from speaking but the students were never asked why they thought they could stop so many others from hearing. It should have been made clear that this presumptive bunch wasn’t just stepping on one woman’s freedom to speak but rather on the freedom of hundreds to hear her. That line of questioning would have made clear the astonishing arrogance of the mob; this was a group of twenty-something-year-old students telling people old enough to be their parents, grandparents, employers and professors that no, you might want to hear this woman, but we’ve decided we know better than you what you should hear. This line of questioning would have made it clear how condescending, how disrespectful, how elitist this group of self-appointed censors was being. But sadly reporters never brought up the crowd’s “freedom to hear.” Legitimate limitations The evening’s final irony was that the mob’s victims also seemed to be confused as to what free speech entails. One older woman interviewed by Global TV talked about Ann Coulter’s “right to freedom of speech” as if it were an absolute right, as if it didn’t matter what Coulter said, she should still have the right to say it. But we know that isn’t so. There are legitimate limits to free speech. The most famous example is that you shouldn't be allowed to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater (unless there is a fire). Other legitimate restrictions include a ban on slander, libel, false advertising, and passing on state or military secrets. One student leader said Coulter had to be silenced because her speech would violate  “safe spaces for students.” It was a baseless accusation (it’s her opponents, not her supporters, who cause riots) but if Coulter really did incite violence that would have been a good reason to restrict her speech. However, while there are reasons to restrict speech, even in those instances it is the properly appointed authorities who have the right to do the restricting…not an angry mob. Christian basis Coulter’s visit to the capital revealed how confused people are about free speech. Both sides said they believed in it, but one side would only grant the freedom to people of whom they approved, while the other side seemed to be arguing for speech without restrictions – it was the censors versus the anarchists. But if the world is confused about free speech, Christians needn't be. We support free speech for two simple reasons. 1) Free speech helps us seek the Truth The reason free speech matters is because Truth matters. And if we are going to seek after the Truth we need to be able to talk freely. If we're going to find Truth, verify it, hold on to it and share it with others, we may just need to say all sorts of wrong, crazy, incorrect and offensive things. How is a Muslim ever going to learn the Truth if he can't first explain his incorrect understanding of Jesus? How can we preach to and debate with the atheist if he can't publicly and freely express his doubts about God's existence? Though Thomas was wrong to doubt (John 20:24-31), how could his doubts have been answered if he wasn't allowed to question whether Christ rose? And how foolish would the Bereans (Acts 17) have been if they turned Paul away without hearing him? Instead they risked hearing something offensive so they could test Paul's words against the Word, and find out if he spoke the Truth. We support free speech because it is by talking, discussing, preaching, and teaching freely that the Truth is known. 2) Censorship is most often used to oppose the Truth Lord Acton's dictum that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is grounded in both Scripture and history. Scripture teaches us that Man is depraved and on his own cannot resist temptation (and absolute power is quite the temptation!) while history teaches us again and again that dictators are indeed corrupted by their power. So Christians know better than to trust any king, president, prime minister, bureaucrat, panel, tribunal or judge with the awesome power of being able to decide for everyone else everything that we can and cannot read, see or hear. We can't trust that sort of near-absolute power to anyone. We learn from Scripture that we would be incredibly naive to believe we can entrust a man with such enormous power, and we learn from history that whenever broad-ranging censorship power is given, it is abused and used to suppress the Truth. The Bible, after all, remains the world's most censored book. Conclusion As Christians we know that any freedom Man is given will be misused and abused so it is certain that on some occasions people’s speech will need to be stopped. But that isn’t a path we are going to want to go down too often because we know free speech aids in the spread of the Truth. Not everyone is so tolerant, as the incident in Ottawa shows. So let’s make use now of the freedoms we still have to speak freely about God to our neighbors, our coworkers… and maybe even to a university student or two. Picture by Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com...