Sunday, July 26, 2015

The 3 - July 26, 2015

This week in my week-in-review feature, The 3, there is good news out of Pakistan, where a woman sentenced to death under that nation's blasphemy laws has been given a reprieve by the national Supreme Court.  Also, a large cross atop a mountain in San Diego will be allowed to remain there, after years of court action were brought to a halt by a property transfer completed this week.  And, the Texas Supreme Court has struck down a judge's decision that had halted a repeal effort for a so-called anti-discrimination law centered on sexual orientation and gender identity.

3 - Pakistani woman's death sentence put on hold by high court

Asia Bibi, the first woman to be sentenced to death under blasphemy laws in Pakistan, has a chance to appeal that conviction, according to a piece on the Christianity Today website

She was sentenced in 2010, after allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman. The article says that the Muslim woman had refused water from Asia Bibi, a colleague, on the grounds that it was “unclean” because it had been handled by a Christian. The Muslim woman and her sister were the only two witnesses in the case, but the defense failed to convince judges that their evidence lacked credibility.

The nation's highest court, the Supreme Court in Islamabad, the capital, has temporarily stayed her execution pending a full review of her case. Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, appeared in front of three Supreme Court judges at the first hearing earlier this week.  The CT story referenced apiece on the Morning Star News website, which quotes the attorney: "I believe that Asia Bibi’s case was not handled properly, but even now she has a good chance of being freed from her ordeal on the basis of inadmissible evidence."  He added, "We have a good case, and I’m sure the Supreme Court will consider the shoddy trial Asia Bibi has been subjected to and deliver justice to her."

According to CBN.com, Naveed Aziz with the British Pakistani Christian Association, said, "I am pleased with this decision," adding, "It is obvious that international pressure led to this amazing decision, and I thank all people who have called for her freedom. Sister Asia will have to spend more time in jail, but her freedom is now a real possibility and only a matter of time."

2 - Mount Soledad cross will stand; property on which it stands sold to private owner

Since 1954, a Veterans' memorial including a 27-foot cross has stood atop Mount Soledad, in San Diego.  According to Liberty Institute, the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial is the first Korean War Veterans Memorial on U.S. soil. It is on an 800-foot hilltop and includes a 29-foot cross with a plaque identifying it as a veterans memorial. It is surrounded by large granite walls that display photos and names of America’s veterans, along with various and diverse religious and secular symbols.

The Liberty Institute website tells the story.  For over 20 years, the memorial has been the subject of a lawsuit brought about by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which claimed the memorial’s cross violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. In January 2011, during the legal dispute over the memorial, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled the cross unconstitutional.

 In 2013, a Federal district judge ordered the cross to be torn down, but he did grant a stay, giving Liberty Institute and its client, the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, the opportunity to appeal. Liberty Institute and the MSMA did so a few days later, and in February 2014, the U.S. government joined Liberty Institute and the MSMA in appealing the ruling. The defendants asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but the high court denied the request, pending the outcome of another appeal before the Ninth Circuit.

As the Liberty Institute website says:

After more than two decades of attempts to remove the cross had not achieved that result, and with the prospect of a long judicial battle ahead and defenders of the cross unwilling to yield, last year a legislative remedy was proposed. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 called for the federal government’s sale of the property to the MSMA, and this was passed by Congress and signed by the President, leading to the transfer of the land.

This week, the U.S. Government sold the land to the MSMA.  Hiram Sasser of Liberty Institute says: "Today’s actions will ensure that the memorial will continue to stand in honor of our veterans for decades to come. This is a great victory for the veterans who originally placed this memorial and the Korean War veterans the memorial honors." But, his colleague Jeff Mateer issues this warning: "This is a day to celebrate," adding, "But the work is not over in protecting veterans memorials from legal attacks by organizations opposed to veterans memorials containing religious imagery on public land."

1 - TX Supreme Court blocks Houston's "Equal Rights Ordinance"

I have reported in the past about these so-called SOGI - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity - ordinances that some cities have passed, creating, under the guise of so-called "tolerance," special rights for individuals based on those components.  This could even extend to a person being allowed to use the bathroom of a gender that is the opposite of his or her biological gender.

It's a mess - and perhaps the most high-profile of these ordinances comes out of Houston, Texas, where the HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) last year passed the City Council, under the leadership of openly gay mayor Annise Parker.  According to a report on the Family Research Council website, "There was overwhelming opposition to the law in Houston and that triggered an effort by the citizens to repeal HERO by referendum." This campaign was led primarily by a group of pastors and churches who collected twice the number of signatures required to place the repeal vote on the ballot. However, Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman said that the sufficient number of signatures had not been collected.  Furthermore, in preparing their defense, city officials subpoenaed various forms of communication by pastors who had opposed HERO.  The city later withdrew the subpoenas after national opposition arose.

As FRC reports, three months ago a Texas district court judge ruled that the petitioners had failed to gather enough valid signatures to get the repeal measure on the ballot. But, this week, that decision was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court, which concluded that the City Secretary had certified the petition and that brought the "City Council's ministerial duty" to go through the repeal process into effect. The Court held that the Houston City Council must stop enforcement of HERO and reconsider the ordinance. If it does not repeal HERO by August 24, 2015, then by that date "the City Council must order that the ordinance be put to popular vote during the November 2015 election."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The 3 - July 19, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, the HHS contraception mandate is back in the news, and a non-profit organization that cares or the elderly has been told it must comply with the mandate to provide contraception and drugs that could induce abortion in their health care plans. Another story from the previous week involves the cancellation of a reality show featuring a high-profile Christian family.  And, the top story involves a video that shows a Planned Parenthood official discussing how parts from pre-born children who are being aborted are being removed and sold.

3 - Appeals Court rules against Little Sisters of the Poor in contraception mandate case

The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that employers provide free contraception and drugs that could cause abortion in their health care plans, is still being contested in court, and non-profit organizations are attempting to find some relief from having to comply.

This week, the Little Sisters of the Poor received a ruling against them in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  According to the DailySignal.com website, the organization, with is a nonprofit, religious organization that serves the elderly worldwide, must abide by the mandate. The ruling also applied to four Christian universities in Oklahoma joining them in the suit.

The judges wrote: "Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of plaintiff’s beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme relieves plaintiffs of their obligations under the mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or infringe upon their First Amendment rights.”

Talk about a scheme - here's how the accommodation works for non-profit organizations, according to the Daily Signal website.  The scheme "requires religious organizations that object to the contraception mandate to notify the Department of Health and Human Services of religious-based objections. The government will then notify the insurance company or third-party administrator, which then provides coverage directly to the employees."

Little Sisters of the Poor says that participating in this “contraceptive delivery scheme” made them complicit and thus violated their religious beliefs. Instead, the group sought to be treated the same as houses of worship, like churches, which can exclude contraceptive coverage from insurance plans.

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, there are 56 non-profit lawsuits against the mandate, with injunctions being granted in 23 of those, and 13 being denied.  Becket Fund attorney Daniel Blomberg, said in a statement, according to the Daily Signal: “We will keep on fighting for the Little Sisters, even if that means having to go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Also, ChristianityToday.com reports that in the coming school year, Wheaton College will not offer a student health insurance plan (SHIP) due to the federal requirement under Obamacare that the plan offer "morally objectionable" products and services—abortifacient drugs and intrauterine devices (IUDs).   Earlier this month, the 7th Circuit had denied a request for a preliminary injunction to exempt the school from the mandate.

2 - Duggars' television show will not continue

Not surprisingly, the TLC cable channel announced that the reality show, "19 Kids and Counting," featuring the Duggar Family, has been cancelled, according to a report on the ChristianityToday.com website, which said that TLC also announced a new partnership with sex abuse prevention group Darkness to Light and anti-sexual violence organization RAINN to “raise awareness and educate parents and families about the issue.”  The channel plans to produce a documentary, and 2 members of the Duggar family, sisters Jill and Jessa, who were molested by their older brother, will be part of it.

The unfortunate series of events leading to the cancellation of the show can be accurately traced back to the teen years of Josh Duggar, the oldest child in the family, who inappropriately touched a number of young girls, including several of his sisters.  In attempting to emphasize to Josh the seriousness of these indiscretions, the parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, took him to the police. Recently, the police report was publicized, and that led to the eventual cancellation of the show.

CT reported that in a statement posted on their website, Jim Bob and Michelle thanked the film crew who’d worked on the show, which first aired in 2008.

They said, "With God’s grace and help Josh, our daughters and our entire family overcame a terrible situation, found healing and a way forward. We are so pleased with the wonderful adults they have all become,” adding, "It is our prayer that the painful situation our family went through many years ago can point people toward faith in God and help others who also have lived through similar dark situations to find help, hope and healing, as well.”

1 - Planned Parenthood exposed for profiting from pre-born babies' bodies, lawmakers vow to investigate

Despite attempts by the nation's largest abortion provider to spin the story otherwise, members of Congress are calling for an investigation of Planned Parenthood after an undercover video was revealed, showing senior director of medical research at Planned Parenthood, Deborah Nucatola, discussing how to maintain parts of a fetus for medical research during abortion procedures, according to a report on the ChristianHeadlines.com website, publishing a report from Religion News Service.

According to the site, the video was made by the Center for Medical Progress, which used two actors posing as employees at a biotech firm who met with Nucatola over lunch to discuss how to access the fetal tissue for research purposes. The center calls itself a group of citizen journalists dedicated to exposing injustices in the medical field.

The article says that the Center for Medical Progress’ two main claims are that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue to medical researchers and that the abortion rights group violates the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which prohibits late-term abortions and certain procedures. Planned Parenthood says neither claim is true.

Now, it appears Congress will look into the matter. House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that a congressional committee would investigate the claims. He is quoted as saying, "When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so,” adding, “When an organization 
monetizes an unborn child – and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video – we must all act.”

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The 3 - July 12, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, the attention turns to Oklahoma, where the Governor and Attorney General are standing against an order from the state's Supreme Court to remove a Ten Commandments monument.  Also, the couple who declined to back a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony faces a heavy fine, a deadline to pay it, and an order to keep quite about the case.  And, the top story involves the response of public officials in various parts of the nation about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

3 - OK governor says "no" to removal of 10 Commandments

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last month that a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, which was paid for using private funds, must be removed.  However, Governor Mary Fallin said on Tuesday that the monument isn't going anywhere.

That's according to a report on The Daily Signal website, which quotes the governor as saying: “Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions,” adding, “However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government.” Attorney General Scott Pruitt has requested the state Supreme Court rehear the case. After the initial court ruling, both Fallin and Pruitt made it clear they would request a rehearing and attempt to overturn the verdict.

The state ACLU had originally filed suit seeking to have the monument removed, claiming that the monument violated the Oklahoma State constitution, which prohibits public funding or property to go toward supporting a particular sect of religion, according to Article II, Section 5 of the constitution. The state Supreme Court initially ruled by a 7-2 margin that the monument was unconstitutional, based on the grounds that it is “obviously religious in nature and … an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.” But, Pruitt said after the decision that the monument was in fact constitutional and that the court got it wrong.  He cited a similar monument in Texas the U.S. Supreme Court deemed to be constitutional.

Governor Fallin is quoted as saying: “Celebrating the historical importance of religions and religious values is not a new idea. Our nation is steeped in references to God and the rights He bestows on all men and women.” She added, “None of these represent state endorsement of or support for any religion. They are celebrations or visual representations of our culture and events of historical importance.”

Lawmakers have proposed legislation to allow the people of Oklahoma to vote on whether Article II, Section 5 of the constitution should be eliminated. As a result, the monument will remain intact as the state appeals the court’s decision and the legislature considers the proposed changes to the state constitution.

2 - Oregon bakers stare down deadline for paying heavy fine for not providing cake for same-sex wedding ceremony

The deadline is Monday (July 13) for Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay an exorbitant, $135,000 fine for merely declining to participate in a ceremony celebrating a same-sex marriage.  But, thanks to the overreaching of the Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the Kleins face a lein on their home if they don't pay up.

Aaron has been outspoken in that he does not intend to pay the fine, and he's not keeping quiet about it.  Not only had the Commissioner ordered the Kleins to pay, but he had ordered them not to speak out about the case.  Aaron said to Todd Starnes of Fox News, “This is intimidation and bullying - that’s exactly what it is,” adding, " They are trying to strong-arm me into handing over $135,000 to the two girls and if I win on appeal - they will never pay me back.”

According to attorney Anna Harmon, the Commissioner, whose name is Brad Avakian, "...is intent on using his office to root out thought and speech with which he personally disagrees." A Family Research Council Washington Update piece states that one investigation shows that the Bureau was already ethically compromised:

While the state was busy accusing Aaron and Melissa of bias, emails suggest their agencies were full of it. In emails, text messages, phone calls, and other documents, Daily Signal found a shocking amount of collusion between the Bureau and the largest LGBT activist group in the state: Basic Rights Oregon (BRO).

Aaron Klein is quoted as saying: "Brad and his cohorts at BOLI have overstepped their [authority] in requiring me to cease and desist from my constitutional freedom," adding, "I will fight them with every last breath I have." As FRC says, as tough as it's been on their family, Melissa says that it's an honor to be a voice for religious liberty. She says: "It's making us stronger and emboldening us to stand up to this. Aaron and I are fighting for every American out there -- for their freedom. We are not backing down at all."

1 - State officials in a variety of states refuse to marry gay couples

Meanwhile, state officials in various parts of America are refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples:

In Ohio, a judge who also serves as an elder in his local congregation has refused to marry two lesbians this week based on his “personal and Christian beliefs” about marriage, according to ChristianNews.net.

Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell, an elder at First Church of God in Columbus, declined to officiate for Carolyn Wilson and her partner last Monday because of his Christian faith. The women, upset about the matter, then went to the media to lodge a complaint.

In a statement released by the judge, McConnell stated: " The declination was based upon my personal and Christian beliefs established over many years,” adding, “I apologize to the couple for the delay they experienced and wish them the best.”  Another judge officiated over the two after McConnell declined, which should be the end of this story, but judging from past actions from gay couples wishing to get married or to force a creative artist to participate in the their ceremony, don't count on it.

In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear has ordered a county clerk to issue “marriage” licenses to same-sex pairs or resign from his position.  According to ChristianNews.net, the governor told Casey County clerk Casey Davis on Thursday those were his two choices.

Davis had met with the governor this week to outline his concerns and his convictions not to facilitate the sins of others. During the meeting, approximately 50 of Davis’ friends and family members gathered to pray at the capitol rotunda. Three other Kentucky clerks, Kenny Brown in Boone County, Kim Davis in Rowan County and Jason Denny in Anderson County, have likewise expressed their objections to issuing the licenses due to their Christian convictions.  The governor is quoted as saying: “One of Mr. Davis’ duties as county court clerk is to issue marriage licenses, and the Supreme Court now says that the United States Constitution requires those marriage licenses to be issued regardless of gender.”

In Texas, an East Texas county clerk has resigned rather than comply with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  According to the Dallas Morning News, Rusk County Clerk Joyce Lewis-Kugle submitted her resignation letter Thursday. County Judge Joel Hale, Rusk County’s top administrator, said Lewis-Kugle wrote that she could not in good conscience issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Also, in Alabama, the Supreme Court had asked for briefs before a Monday deadline last week on the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.  Liberty Counsel, which had been involved in the case that resulted in probate judges being prevented from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a singular Federal judge attempted to strike down Alabama's marriage amendment, filed a brief encouraging the state's high court: “When considering the Supreme Court’s Obergefell opinion, state Supreme Courts should contemplate the “decision’s substantial assault on the Rule of Law, Democracy, and Natural Law, and its necessary diminishment of the constitutional right to Free Exercise of Religion.”

The brief by Liberty Counsel points out that the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to follow the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the Dred Scott case, which said that blacks were not entitled to full protection as citizens. The Liberty Counsel brief also urged the Alabama Supreme Court to protect the religious freedom of its citizens.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The 3 - July 5, 2015

The 3 returns this week with perspective and commentary regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage across America, including some 30 states where the voters had approved amendments to the respective states' constitutions.   Also, this past week, the high court upheld, at least temporarily the "Choose Life" specialty license plates in a case from North Carolina. And, fires at African-American churches have been on the rise since the Charleston tragedy, and even though a fire this week is apparently due to lightning, two other fires over the last few weeks have been determined to be arson, and there are still concerns.

3 - Supreme Court upholds "Choose Life" license plates

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued yet another decision about specialty license plates.  This time, the high court overturned two lower court rulings about the "Choose Life" plates in the state of North Carolina, according to a report on the ChristianNews.net website.  The Supreme Court affirmed the state's right to issue “Choose Life” license plates.  The website had reported that in February of last year, a three-judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the plates as being “at odds with the First Amendment.”  A U.S. District Court Judge had ruled in December 2012 that the plates amounted to viewpoint discrimination because the state did not also issue plates favoring abortion.

The website reports that the state first began offering “Choose Life” plates in 2011 after legislators approved a measure allowing the pro-life plates to be produced. Each plate is an extra $25, fifteen of which goes to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a non-profit organization that helps to fund pregnancy care centers throughout North Carolina.

The Fourth Circuit had said that, “Issuing a ‘Choose Life’ specialty license plate while refusing to issue a pro-choice specialty plate constitutes blatant viewpoint discrimination squarely at odds with the First Amendment.” But on Monday, the Supreme Court overturned the appeals court's ruling, ordering the Fourth Circuit to reconsider its decision in light of the high court’s ruling earlier this month in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Supreme Court had ruled in Walker that state-issued license plates amount to government speech, and therefore, the state can reject messages that it does not endorse.

LifeNews.com quoted lead counsel Scott Gaylord, one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with the Alliance Defending Freedom and a professor of law at Elon University School of Law, who said: “Third parties like the ACLU cannot sanitize the public square of views a state communicates simply because they do not like those messages,” adding, “As the Supreme Court made clear in Walker, the attempt to censor a message like North Carolina’s ‘Choose Life’ message is inconsistent with both the purpose of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s government speech precedents.”

2 - Latest fire at African-American church caused by lightning, but some past fires at black churches ruled to be arson

This past week, news emerged of a seventh fire at a Southern African-American church since the death of 9 at a Charleston church.  Christianity Today relayed a CNN report that the FBI believes that the June 30 fire at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, SC was likely caused by lightning.

So far, in this latest round of church fires, at least two - College Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina - have been classified as arson.

A wave of church fires in 1996, which included many black churches, led Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act and President Clinton to open a related Justice Department task force.

By 2000, that task force had investigated 945 church fires, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security, with more than 305 convictions in 224 arsons and bombings. The number of arson declined following a spike in the mid-1990s.

There have been some strong comments from Christian leaders.

CT offered these comments:

Quest Church pastor Eugene Cho said on his Facebook page: "...Please pray for our sisters and brothers. Pray for their church communities. Pray for their hearts and minds. Pray for their safety. Pray for their local communities to literally surround them in both fierce and tender protection and love. Pray for their leadership. Pray for the investigation. Pray for justice. Pray for repentance. And yes, we are bold enough to keep praying for reconciliation."

Beth Moore tweeted, “The God Who Sees knows exactly who is burning Black churches.” She added, “With 1 unified voice let's ask Him to expose them at once & stop this madness.”
And, African-American professor Anthony Bradley from The King's College wrote on Twitter, "Black churches are burning again. No. 7 since #CharlestonShooting. This is why we talk about race so much."

1 - Response continues to Supreme Court gay marriage ruling

This week, there continued to be response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that established a constitutional right to so-called same-sex marriage.  A number of Christian leaders, from the moment of the ruling on June 26 throughout this past week, have offered perspective on this ruling.

I had a chance this week to talk with Ryan Anderson, who serves with the Heritage Foundation.  In an article on The Daily Signal website from June 26, he wrote:

We must work to restore the constitutional authority of citizens and their elected officials to make marriage policy that reflects the truth about marriage. We the people must explain what marriage is, why marriage matters, and why redefining marriage is bad for society.

Anderson also relates that:

Because the court has inappropriately redefined marriage everywhere, there is urgent need for policy to ensure that the government never penalizes anyone for standing up for marriage. As discussed in my new book, “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” we must work to protect the freedom of speech, association and religion of those who continue to abide by the truth of marriage as union of man and woman.

I also chatted with Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, who had written a piece for Christianity Today, and offered these thoughts in it: "... before you engage in conversations about marriage on social media, in your churches, or in your communities, take a portion of time and devote it to prayer. Ask the Lord to reveal the needs of the people around you. Ask him to give you a spirit of compassion amidst the proclamation of truth. We rightly care about marriage, but we can't do it alone."

He also encourages believers to love their neighbors and to show and share the love of Jesus.

Emily Belz of WORLD News Group talked with me, as well, and gave some insight on the various justices' writings in a story she had written about the ruling, including Justice Kennedy's majority opinion and the dissents from four different justices.  Kennedy wrote:

“The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time. … These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage.
“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality..."

There have been concerns over religious freedom protections for people of faith who disagree with same-sex marriage.  According to the WORLD report, Kennedy's opinion said:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered..."

But, dissenting justices expressed their concern that there may not be adequate protections for people of faith who object to same-sex marriage.  Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

“Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. … The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses..."

This week has been one for Christians to process the implications of the Supreme Court ruling, and begin to consider the way forward.  It is important that we are steadfast in our commitment to our own marriages, as well as the institution, as defined by God.  It is also critical that we speak truth, even though the nation's highest court has found a "right" that stands in direct opposition to our Scriptural admonitions.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The 3 - June 21, 2015

This week on my week-in-review feature, The 3: there was a free speech issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, which yielded a positive outcome for an Arizona church.  Also, Southern Baptists gathered in Columbus, Ohio this week and emphasized spiritual awakening.  And, a tragedy in a church in Charleston, South Carolina left 9 people dead and spurred prayer gatherings to remember the dead and to cry out for a better way forward in the area of race relations.

3 - Supreme Court rules in favor of church in sign case

Good News Community Church is in Gilbert, Arizona.  It doesn't have a permanent building, and sought to notify residents about the church's meeting location by using signs.  According to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website, the town of Gilbert had a "...zoning ordinance that said such a “directional” sign to a religious meeting could only be posted 12 hours before the event, and up until one hour after. That meant the church couldn’t post signs showing directions to its Sunday morning service until after the sun went down the night before. The town regulations also required church directional signs to be no bigger than six square feet, while other political and ideological signs could be much bigger."

The church had filed a lawsuit, and lower federal courts, including the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had ruled against Good News.  This past Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling, said that the regulations violated free speech because, according to WORLD, the government was targeting certain types of speech, which was a “content-based” law.

Clarance Thomas wrote the majority opinion. He said, "On its face, the sign code is a content-based regulation of speech. We thus have no need to consider the government’s justifications or purposes for enacting the code to determine whether it is subject to strict scrutiny.”  The WORLD article stated:
In order for a government regulation to survive strict scrutiny, it must demonstrate it furthers a “compelling government interest” and is “narrowly tailored.” The court ruled the Gilbert ordinance was neither. Because the town allowed unlimited large political and ideological signs, it couldn’t argue the small church signs were particularly distracting to drivers or ruining the town’s aesthetics.
Thomas wrote that the town can still regulate signs for safety and aesthetics, but it must not base its regulations on the signs’ content.

Emily Belz, who wrote the article for WORLD, was a guest on The Meeting House to discuss the ruling.  You can access that conversation here.

2 - Southern Baptists gather in Columbus, Ohio, include prayer emphasis

The Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio this past week, and according to a piece on the Baptist Press website, there were a number of significant aspects of the meeting.  Perhaps the most notable was the emphasis on spiritual awakening. The report says that a Tuesday night prayer gathering led by SBC President Dr. Ronnie Floyd, drew an estimated 7,000 Southern Baptists, who spent two hours asking God for a third Great Awakening in America and the global advance of the Gospel. Also, the gathering was watched by an additional 8,000 people online and broadcast on Daystar television.

In his presidential address, Dr. Floyd called on Southern Baptists to provide spiritual and moral leadership amid a time of crisis in the world that also is "our most defining hour as Southern Baptists."  There was also a resolution on "revival and spiritual awakening" that included language that Southern Baptists "faithfully and fervently plead with our great God to open the windows of heaven and come down among His people with a fresh filling of His Spirit."

There was also a resolution on the "public witness on marriage," which called the Supreme Court to "uphold the right of the citizens to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman." The resolution said that Southern Baptists will not waver in their defense of traditional marriage regardless of how the court rules. The marriage resolution said, "the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage."  There were two resolutions that spotlighted religious persecution, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC announced it would open an international religious freedom office.

Ethnic diversity was also the topic of a resolution, emphasizing a rededication to the work of racial reconciliation.

This year, there were 5,407 registered messengers, which was up from 5,294 in Baltimore last year. There was also a celebration of nearly 60 missionaries during the first-ever joint missions service of the International and North American Mission Boards.

1 - Churches in Charleston stand together after tragedy

On Wednesday, a young man entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina, which was having a prayer and Bible study meeting.  An hour later, 9 people were dead.  The next day, 21-year-old Dylann Roof was arrested for the tragedy at the Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The Christian Post website reported that Christian leaders and organizations condemned the killing, including the acknowledgement of the "sin of racism" in America, as more than 4,000 residents and leaders of different faiths came together to pray for the city.

A statement from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of Southern Baptist Convention said, "There is hardly a more vivid picture of unmasked evil than the murder of those in prayer." The statement from ERLC President Russell Moore and 3 other leaders of the denomination said, "This act of bloodshed is wicked and more than wicked. It is literally satanic, as our Lord taught us that the devil is a 'murderer from the beginning' (John 8:44)," adding, "Virtually every week we see yet another incident pointing to the sin of racism in American society, from unarmed African-American men and children killed in the streets to worshippers gunned down in their pews...This must end. And the church of Jesus Christ must lead the way."

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also issued a statement, which included these words: "The Charleston massacre once again proves that there exists a war between darkness and light. When hatred and violence emerge to silence peace and love, all Americans, all humanity suffers..." He condemned "all vestiges of hatred and intolerance" and affirmed, "Silence is not an option."

A Meeting House Front Room blog post included some local response. Here is some of the material that I covered, taken from The Post and Courier:
Bursts of loud applause punctuated Thursday’s midday prayer vigil honoring the nine victims of Charleston’s first modern mass shooting. Heartfelt praise and loud singing characterized the evening vigil at Royal Missionary Baptist Church. And at Second Presbyterian Church, worshippers filled the pews for a somber prayer service before marching with tears and flowers to a memorial at the shooting site.
Here are some quotes from a special service at Morris Brown AME Church:
Rt. Rev. Dr. John Richard Bryant, senior bishop of the AME Church, spoke of the resiliency of the faithful. He said, "the young man picked the wrong place," then addressed what he called the elephant in the room: “the growth of senseless violence.”

Mayor Joe Riley said that the Emanuel church was already a sacred place and declared, "And now it’s even more sacred. Sacred because of the lives lost in it while in prayer.” He added, "It isn’t when we fall that counts, it’s how we get up...We will look back on (this tragedy) as a time when love and goodness came together to overcome evil."

Gov. Nikki Haley said, “As all eyes of this country are on our state and our city...what happened in that church is not the people of South Carolina.” She added, "If this can happen in church, we’ve got some praying to do. If there’s one thing we can do in South Carolina it’s pray. ... We are a state of faith, we are a state of prayer, we are a state of love.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, Pastor of Hope Christian Church outside Washington, DC, and co-founder of The Reconciled Church, joined me on The Meeting House to discuss the Charleston shooting and a special prayer motorcade even that had been planned for Baltimore this past Saturday.  You can access that audio here.  Also, Dr. Alveda King, niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life joined me.   Audio from that conversation will be available soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The 3 - June 14, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, a look at news emerging from Africa, where dozens of Christians from Eritrea have been kidnapped by Islamic State.  Also, Michigan's governor has signed into law 3 bills designed to protect faith-based agencies that provide adoption services from having to violate their convictions.  And, pro-life legislation from Texas got a boost in a Federal appeals court - the same week that it was announced that a bill that would ban abortions at the stage at which research has proven that an unborn child can feel pain would be taken up by the U.S. Senate,

3 - News spreads of 88 Eritrean Christians kidnapped by ISIS

Earlier this week, on its website, the Christian advocacy organization Open Doors published an article on the plight of 88 Christians in Eritrea who were kidnapped by ISIS.  The organization says that it has been reported that there are numerous children and at least 12 women.

These Christians were reportedly fleeing Eritrea, ranked #9 on the Open Doors World Watch List, due to persecution and human rights violations (as noted by the just released UN report), only to be kidnapped by the Islamic State.   Open Doors is in this region helping believers who are facing the same uncertain and terrifying circumstances that these 88 have fell victim to.   Eritrea is located in northern Africa.

The article also mentions similar events from earlier this year of the kidnapping and later killing of the 21 Egyptian and 28 Ethiopian Christian martyrs.

The website says:

The Islamic State is growing in influence in Libya and throughout this region. Throughout North Africa, the Middle East and even parts of Asia, unprecedented persecution has been occurring. To create a way for you to advocate for those throughout this region, Open Doors has a petition for you to sign, asking President Obama to take action and address the urgent security concerns of believers in this region by appointing a Special Envoy.

According to its Facebook page, in the coming week, Open Doors will be launching a prayer campaign during the month of Ramadan (June 18th - July 17th) to unite Christians around the world in prayer for the persecuted church and for Muslims to have an encounter with Jesus during this time. A prayer guide is available - for more information, go to www.opendoorsusa.org

2 - New MI law protects religious freedom rights of adoption agencies

This week, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed 3 bills designed to protect adoption agencies in the state from being forced, in opposition to their deeply held religious beliefs, to allow certain couples to adopt.  In a piece on The Daily Signal website from Sarah Torre and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, they comment:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law three bills protecting the freedom of private adoption agencies to operate in accordance with their beliefs, including that children deserve a married mother and father. This is good public policy. The Michigan law comes on the same day the North Carolina legislature protected the religious liberty of clerks and magistrates in that state over the governor’s veto.

The writers make the point that, "...allowing private adoption providers to operate according to their own values—including declining to place children in unmarried or same-sex households—does not prevent public agencies or other private providers from choosing to do so."  They stress that, "Foster care and adoption policy should seek to increase the number of families willing to foster and potentially adopt children. These agencies should be free to operate according to their values, as they have for decades, especially concerning their reasonable and religiously informed beliefs about marriage."

A report on the MLive.com website quotes the governor: "The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn't be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process."  He added, "We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup."

1 - TX abortion law continues to win in court, US Senate to take up 20-week abortion ban

A 2013 Texas pro-life law, HB 2, survived a court challenge in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this past week.  Baptist Press reported on how contested portions of the law were upheld by the appeals court.  It quotes the Texas Values pro-family organization, which said in a news release that the standards prescribed in the law are “steps to protect women who go into abortion facilities from being less likely to jeopardize their own lives.”  The leader of that organization, Jonathan Saenz, is quoted as saying, "The court’s decision ensures that abortion clinics must uphold basic health standards -- standards that are required of other surgical centers in the state.”

The article noted that a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court noted in their published opinion that many of the ambulatory surgical center (ASC) standards “seem benign and inexpensive."

The piece said that, "The challenged portion of the law upheld in this most recent court decision joins another provision challenged and upheld in court regarding the requirement that doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location where an abortion is performed."

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill in Washington, CitizenLink reports that:

Sen. Lindsey Graham announced the Senate will take up the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill stops abortions after 20 weeks – the time at which preborn babies can feel pain.

Pro-life leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, joined Graham at a news conference in support of the bill.

“Right now in our country, a child can be killed in his or her mother’s womb for any reason, at any point, up until the moment of birth,” Dannenfelser explained. “We are one of only seven nations in the world, including China and North Korea, to allow such brutality. We are a better nation than this.”

The Senate is expected the pass the measure, while it is anticipated that the President will veto the bill.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The 3 - June 7, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes news out of North Carolina, where a new pro-life bill expanding a waiting period has been signed into law.  Also, a reality television family known for its Christian values is telling their side of the story involving the admission that their oldest son molested several of his sisters.  And, the top story involves the prospect of new regulations that would force non-profit organizations that receive Federal funds to hire homosexuals and transsexuals.

3 - NC Governor signs abortion waiting period into law

There is more news of out the state of North Carolina this week.  Last week, I reported that Republican Governor Pat McCrory had vetoed a bill that would have protected magistrates in the state from being forced to perform same-sex marriage.  This week, the governor weighed in on the side of pro-life legislation, signing a bill increasing the abortion waiting period in the state from 24 to 72 hours, according to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website.

The article points out that based on experience in the three states that already have 72-hour waiting periods—Missouri, Utah, and South Dakota—there is a likelihood that the legislation would contribute to saving the lives of unborn babies.

Debi Nelson is the director of Arches New Hope Pregnancy Center in Moab, UT, and was quoted in the article.  She has counseled women since 2004, and said many women are still in shock when they visit a pregnancy center and want to take action as soon as possible—but when they receive information and have time to think, they usually find an alternative solution.  According to WORLD, she wants to make sure they are not making hasty decisions, so she educates clients on all their options.

WORLD reports that since 2010, North Carolina abortions have declined by 26 percent, and that proponents of the 72-hour waiting period bill expect the law to continue that trend. Paula McSwain, executive director of the Lincoln County (N.C.) Crisis Pregnancy Center, is quoted as saying: “For somebody that’s on the line, it gives them time to make an informed decision and not just an emotional decision or a quick-fix decision,” adding, “An abortion is not an emergency procedure, so I don’t think there is a big rush to get this done in 24 hours."

2 - Duggars respond to critics in light of son's molestation admission

After the revelations of Josh Duggar's admission of molestation of young girls when he was 14 years old, the Duggar family had made a statement on their Facebook page.  But, that was really the only media that the family used in order to communicate their view of the situation.  That is, until this week, when father and mother Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, as well as sisters Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard, were interviewed by Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

The Fox News website reported on the interview with the two Duggar sisters, who were victims of inappropriate contact, along with reportedly two of their sisters and a babysitter. Seewald is quoted as saying, “…I can speak out and I can say this and set the record straight here. Like in Josh’s case, he was a boy, a young boy in puberty and a little too curious about girls. And that got him into some trouble. And he made some bad choices, but really the extent of it was mild, inappropriate touching, on fully clothed victims, most of it while girls were sleeping.”

They said they were unaware of what their brother had done to them until he confessed to their parents, prompting their parents to speak to them about their brother’s behavior.  Dillard said, "It wasn’t like we were keeping a secret afraid or something. We didn’t know until Josh explained to my parents what his thought process was, what everything was…”

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar took steps of prevention, and here is some material from the Fox News story about what was related to Kelly in the segment aired Wednesday night:
Jim Bob recalled taking Josh with him to work and punishing him at home. He said they were "keeping an eye on Josh ... all the time and watching his behaviors, watching his attitudes."

But after two more incidents, “we felt we had to get help,” Jim Bob said. Josh was sent to a man in Little Rock for counseling – an experience his father described as “the turning point of his life.”
“As parents we were trying to do the best thing we knew how,” Michelle said. Jim Bob agreed, "Looking back, we did the best we could under the circumstances."

Following his return from Little Rock, his parents took Josh to a local Arkansas State police facility where he described his actions. “We felt it was an important step for Josh to confess to the police,” Jim Bob said.
The Duggar sisters told Megyn Kelly that they believe they are being victimized.  This is also from the Fox News website:
“We’re victims. They can’t do this to us,” a teary-eyed Dillard says of the media attention that has surrounded their story.
Seewald adds, “The system that was set up to protect kids, both those who make stupid mistakes or have problems like this in their life and the ones that are affected by those choices. It’s greatly failed.”
Kelly asked Jim Bob and Michelle if they thought the backlash against them was greater because of their Christian beliefs.  Jim Bob is quoted as saying, "I think, you know what, Christianity is not about being perfect or about being a perfect family, but it’s actually about being forgiven….People on the outside think, ‘well Christians are supposed to be perfect…’ No, you know what, all of us as Christians we struggle every day.”

The Fox News site stated that Seewald said the Duggars are being judged, especially since they are known for their strong Christian beliefs, but they are a family “with challenges and struggles just like anybody else.”

“It’s right to say ‘here’s what I believe, here’s my values,’ even if you’ve made stupid mistakes or failures,” Seewald said. “If you’ve had failures in your past it doesn’t mean you can’t be changed. I think that’s where, I think the real issue is people are making this sound like it happened yesterday.”

1 - Report: religious non-profit organizations who receive Federal funds may have to hire homosexuals, transgender individuals

Reports have emerged over the past week that the Obama Administration will soon require faith-based, charitable groups which receive federal grants to hire homosexuals and transsexuals.

According to a report on the Charisma News website, that information comes from published reports from the Center for Family and Human Rights.

Here is some background from that article:
Last summer, Obama inked an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide what Congress refused to pass, namely civil rights status for sexual behavior or subjective gender identity.

Now Obama is reportedly adding the "sexual orientation and gender identity" mandate to humanitarian groups that receive federal grants as well. 
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, says that this is the bottom line, according to the piece:  "Not only will Christian youth programs be required to hire homosexuals, the facilities will be required to open housing, locker rooms and restrooms to people of the opposite sex who subjectively say they are the opposite of their obvious biological sex."

Staver charges the President with using funding to force his immoral agenda on religious organizations, just as he has done with the use of state department funding for foreign nations.

This also coincides with speculation about what effect a U.S. Supreme Court ruling purporting to legalize "same-sex" marriage would have on religious organizations, including ministries and schools, who may be faced with being forced to comply with new regulations consistent with that new definition.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The 3 - May 31, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is some news that has been distributed this week about a Marine lance corporal who has been discharged from the military as the result of being court-martialed for displaying Scripture-related material on her desk.  Also, a victory of sorts in Syria, where Christians have been part of a fighting force to turn back incursions by the Islamic State.  And, in North Carolina, the governor has vetoed a bill granting protections to magistrates who do not wish to perform same-sex marriages because of their religious convictions.

3 - Marine who was court-martialed for posting Bible verse files appeal

Monifa Sterling was once a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps.  But not any longer. According to a report on the Gospel Herald website, she was convicted last year at a court martial as the result of not following orders to take down slips of paper with the Old Testament scripture displayed on her desk, including a paraphrase of Isaiah 54:17, "No weapons formed against me shall prosper."

The article referred to a Fox News piece that reported that last year at her trial, she represented herself and cited her right to religious expression under the First Amendment and her protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The military court found that the Biblical quote could "easily been seen as contrary to good order and discipline," and added, "Maintaining discipline and morale in the military work center could very well require that the work center remain relatively free of divisive or contentious issues such as personal beliefs, religion, politics, etc."

The Gospel Herald quotes a Washington Post report that said her rank was subsequently reduced from lance corporal to private and she was given a bad conduct discharge, which damaged her future chances at finding employment and makes her ineligible to receive veteran benefits.

The news continued to emerge this past week that Liberty Institute and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement announced they are appealing her case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest military court.  The Gospel Herald quotes Mike Berry, Liberty Institute's director of military affairs and senior counsel, who told Christian Today, "If the government can order a Marine not to display a Bible verse, they could try and order her not to get a religious tattoo or go to church on Sunday. Restricting a Marine's free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional."

The article quotes Franklin Graham, from his Facebook page: "Unbelievably, she was criminally prosecuted by the U.S. government for displaying this encouraging Scripture on her computer in her workspace. Give me a break-really? Can our society be at a point where a supervisor can order a young Marine to remove a Bible verse from her computer? Others are able to display secular messages without any opposition, but Sterling was targeted by her supervisor. Today there's a tolerance in our culture for everything-except the things of God and His Word. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has been asked to review LCpl Sterling's case-let's pray that this kind of targeting and persecution of Christians by our government will be stopped."

2 - Christians in Syria unite to fight ISIS

While opposition forces are attempting to erase gains made by Islamic State in recent weeks, a report on the WORLD Magazine website contains some good news regarding largely Christian areas in Syria.   There, an unheralded combination of Kurdish and Assyrian Christian fighters in recent weeks have managed to recapture a string of villages along the Khabur River from Islamic State, or ISIS.

These victories have come three months after ISIS swept into the area, taking command of 14 villages and kidnapping several hundred Assyrian Christians who lived there. These have gone unnoticed as ISIS made gains elsewhere, mainly in taking Palmyra further south in Syria, and capturing Ramadi in central Iraq. But as local forces reenter the Khabur River villages, they are finding a swath of devastation in the Islamic militants’ wake.  They also have destroyed Christian churches in the area.

Emanuel Youkhana, an Assyrian priest who heads the relief group CAPNI, is quoted as saying, "All the Christian Assyrian villages in Khabur are re-controlled and IS is pushed out." But he said there are newly discovered dangers, including land mines left in the vicinity of churches, leaving about 1,400 Assyrian families—nearly 7,000 persons—unable to go back to their homes and villages. Some are still living in churches in cities east of the Khabur River.

1 - Bill protecting magistrates from being forced to perform marriage of same-sex couple vetoed by NC Governor

With the proliferation of so-called "same sex" marriage and the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling legalizing the practice on the horizon, states are attempting to take measures to protect officials who object to participating in this type of practice.  North Carolina lawmakers took the bold step of passing legislation that would give government officials the right to refuse to perform gay marriages due to religious objections, according to the Breaking Christian News website.

The bill was intended to protect the rights of those who face losing their job if they decline.

The article quotes Reuters, which reported that supporters of the bill claimed it would add needed protection for magistrates who have said they would not perform gay marriages since it became legal in North Carolina last year.

However, Republican Governor Pat McCrory issued a statement on his official website following the passage of the bill, saying:
"I recognize that for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath; therefore, I will veto Senate Bill 2."
Television station WITN reported that McCrory did indeed veto the bill a half-hour after his public statement, according to spokesman Josh Ellis. The bill now returns to the legislature, which could override the veto if at least three-fifths of the lawmakers voting in each chamber support it.

The House and Senate already passed the bill by margins above the threshold, although the House's 67-43 vote Thursday was barely above it. Ten House members had excused absences and didn't vote.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The 3 - May 24, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, highlights some content from a speech from the president of the Boy Scouts of America calling for gay Scout leaders.  Also, there were two court defeats this past week for non-profit organizations seeking to be released from the HHS contraception mandate.  And, religious freedom was defended by the Governor of Louisiana, and a bill protecting pastors and religious organizations cleared a major hurdle in Texas.

3 - Boy Scouts president announces that homosexual leaders should be allowed

This past Thursday, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, Robert Gates, in a speech at the annual Boy Scouts meeting in Atlanta, said the organization’s ban on homosexual leaders needs to be changed to “deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” according to a story on the WORLD Magazine website, which quotes Gates as saying, “the status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”

As Warren Cole Smith, the writer of the WORLD article, pointed out:
When the Boy Scouts decided in 2013 to allow homosexual youth into the program, critics of the change said then the decision was unsustainable. John Stemberger, who ultimately left the Scouts to found a group called Trail Life USA as a Christian alternative to the BSA, said then the new policy “creates a myriad of problems” for the Boy Scouts. Andrew Walker of the Heritage Foundation said the BSA’s 2013 policy of allowing gay boys but prohibiting gay men displayed “willed naiveté on this issue.” Gates himself seemed to agree when he said after becoming president of the BSA in May 2014 that he favored ending the ban on homosexual adult leaders.
As Smith reports, Gates said in his Thursday speech that a decision by a New York BSA council in April to hire the nation’s first openly gay adult leader, Pascal Tessier, was a direct affront to the national policy and posed a potentially damaging legal and reputational threat to the Boy Scouts. While Gates said that he didn't see that coming, the WORLD piece quotes Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, as saying: "When Alliance Defending Freedom was commenting on this policy change, we told them this is where this policy change would lead,” adding, “You can’t compromise in one area and then expect that compromise won’t have consequences elsewhere.”

2 - Court defeats for non-profit organizations seeking relief from HHS contraception mandate

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of closely-held companies in the Hobby Lobby case, involving the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces employers to provide free contraception and potential abortion-causing drugs in their health care plans, two non-profit organizations suffered court defeats this past week in their challenge to being forced to comply with the mandate.

The Washington Times reports that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a majority of its judges had decided not to rehear the lawsuit from Priests for Life, after a three-judge panel rejected its challenge in November.

That decision was the second ruling in two days against religious nonprofits who have filed suit to be exempted from the mandate.

The newspaper reported that earlier in the week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a preliminary injunction that would shield the University of Notre Dame from the mandate.

The Priests for Life website states:
So now we have 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.
And in the meantime, we need the Appeals court to keep in place the injunction which has protected us from the mandate throughout this litigation.
Priests for Life has been, and remains, the "lead case" for the religious non-profit sector, just as Hobby Lobby was for the business sector.
Our case -- represented by the American Freedom Law Center, and our attorneys Robert Muise and David Yerushalmi -- is farther along in the courts than the others -- even though some have gotten more media. None has gone to the Supreme Court yet on the merits of the arguments. There has been some Supreme Court activity just about preliminary injunctions, while the arguments on the merits of those other cases are being heard in lower courts.

1 - Louisiana Governor issues order for religious freedom protection; Texas Legislature approves protection for pastors

After a religious freedom protection bill, the Marriage and Conscience Act, failed to move forward in the Louisiana Legislature, Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order designed to accomplish the same purpose.

The bill was sponsored by Louisiana State Representative Michael Johnson, according to The Christian Post, and sought to protect businesses and individuals who oppose gay marriage from being legally compelled to provide services for said ceremonies.

After the announcement of the defeat of the bill, Governor Jindal said, "We will be issuing an Executive Order shortly that will accomplish the intent of HB 707 to prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman."  He added: "This Executive Order will prohibit the state from denying or revoking a tax exemption, tax deduction, contract, cooperative agreement, loan, professional license, certification, accreditation, or employment on the basis the person acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman."

Meanwhile in Texas, a bill referred to as the “Pastor Protection” bill, designed to protect pastors and their churches when refusing to perform a same-sex marriage, passed the Texas House with bipartisan support, according to the Breitbart.com website, which reported that the bill would go immediately to Texas Governor Abbott, who had vowed to sign it.

The vote for passage of the bill was 141-2, with five House members abstaining. The two who voted against the measure were Democrats.

The website reported that Senate Bill 2065, like the essentially identical House Bill 3567, provided that clergy, religious organizations, and employees of religious organizations may not be required to perform a marriage or provide goods, services, or accommodations related to a marriage ceremony, if the action would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The article says that Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values Action, provided the following statement to Breitbart Texas:
Texas made an important decision today to specifically protect the religious freedom of our pastors and churches that follow their beliefs on marriage. Government at any level should not be allowed to punish our clergy and churches for following their faith on marriage. We are thankful for the pastors, churches and church leaders from all across the state that have lead in this effort and have demonstrated the very real threats to religious freedom from those seeking to redefine marriage.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The 3 - May 17, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes a report on some of the relief efforts that have been taking place in Nepal, where a second major earthquake struck this week. Also, there is a new survey that shows that the number of people identifying as Christians is down, the number of those who are non-affiliated is up, and evangelicals experienced a slight decline.  And, a major piece of pro-life legislation protecting unborn children at over 20 weeks has passed the U.S. House.

3 - Relief efforts continue in Nepal; 2nd major earthquake hits

This past Tuesday, a powerful new earthquake struck the nation of Nepal, taking lives and sending thousands into the streets, according to a piece on the Baptist Press website, which reported that this week's 7.3-magnitude quake came just 17 days after a massive earthquake killed over 8,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Tuesday's tremor set off a series of landslides at the epicenter, Namche Bazar, which is near Mount Everest.

The site reported that Southern Baptist relief teams were already on the ground in Nepal from the earlier quake, and well-positioned to investigate the new damage and emergency needs. The Southern Baptist efforts are being coordinated by Baptist Global Reponse, with whom the International Mission Board partners in disaster response.  It was reported that BGR's Nepal Earthquake Response will continue to help hurting people with basic survival needs -- like water, shelter, food and healthcare -- in the coming days.

Samaritan's Purse is working in the region, as well, providing relief items such as shelter materials, clean water supplies, and hygiene and cooking kits.

And, Reach Beyond's efforts in the country are centered in the remote village of Harmi, which was epicenter of the first quake.  Virtually every structure was destroyed, including the Reach Beyond partner’s radio station.   People there are without housing, food, water and basic necessities.

Here's a report from Gospel for Asia's website:
Gospel for Asia Compassion Services workers are continuing to bring relief to the needy, especially those in rural, hard-to-reach areas, that have not yet received aid. In many of these villages, believers who attend fellowships led by Gospel for Asia-supported pastors are suffering, too: Some have lost homes and no longer have a place to meet to worship. Despite this, believers and pastors have assisted Compassion Services teams as they provide aid.

Mission Network News reports that, "The indigenous ministries in Nepal that Christian Aid Mission assists are well-positioned to help earthquake survivors. With rains and landslides cutting off road access to many areas, local Christian workers know how to get aid to people and how to come alongside shell-shocked survivors in their trauma."  (Here is the link to the Christian Aid website.)

These are examples of how Christian missions and relief organizations are responding to this devastating tragedy.

2 - Pew survey points to decline in Christianity, rise of the non-affiliated, and only slightly lower numbers for evangelicals

This week, the findings of a survey became so pervasive that the results ended up grabbing headlines. The Religious Landscape Study was conducted by Pew Researchand its website said there was a sample size of more than 35,000 Americans, designed to offer a detailed look at the current religious composition of U.S. adults.

Here is a summary of some of the key findings:

1. Christians are declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number. In 2007, 78.4% of U.S. adults identified with Christian groups, such as Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and others; seven years later, that percentage has fallen to 70.6%.

2. Within Christianity, the biggest declines have been in the mainline Protestant tradition and among Catholics.  The percentage of Mainline Protestants dropped from 18.1% in 2007 to 15.7% in 2014.  The Catholic share of the population fell to 20.8% from 23.9% over the same period.  With respect to evangelical Protestants, that percentage only declined about 1 point between 2007 and 2014 (from 26.3% to 25.4%).

3. The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation (religious “nones”).  The survey summary said that people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, which is about 7% of all U.S. adults, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults – up from 16.1% in 2007.

4. The major trends seen in American religion since 2007 – the decline of Christians and rise of the “nones” – have occurred in some form across many demographic groups, including men and women, older and younger Americans, and people with different levels of education and different races and ethnicities.

5. The share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism, has grown modestly.  Interestingly enough, less than 1 percent of the population - .9% - is identified as Muslim, .7 is identified as Hindu.

Another summary on the Pew Research website highlights the relatively small decline in the number of evangelical Protestants.  The report says that, "One big reason evangelical Protestants have not declined at the same rate as other major Christian groups is that they are gaining new converts at a greater rate than they are losing people who were raised in the tradition. While 8.4% of Americans were raised as evangelicals and have since left evangelicalism for another faith (or no faith), even more U.S. adults (9.8%) were raised in another faith (or without a religious affiliation) and have since become evangelicals."

1 - U.S. House passes ban on abortions after 20 weeks

This past Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks' gestation, according to a report on the LifeSiteNews.com website. The bill passed 242-184, largely along party lines.

The bill ended four months of what the article described as "often vitriolic debate" among Capitol Hill Republicans and pro-life activists about the legislation.   The article points out that the passage of the bill came on the second anniversary of the conviction of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, was convicted on three of four charges of murdering babies born alive after failed abortions.

According to LifeSiteNews.com, the bill was originally scheduled to come to the floor for a vote on the day of the March for Life, but a number of female members said they did not support a rape exception that allowed a woman to have a late-term abortion only if she reported the crime to police before aborting her child. Their opposition led to changes in the bill, including the removal of the reporting provision for adults.  Other changes included, based on that report:
  • a requirement that abortionists ensure that rape victims have received either medical treatment or licensed counseling a minimum of 48 hours prior to the late-term abortion, not at the abortion clinic, unless it is in a hospital,
  • the addition of language that requires the presence of a second doctor in the case of such abortions, in case the child is born alive, and 
  • the provision that a child who survives a late-term abortion is to be cared for in the same way as any premature child - a woman can sue if that part of the bill is violated.
Plus, accountability and reporting laws are also enhanced under the bill, and informed consent is required.

LifeSiteNews.com also included a story with response from pro-life leaders, including a number of lawmakers.  It quotes Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican from Gosnell's state of Pennsylvania, who said: "Scientific evidence now shows that unborn babies can feel pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization, and likely even earlier," adding, "A late term abortion is an excruciatingly painful and inhumane act against children waiting to be born and their mothers."  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The 3 - May 10, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature:  3 new Presidential candidates have entered the Republican race, and you could say that there is more identification with the evangelical Christian community. Also, good news from Nigeria, where hundreds of girls have been rescued from captivity, but there are also some concerns.  And, the top story includes prayer across America on the National Day of Prayer.

3 - More candidates enter Presidential race, more identification with evangelicals

Several weeks ago, there were 3 candidates in the Republican field for the 2016 Presidential nomination, and that total has now doubled due to announcements this week, and more identification from candidates with evangelical Christianity.

First out of the gate this week was renowned former neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who began to stir some potential voters after his 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.  But, as a Religion News Service profile points out, that speech slammed political correctness, as well as Obamacare. He's quoted as saying...“The PC police are out in force at all times,” adding, “People are afraid to say ‘Merry Christmas’ at Christmastime. …We’ve got to get over this sensitivity. You know it keeps people from saying what they really believe.”

His faith background is Seventh-Day Adventist, but he told RNS in 1999: “I spend just as much time in non-Seventh-day Adventist churches because I’m not convinced that the denomination is the most important thing." He said, “I think it’s the relationship with God that’s most important.”  Carson is attributed with saying that he prayed before each surgery, and said, "Quite frankly, as a neurosurgeon, there’s a lot of emphasis on technical ability, but I believe that that’s something that can be taught, but wisdom comes from God and I think that it’s something that you have to seek.”

Carson has been identified with evangelicals quite closely, having signed books at last year's Southern Baptist Convention, even though he withdrew from speaking at this year's Pastors' Conference.  Reportedly, that was due to concerns expressed by a group of younger pastors who did not want the Conference to be so aligned with politics, as well as doctrinal concerns.

The following day, a former pastor and governor threw his hat into the increasingly crowded ring, as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee announced his candidacy.  Another Religion News Service article highlighted his announcement, in which, according to the piece:
He portrayed himself as an economic populist, a protector of Social Security, a defender of Israel and the scourge of Iran. A former Southern Baptist minister and Fox News talk-show host, he also touched on issues that particularly resonate with many conservative Christians, including his opposition to same-sex marriage, his support of religious freedom laws and his concern about the country’s moral standards.
“This country could only be explained by the providence of Almighty God,” he declared, noting he had accepted Jesus as his savior at Bible camp when he was 10. His campaign announcement at the University of Arkansas Community College started with a prayer.
The piece notes that Huckabee "scored a surprising upset in the opening Iowa GOP caucuses by appealing to the state’s evangelical voters..." in 2008, but noted that he will have more company this year.  The articles points out that:
Born-again voters are a powerful part of the Republican electorate, especially in two of the states that hold early contests. In Iowa, about six in 10 GOP caucus-goers identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians in 2008 and 2012. In South Carolina, 65 percent of Republican primary voters were evangelicals.
The faith walk of Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was also highlighted. She announced her candidacy Monday, and says she relied on her faith when her stepdaughter died of a drug overdose. “Without my complete conviction that a loving God had been with Lori, and was with our family as we buried her, I am not sure how I would have coped,” she wrote in “Rising to the Challenge,” a memoir published Tuesday by Sentinel. 

According to another Religion News Service article, she reportedly grew up Episcopalian, and the piece says that at a recent Heritage Foundation event, she said when she was 8 years old her mother, who was also her Sunday school teacher, gave her a plaque that said: “What you are is God’s gift to you and what you make of yourself is your gift to God.”  The article says that according to The New York Times, she told Iowa’s Faith and Family Forum, “It was my husband Frank’s and my personal relationship with Jesus Christ that saved us from a desperate sadness,” referring to her breast cancer battle and her stepdaughter's death.

2 - Good news from Nigeria: hundreds of women, girls rescued

There is word of rescues coming out of Nigeria recently, according to ChristianNews.net.  This past Monday, 260 women and children that had escaped from the grip of Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram were found near Chalawa Village in Adamawa State.  This followed a rescue by the Nigerian army of hundreds in Sambisa Forest.

Unfortunately, a report states that over 200 of the nearly 700 women and girls that were recently rescued from Boko Haram are pregnant, indicating mass rape.

None of those rescued over the past week are believed to be among the Chibok girls that have been missing since 2013.

According to the article, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima has expressed concern over the large numbers of women and girls who have become pregnant by the Islamic terrorist group, believing that the group is attempting to grow more followers to carry on the group’s mission.

Spokesman Isa Gusau is quoted as saying, “They also believe that whoever does not hold their ideology is an unbeliever that should be killed and rendered homeless and whatever belongs to him or her becomes a legitimate booty recovered from enemies,” adding, “This booty includes women that are then allocated to ranking leaders of the sect as sex slaves.”

The ChristianNews.net piece points out that Boko Haram, which being translated means, “Western education is sinful,” has been seeking to build a caliphate in Northern Africa, a part of the continent that is predominantly Christian. The group has killed thousands since it stepped up its attacks in 2009, often targeting churches and those who are non-Muslim.

1 - Christians across America pray, read God's Word

This past Thursday marked the National Day of Prayer, which was determined by Congress to be observed on the first Thursday of May.  The National Day of Prayer Task Force sponsors a prayer gathering in the nation's capital each year, in the Cannon House Office Building.

This year, the honorary chair of the Task Force was Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas area.   A Baptist Press report quotes Graham as saying: "We are facing a crisis in America. These are desperate days," adding, "This is a crying time in America. It's a time for tears."

He called for extraordinary prayer, emphasizing the event's theme "Lord, Hear Our Cry," taken from I Kings 8:38. He said, "There's a time for ordinary prayer...But there is a time for what Jonathan Edwards the great revivalist called extraordinary prayer. Uncommon times call for uncommon prayer, and so we cry out to God. We cry out to God."

Graham read a letter from Saeed Abedini, a pastor who is imprisoned in Iran. He wrote: "The National Day of Prayer is a great opportunity for us to come out and use the freedom that we have been given. So many Christians around the world are imprisoned and martyred for their faith in Jesus." He said, "You have the freedom to gather across the United States at your state capitol to pray. Please use this opportunity. Please use your freedom for the Kingdom of God.

Leading up to the National Day of Prayer, the entire Bible was read on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building, which is where, according to a Charisma News report, the President takes his oath of office.  The report states that the U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon began in 1990, the year proclaimed by a Joint Congressional Resolution and Presidential Proclamation by President George H.W. Bush as the International Year of Bible Reading.  The event is intended to honor the Bible, celebrate religious freedom and unite the diverse branches of Christianity around the Bible.  The estimated time to read the entire Bible: 90 hours.

And, in the Faith Radio broadcast area, at least 3 Bible reading marathons took place, including an event on the west side of the State Capitol in Montgomery.   The cities of Troy and Ozark continued their tradition of holding a Bible reading marathon in their downtown areas.