Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 3 - March 29, 2015

In this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I delve into Presidential politics, which is quite relevant, because the first major candidate threw his hat into the ring this week, speaking at a Christian university.  Also, the new religious freedom bill in Indiana is intended to protect people of faith, but there is plenty of misinformation about the intent of the legislation.  Plus, racial reconciliation has been a major theme this week, with two organizations holding special events concentrating on race relations.

3 - First Republican Presidential candidate officially announces, evangelicals look for place to land

The event is being reported as the first official announcement by a Republican candidate for President in the 2016 election.  And, it took place at Liberty University, which is regarded as the nation's largest Christian college.  WORLD reports on the announcement by Texas Senator Ted Cruz:
By declaring his candidacy at Liberty University, the country’s largest Christian college, Cruz took an early stand as a cultural conservative. In videos posted online today, he attempted to connect with immigrants by referencing his Cuban father, women by praising his mother as a computer scientist who “shattered glass ceilings,” and religious believers by showing his family praying around the dinner table. He touted his efforts in the Senate to defund Obamacare and to block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Neither effort worked, but both demonstrated Cruz’s uncompromising values and set him up as a maverick conservative who is unafraid to take on either political party.
Cruz is approaching the office from a strongly evangelical perspective, but just because he belongs to the evangelical community doesn't mean he automatically has that constituency's support.  Consider some of the pro-family credentials that other candidates carry, according to a Baptist Press story:

For instance, former Florida governor Jeb Bush had announced his support of a federal marriage amendment, but has been criticized for a perceived shift in acceptance of gay marriage.  He also attempted to help save the life of Terri Schiavo, who had a brain deficiency and whose husband successfully attempted to remove food and water from her.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson has attracted the attention of evangelicals, is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage, and has chided abortion advocates for saying the pro-lifers are conducting a "war on women," according to LifeNews.com.

Current New Jersey governor Chris Christie also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, but dropped his appeal of a court decision legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey. He also signed into law a ban on state-licensed counselors trying to help children reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction. Religion News Service reported that Christie does not believe being homosexual is a sin or a choice.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is also a former pastor and opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.  I have observed that he is closely identified with Christian causes and activities, and was a featured speaker at this year's National Religious Broadcasters convention.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning first-term senator from Kentucky, opposes same-sex marriage but says the issue should be settled by state governments rather than the federal government, according to the Washington Post. Paul introduced a bill in the Senate that would declare a fertilized egg a human protected by law. He told a a University of Chicago forum his personal belief that "life begins at the very beginning" does not reflect the views of many Americans.

Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, supported a Texas constitutional amendment defining marriage as "only a union between a man and a woman," but in 2011 he affirmed New York's right under the Tenth Amendment to legalize same-sex marriage.

Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, defends the rights of states to define marriage as between one man and one woman and believes "the right to life outweighs the right to choose an abortion," according to a National Review report.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage.  As I have highlighted, Santorum also heads a Christian film studio that makes films from a Christian worldview perspective.

And, according to that Baptist Press report, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is a pastor's son who told attendees at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in February he supports "strong marriages" and seeks to protect innocent life, according to an NRB news release.  He signed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to view ultrasound images of their babies. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and has defended Wisconsin's ban of same-sex marriage, Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reported in October.

So, Cruz may be the first,  but as more candidates enter the race, it will be interesting to see which candidate or candidates may galvanize the evangelical vote in the 2016 Presidential race.

2 - Reaction, overreaction to Indiana's new religious freedom bill

This past week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a Religious Freedom Restoration Act for the state.  According to Ryan Anderson and Sarah Torre of the Heritage Foundation, writing for The Daily Signal website:
This is good policy that protects the fundamental freedom of Indiana citizens from unnecessary and unreasonable government coercion.
The Indiana law is based on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a law that has served the American people well for more than 20 years. Passed with 97 votes in the Senate and by unanimous voice vote in the House, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. This federal law prohibits substantial government burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so through the least restrictive means.
The writers point out that Indiana joins 19 other states that have implemented such laws. Also, they say that eleven additional states have religious liberty protections that state courts have interpreted to provide a similar level of protection.   Anderson and Torre state that, "...Religious Freedom Restoration Acts don’t allow individuals to do whatever they wish in the name of religion. There will be times when the government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression—to ensure public safety, for instance."  They add:
But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom. The way we’ve learned to live in a pluralistic society, with diverse religious and moral opinions, is to have a balancing test like the one the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides.
But, there are detractors who say this new RFRA, resembling a Federal law upon which the Hobby Lobby decision was based last year, and similar to laws in 19 other states protecting religious freedom, will license people of faith to discriminate against gays and lesbians.  The Indianapolis Star reports:
Criticism mounted swiftly on Thursday after Pence signed the bill that opponents say allows businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
Pence and his supporters have denied claims of discrimination, saying the bill only protects business owners from the government burdening them from practicing their religion.
But the website reports the mayor of San Francisco has said he is banning all city-funded trips to the state.  It says:
The San Francisco mayor is joined by other businesses, groups and individuals who have voiced concerns.
Among those are the NCAA, the tech company Salesforce and the gaming convention Gen Con.
 As Sarah Torre writes in another piece on The Daily Signal website:
The media’s gross mischaracterizations of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act ignore the truth: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts prevent government discrimination against religious free exercise and simply provide a way to balance religious liberty with compelling government interests.
And, this is to be pursued, as she points out, "in the least-restrictive means possible."

1 - Racial reconciliation comes into the spotlight with ERLC, Reconciled Church events

This past week, with a heightened opportunity to place an emphasis on race relations because of the anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, Christian leaders gathered to discuss issues surrounding racial reconciliation and how Christians of a variety of backgrounds can work together to better their communities.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a series of follow-up meetings conducted by The Reconciled Church, a consortium of Christian leaders representing a variety of churches and denominations, included a panel discussion on criminal justice reform and another on youth empowerment.  Reconciled Church co-founder Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition was on hand for the Montgomery events, as well as Jim Liske, President of Prison Fellowship.  That evening, a worship service took place at Fresh Anointing House of Worship featuring a number of local and nationally-known speakers.

The following day in Nashville, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention convened its annual leadership summit, with the theme, "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation."  A Baptist Press report said about the first day's activities:
The Gospel of Jesus is the solution to America's racial divisions, speakers said on the opening day of a Southern Baptist-sponsored leadership summit.

Black, white and Hispanic pastors and leaders addressed the issue of racial reconciliation Thursday (March 26) at the event...
The report said that longtime civil rights leader John Perkins told the audience of about 500, "I think that we are putting reconciliation back where it belongs -- within the Gospel itself."

Perkins is quoted as saying, in an interview with ERLC President Russell Moore, that people make a "big mistake" in pushing "reconciliation out of the Gospel," out of being a part of conversion that is understood as a Christian is discipled.

Some quotes from various speakers were posted on the ERLC website, including these from Tony Evans:
• "God's not asking me to be like you, or you to be like me, but both of us to be like Him."
• "We've abandoned truth for culture when truth is designed to lead culture"
• "When you take a stand on God's word, racial reconciliation doesn't take long."
Other speakers included Trillia Newbell, Fred Luter, and Trip Lee.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 3 - March 22, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, I turn my attention to President Obama's appeal to the Iranian government for the release of U.S. citizens from prison, including Pastor Saeed Abedini.  Also, a large Protestant denomination has received enough votes from its regional bodies to affirm marriage as the union of two individuals, not just a man and a woman.   And, the top story involves a bill that is intended reduce human trafficking that cannot be passed by the Senate because some lawmakers want an abortion restriction eliminated from the bill's language.

3 - President calls for release of Iranian prisoners, including Pastor Saeed

In association with the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, on Friday, President Obama called on Iran to release U.S. citizens believed to be in Tehran's custody, according to a report on the USA Today website.  The President reportedly said that "at this time of renewal, compassion and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home."

The article stated that three U.S. citizens — Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian — are believed to be in prison; a fourth — Robert Levinson — is missing and was last seen in Iran.

The statement comes as negotiations are continuing over Iran's nuclear program.

ChristianNews.net report stated that Mr. Obama described Pastor Saeed: “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs...He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.”

As the website had reviously reported, Abedini, a former Iranian Muslim turned Christian, left Iran in 2005 and moved to the United States with his wife and two children to find religious freedom after facing conflict with authorities for planting house churches in the county. In 2012, he traveled back to Iran to build an orphanage and visit his parents—and was about to return to the states—when he was taken into custody.

The website reported that Pastor Saaed's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, requested a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in January as he was scheduled to speak at an area university. She later told reporters that Obama advised her that “getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family.”  Also, she met last month with U.S. Religious Freedom Ambassador David Saperstein to discuss ways to secure Abedini’s release. And, last week, Keith Harper, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, also pleaded on behalf of Abedini before the UN, calling upon Iran to “uphold its religious freedom obligations and release those imprisoned for their religious beliefs, such as Pastor Saeed Abedini, and protect the rights of all individuals to manifest their religious beliefs.”

2 - Large denomination redefines marriage

Last summer, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to change the language in its Book of Order, the denomination’s governing constitution, to define marriage as a "unique commitment between two people," rather than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman as an act of Christian discipleship, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

After the vote last June, a majority of the PCUSA’s 171 presbyteries also had to approve the measure for it to go into effect. This past Tuesday, the number (86) was reached.

In a statement quoted by CT, the president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) criticized the denomination’s shift. Carmen Fowler LaBerge said, “In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture,” adding that, “Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost."

The amendment reportedly provides an exemption for PC(USA) teaching elders who believe that officiating a same-sex marriage would violate their “discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.” Local congregations can also deny the use of church property for same-sex ceremonies.  The new amendment is set to go into effect June 21.


1 - Human trafficking bill stalled in U.S. Senate because of abortion provision

This past week, a bill that was designed to increase penalties for anyone convicted of slavery, human smuggling and sexual exploitation of children was brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate, according to The Christian Post, which reports that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act enjoyed bipartisan support two weeks ago, but on Tuesday failed by five votes to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the bill.  It cites that USA Today reported that a second vote to end debate on the underlying bill also did not receive the needed amount of votes.

Democrats protested against a provision in the bill that sought to block any funds collected from being used to perform abortions, with the exception in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.

The Post reported said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who changed his vote to "no" to allow him to bring the bill up again later, warned Democrats about going against the bill. He is quoted as saying, "If Democrats actually vote to filibuster a bill to help victims of modern-day slavery, I can't imagine the American people will forget," adding that the filibuster is "a historic mistake."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn is quoted by LifeNews.com as saying that, “Children are being abused and literally sexually assaulted while, apparently, some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have decided to try to make a political point.” He added, “To our colleagues who are filibustering this legislation, are you prepared to turn your back on the thousands of people living every day in bondage and who are desperately clinging to the hope that someone, someone will lend them a helping hand? Are you prepared to abandon these children and these other victims of human trafficking who deserve a roof over their head, someone to lean on, and somehow, some way to get a fresh start in life?”

LifeNews.com also reported that McConnell said that, as a result of their vote holding up the bill, Republicans will not allow a vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who is noted by the news service as being, "pro-abortion."  McConnell indicated his intention to keep the Senate focused on this human trafficking legislation until its successful completion. Further cloture votes to break the filibuster are expected throughout this week.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The 3 - March 15, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, I spotlight action from the U.S. Supreme Court in another ruling following from its decision in the Hobby Lobby case regarding the Federal contraception mandate.  Also, a chaplain is facing disciplinary action for counseling Navy members according to the principles of his faith.  And, there is news from several states, where lawmakers are taking bold steps to protect freedom of religious expression and the rights of conscience.

3 - U.S. Supreme Court directs lower court to reconsider ruling against Notre Dame in contraception mandate case

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider its ruling that denied a Catholic university the freedom to follow its faith, according to a piece on the website of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The University of Notre Dame had brought its request to the Supreme Court after a surprising lower court decision that made it the only nonprofit religious ministry in the nation without protection from the HHS mandate. The federal government has relied heavily on that decision in courts around the country, arguing that it should be able to impose similar burdens on religious ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated the Notre Dame decision entirely, and sent the case back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling in light of Hobby Lobby decision protecting religious freedom.

Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, is quoted as saying that, "This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate. For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the IRS."  He added, "As with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby, this is a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government’s narrow view of religious liberty..."
Interestingly enough, the Becket Fund reports that over 750 plaintiffs in the other nonprofit cases have been granted protection from the unconstitutional mandate, which forces religious ministries to either violate their faith or pay massive IRS penalties.

2 - Chaplain's career at risk as a result of sharing faith principles

Chaplain Wes Modder, a decorated U.S. Marine for 4 years, has served as a Navy chaplain for the past 15 years. He has been praised by commanding officers as a “national asset” with “charismatic leadership and sound judgment.” One called him “the best of the best.” Liberty Institute reports on these accolades and states that, "Chaplain Modder had a spotless, even exceptional, 15 year record."

According to the Liberty Institute website, a very small number of sailors had requested private, pastoral care and counseling sessions during which they asked him about certain matters of personal conduct and belief.  Chaplain Modder’s answers, as always, were in line with the teachings of his endorsing denomination, as required by his denomination and protected by federal law.

A handful of sailors complained, because they disagreed with the biblical views Chaplain Modder expressed in response to their questions during those sessions.

In reaction, the Navy removed Chaplain Modder from his unit and isolated him at the base chapel, cutting him off from his sailors and forbidding him from ministering to their spiritual needs.

Chaplain Modder’s commander requested that Chaplain Modder be:
1) Removed from the promotion list.
2) “Detached for cause,” the military equivalent of being fired, and
3) Brought before an official Board of Inquiry, where he could be involuntarily forced out of the Navy.

Liberty Institute is representing Chaplain Modder, and in a letter to the Chaplain's commander, Senior Counsel Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for Liberty Institute, a former U.S. Marine JAG Officer, and adjunct law professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, warns:
“Chaplain Modder’s religious expression is therefore consistent with—indeed, it’s protected—by federal law and military regulations. Any adverse action, including Detachment for Cause, a Board of Inquiry, or removal from the promotion list, which results from a service member’s sincerely held religious beliefs violates those laws and regulations.”
Liberty Institute has posted a petition in support of the Chaplain.  Also, this week, Family Research Council released a petition in support of Chaplain Modder.

1 - States take up religious freedom bills

As Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink and I discussed on a recent edition of my radio program, The Meeting House, state lawmakers are taking measures to protect the religious liberties of its citizens, even though freedom of speech and religion are already guaranteed in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.  One example he pointed out was from the state of Indiana.  A bill has already passed the Senate in the state, according to the Indiana Family Institute website - it's called the "Hobby Lobby Bill," and according to a piece on the Indianapolis Star website written by the President of the Indiana Family Institute, Curt Smith:
...this is a civil rights bill that increases every single Hoosier’s religious liberties.
If approved, the state — in all its various expressions — would require a compelling interest before restricting religious liberties. Compelling interests includes such things as public safety, order, health and police powers to provide an environment for ordered liberty. Secondly, if government takes actions that restrict religious liberty, it must do so in the least restrictive manner.
Meanwhile, as I pointed out, in Alabama, lawmakers took a bold step this past week to strengthen the religious freedom rights of judges and ministers regarding marriage.  According to the AL.com website, the Alabama House on Thursday passed a bill that gives judges, ministers and other officiants the right to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies.

Rep. Jim Hill, a Republican from Moody, AL, said he sponsored the bill after receiving phone calls from judges and ministers concerned they would be required to perform marriage ceremonies they didn't want to perform. Hill is quoted as saying that the purpose of the bill is simply to clarify existing law that judges and ministers can't be compelled to perform marriage ceremonies they don't want to perform.

And, in what could be a pre-emptive strike regarding the state of Oklahoma issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, ChristianHeadlines.com reports that the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill this past Tuesday to abolish marriage licenses in the state.

The legislation, authored by Rep. Todd Russ, a Republican from Cordell, OK, amends language in the state law that governs the responsibilities of court clerks. All references to marriage licenses were removed.

Russ said the intent of the bill is to protect court clerks caught between the federal and state governments. A federal appeals court overturned Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage last year. Russ, like many Republican legislators in the state, including Gov. Mary Fallin, believes the federal government overstepped its constitutional authority on this issue.

Across the nation, lawmakers are addressing concerns of violations of religious freedom.  These are examples of actions taken to protect the conscience rights of citizens who wish to practice their faith without fear of reprisals.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

The 3 - March 8, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes a story from the realm of Christian music, some troubling news concerning the health of the lead singer of one of Christian music's most popular bands.  Also, another one of  those SOGI - Sexual Orientation Gender Identity - ordinances was proposed for Charlotte, NC, and defeated.   And the top story, the Alabama Supreme Court has halted the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the state.

3 - Casting Crowns lead singer likely has cancer

The blog post by Melanie Hall asked a very thought-provoking question:  "When it happens to you, where do you turn?" You see, this week, she and her husband, Mark, found out the dreaded news - Mark, the lead singer of Casting Crowns, may have cancer in his kidney.

A post of the front page of the Crowns website and the band's Facebook page bore the news, saying, in part:
Doctors found a solid mass in my right kidney about a week ago. They are 90% sure it's cancer and they are going to remove the entire kidney next Wednesday, March 11th. They believe the cancer is contained in the kidney, which is also a great hope. They will know more once it is out and Pathology can see it.
He added, "I'll be in recovery for a month or a little longer because of the surgery. Please pray for healing and for God's peace for my family."

Apparently, the news has brought the rescheduling of 3 Casting Crowns dates scheduled for the second week of April, including Pikeville, KY, Asheville, NC, and Fayetteville, NC.   The next anticipated concert for Crowns?   April 16 in Montgomery - if things progress according to that timetable, it could be a wonderful night for Mark to return to his hometown after a serious health scare.  

Melanie wrote in the aforementioned blog post:
Mark and I seemed to be in a bit of a fog for several days while the news was sinking in.
Yet the whole time, the verse that kept running through my head over and over was
"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You." -Isaiah 26:3
So that's what we are trying to do in the waiting. Keep our minds steadfast on Him.
She added:
We turned to our families, our Crowns family and our church family first. They've loved on us and prayed with us. It's been a little different to be on the receiving end, but it's also a good feeling to know they've got our backs. Mark and I have both agreed that we can't imagine what people do in times like these when they don't have a family of believers around them.
2 - Charlotte City Council turns back SOGI ordinance

This new trend of ordinances granting special rights on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity has led to some rather vocal opposition.  On the heels of the Houston city council passing such an ordinance and the subsequent overreach of the lesbian mayor there, the future of that city's policy is still very much in doubt.  Fayetteville, Arkansas voters went to the polls to overturn a similar type of ordinance that had been passed by the council there.

Plano, Texas officials, faced with a public outcry on its SOGI (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity) ordinance, have thrown out petitions demanding a public vote, according to a Focus on the Family report.

Going into this week, the next battleground in the conflict over policies granting special rights for homosexual and transgender individuals was Charlotte, North Carolina.  The North Carolina Family Policy Council reports that following four hours of public comment and an additional hour of committee discussion, the Charlotte City Council defeated a proposal by one vote that would have expanded a number of city ordinances to include legal protections on the basis of “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression.”

The 6-5 vote came after an amendment was adopted to exclude restrooms, locker rooms, showers and changing facilities from the “public accommodations” that would have been covered by the measure.

More than 60 percent of the 100-plus individuals who participated in the public comment period spoke in opposition to the proposal and they asked the City Council to do the same.

According to the state Family Policy Council's website, the ordinance would have:
  • Allowed a man to go into a women’s restroom, locker room, or shower room, and would allow a woman to go into a men’s restroom, locker room, or shower room, depending upon the individual’s “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or “gender expression,” and not their biological sex. This ordinance would apply to any “public accommodation."
  • It would have required small business owners – especially those related to the wedding industry – to potentially violate their religious beliefs about marriage or face legal action by the government. 
  • It would have authorized the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, or any “aggrieved person,” to file an action in State Superior Court and seek monetary damages and other penalties against an individual or business for allegedly violating this amended ordinance. 
  • It would have made Charlotte the first city in the state to adopt a hazardous “public accommodation” ordinance creating legal protections on the basis of an individual’s “sexual orientation,” “general (gender?) identity,” or “gender expression” as they determine it at any given time.
Charlotte residents David and Jason Benham were leaders in the opposition to the ordinance, as well as Franklin Graham, President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is based in Charlotte.

1 - Alabama Supreme Court temporarily halts gay marriages in the state

This past week, the Alabama Supreme Court, in response to a legal action filed on behalf of two pro-family organizations, the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) and the Alabama Policy Institute (API), issued a ruling directing probate judges in the state to no longer issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

API responded by saying:
Today, the Alabama Supreme Court granted our request for a writ of mandamus directing Alabama’s probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses in violation of Alabama’s Constitution. The ongoing confusion caused by the federal court’s action in January needed to be clarified in a formal opinion by the State’s highest court and the Alabama Policy Institute was well-suited to pursue such a remedy. This decision by the Alabama Supreme Court finally, in the words of Justice Scalia, gives the people of Alabama the respect that they deserve by preserving our law until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the issue. The sanctity of marriage—an institute that has always been reserved for the states—is a cause worth fighting for, for as long as the States still have their rightful say in the matter.
AL.com quoted from the high court's ruling:
"As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for 'marriage' between only one man and one woman," the order said. "Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty."
AL.com reported that the order gave probate judges five days to submit responses if they wanted to show cause why they should be able to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The order also gave Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis until this past Thursday to argue why he should not be bound by the order. Davis has asked the court to dismiss him from the lawsuit because he had been ordered by the federal district court to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The 3 - March 1, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, spotlights a case before the U.S. Supreme Court contending that a retail chain discriminated against a Muslim girl's religious freedom rights. Also, the Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of so-called "net neutrality," which represents a threat to the freedom of information shared on the Internet.  And, so-called gay marriage continues to be an issues in courts across the land, involving the states of Texas, Missouri, and Alabama.

3 - High court hears case dealing with possible religious discrimination

We have heard quite a bit about the freedom of religious expression in the workplace, and the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week that has brought together organizations across the ideological spectrum in support of the freedom of religion.

According to an article on the Religion News Service website, Samantha Elauf, who is a Muslim, applied for a job at an Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store in Tulsa, OK.  As part of her religious faith, she wears a headscarf.  So she didn’t get the job.

The website points out that no one – not even Abercrombie & Fitch — disputes that her hijab cost her the job offer. And the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states that an employer can’t deny employment based on an worker’s religious practice, unless accommodating it would prove terribly burdensome. So, she filed legal action.

She won in a federal district court in 2011, but lost in a federal appeals court in 2013. At the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the company’s argument — that it shouldn’t have had to give a religious accommodation because Elauf never asked for one — found traction.

Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, who attended Wednesday’s argument, is quoted as saying, “Many members of the court seemed sympathetic to the EEOC’s position and Ms. Elauf.” He added, “It’s a clear case of religious discrimination, and I’m optimistic that the court will agree.”

Groups that filed legal briefs on behalf of Elauf include the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the American Jewish Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Several justices reportedly expressed discomfort with Abercrombie’s stance that it was not liable because Elauf was not more vocal.

2 - FCC approves so-called "net neutrality," Christian organizations opposed

Action by the Federal Communications Commission this past week has brought concern among some Christian leaders.  According to a piece on the Baptist Press website, the FCC voted 3–2 to reclassify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, with the purported intent of protecting open Internet, according to an FCC press release.
Both the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Board of Directors, composed of 100 key leaders among Christian communicators, and the Christian Film & Television Commission (CFTVC), a non-profit ministry aimed at redeeming the values of entertainment media, say the change will hamper free speech and oversteps the bounds of democracy.

Ted Baehr, chairman of the CFTVC, is quoted as saying, "If we allow the federal bureaucracy to control the Internet...the soft tyranny under which we now live will harden into a real tyranny where liberty will rapidly become a dim memory." He said that, "The best solution...is for American citizens to demand that Congress immediately overturn the new regulations."

NRB President and CEO Jerry Johnson said, according to a press release, "I am saddened that the FCC voted on partisan lines to dramatically expand federal power over the Internet," adding, "Bigger government is not fertile ground for the flourishing of free speech and innovation. This is a power grab, and NRB opposes it."

1 - TX Supreme Court halts gay marriages, Christian organization files brief at 8th Circuit

It was reported this week that a Texas state representative has filed a judicial conduct complaint against state District Judge David Wahlberg with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to the Texas Values website, which reports that complaint, by State Representative Tony Tinderholt, alleges that Judge Wahlberg violated Texas law by not giving the Texas Attorney General’s office notice that a constitutional provision of Texas marriage law was being challenged in court, a state law requirement under the Texas Government Code, Chapter 402.

Wahlberg ordered the Travis County Clerk to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple on February 19, in violation of Texas law, and also waived the normal 72 hour waiting period requirement before a marriage can occur after a license is obtained.

Later that day, the Texas Supreme Court issued a stay of Judge Wahlberg’s ruling, as well as a similar ruling from earlier in the week, after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a legal request with the state high court, but not before the two women could rush off and engage in a wedding ceremony on the same day.  

This swift action by the Texas Supreme Court has placed the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples on hold.  Meanwhile, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held oral arguments on the Texas marriage law.  And, this past week, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend-of-the-court brief that encourages the 8th Circuit to uphold the freedom of the people of Missouri to affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  In November 2014, a district court ruled that the state’s marriage laws are unconstitutional and that marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, according to AL.com, the Alabama Supreme Court has heard arguments on a petition by 2 Christian, pro-family groups asking the state's high court to rule that same-sex marriages in the state are indeed unconstitutional, as contended by the Chief Justice Roy Moore, who directed probate judges to not issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in light of a Federal district judge's ruling that the state's amendment defining marriage as one-man and one-woman was unconstitutional.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The 3 - February 22, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is news emerging out of Iran, where a pastor was released and another was able to visit for an extended period of time and worship with his father.  Also, a Washington florist has been found to have violated state law by refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding ceremony and faces the possibility of personal money being used to pay the penalty.  In other religious freedom news, the former Atlanta fire chief has filed a lawsuit against the city.  And, 21 Egyptian Christians lost their lives recently, and a group of church leaders has announced a multi-faceted response.

3 - Iranian house church pastor released; Pastor Saeed worships in prison

An Iranian Christian pastor, considered to be a leader in Iran's house church movement, has been released from prison, according to a report on the Christian Today website, which says that Pastor Rasoul Abdollahi was first arrested in December of 2010 as part of a widespread crackdown on Christian activity.  He was detained and interrogated for more than two months before being released on bail.

He was then tried in court and imprisoned in December of 2013. But he has now been pardoned and released, and will be able to return to his wife and children.

A source, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, told Christian Today that Iran's judiciary seems to be encouraging Christians that are arrested to leave the country before standing trial.

Meanwhile, an Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, remains in prison in Iran.

The ChristianHeadlines.com website reports that Pastor Saeed was permitted to visit with his father in prison for an extended amount of time this week, a rare blessing for the pastor who has been imprisoned for his Christian faith for over two years.  Abedini’s wife Naghmeh wrote on her Facebook page that the father and son were able to talk, pray and worship God.

Quoting a Charisma News story, the article said that prison guards watched the visit, but did not force Abedini and his father to end the time of fellowship.  Naghmeh related that, "They were allowing them to pray and worship together,” adding, "The normal 20-minute visit turned into 40 minutes, which turned into an hour, which turned into a few hours. Saeed and his father were shocked the amount of time that they were allowed. The presence of the Lord was so strong that the guards did not want to intervene and end the visit! Praise the Lord!"
2 - Religious freedom watch: Washington florist found guilty of discrimination, Atlanta fire chief files lawsuit against city

Baronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington state who declined to provide flowers for a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, was found to have violated state law, and she must provide must provide full support for wedding ceremonies that are contrary to her faith, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom Media website. 

After the ruling, according to ADFAttorney General Bob Ferguson, who had contended that Stutzman violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination and its Consumer Protection Act for acting consistent with her Christian faith, made an offer to Stutzman that he would drop his lawsuit if she would pay $2,001 and agree to give up her religious freedom.

She sent a letter to the Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Friday to decline the settlement offer.  In it, she said:
Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about.... It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important…. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets….
The Alliance Defending Freedom had reported that the court had ruled recently that both the state and the same-sex couple, who each filed lawsuits against her, may collect damages and attorneys’ fees not only from her business, but from Stutzman personally. That means the 70-year-old grandmother may not only lose her business, but also her home and savings because she lives her life and operates her business according to her beliefs.
Also, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom Media site, ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city and mayor of Atlanta for their termination of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because of his Christian faith and beliefs. At a news conference Wednesday, ADF and Cochran announced the lawsuit, which comes on the heels of an administrative complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last month.

ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman is quoted as saying that, “Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of being fired because of their beliefs and thoughts...The city of Atlanta is not above the Constitution and federal law. In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant.”

The website reported that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had first suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training” after activists who don’t agree with the fire chief’s Christian views on sex complained about a men’s devotional book Cochran had written on his personal time.   Biblical sexual morality is mentioned only briefly in the 162-page book.  ADF reported that after an investigation that included interviews with employees found Cochran did not discriminate against anyone, the mayor fired him anyway – citing as his basis, ironically, the need to tolerate diverse views.

1 - More ISIS violence: Egyptian Christians beheaded by ISIS, victims' remembered in prayer 

There has been swift and passionate response to the video released by the Islamic terror group showing the murder of the 21 Egyptian Christians.  Baptist Press, in an article on a response by Christian leaders to the attack, said that the text that accompanied the ISIS video is addressed to "The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church," according to news reports. It quotes a Wall Street Journal report that the terrorists in the video are identified with a Libyan group that allied itself with the Islamic State last year.

A coalition of Christian leaders representing a variety of ministries and denominations issued a call for a moment of silence on Sunday, February 22, followed by prayer for the families of the 21 Egyptians who lost their lives in the brutal attack.

The coalition includes Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Mathew Staver, of the Liberty University School of Law; Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership and Conference; television producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey; James Robison of LIFE Outreach International; Doug Beacham of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church; and Glenn Burris of the Foursquare Church.

The Baptist Press piece reports that in addition to calling for prayer, the coalition is urging President Obama and Congress to do more in addressing the persecution of Christians by ISIS and other Islamic extremists. Additionally, the Christian leaders are calling the United Nations to convene a summit on Christian persecution around the world, according to a press release from A. Larry Ross Communications.

Rodriguez said that as Christians, "We stand convicted and convinced that terror and intolerance cannot, and will not, extinguish the light of God's grace, truth and love," adding, "We hope leaders around the world will join us in honoring those who have lost their lives, praying for those suffering and repudiating all acts of terror."

More information is available at 21martyrs.com.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The 3 - February 15, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, we recognize that a young lady has lost her life while being held captive by the radical terror group, ISIS, a young lady whose faith in God apparently sustained her during her ordeal.  Also, a jury has found that there was no fraud in the petition drive to get that so-called equal rights ordinance on the ballot in Houston, but there were some improprieties discovered.  And, the top story involves the implementation of so-called "same-sex marriage" in Alabama this past week in some, but not all, counties.

3 - ISIS announces death of American relief worker 

It was confirmed earlier this week that an American humanitarian aid worker had indeed lost her life while being held by the radical Islamic group, ISIS.  The Christian Post reported that a U.S. intelligence official has said that worker, 26-year-old Kayla Mueller of Prescott, AZ, appeared to have been married off to an ISIS official. The terror group had sent photos of her dead body to her family showing her in a white burial shroud, supposedly as a sign of respect.

The article noted that ISIS has claimed that Mueller, who had been held captive since 2013, died following a Jordanian airstrike on one of its targets.  However, American officials have not yet confirmed the cause of her death.

It was reported that Kayla's family released a letter she had written during her time in captivity, where she asked her parents not to worry about her, and claimed she was healthy and was being treated well.  The family noted that her deep Christian faith gave her courage.

Mueller is reportedly the fourth American confirmed to have been killed at the hands of ISIS since the U.S. began military operations against the terror group in 2014.

2 - Jury reaches decision in case concerning petition drive to overturn Houston ordinance; effect clouded

The ongoing standoff between city officials in Houston and citizens who wish to see the so-called equal rights ordinance there put to a vote of the people took another confusing turn this week, as a jury reached what the Houston Chronicle is calling a "mixed verdict."   The case involved the collection of signatures for a petition drive, in which those opposing the amendment claimed to have exceeded the requirement for signatures in order that the ordinance would be placed on the ballot, only to have city officials throw out a large number of the petitions.

The article said that the jury found that the law's opponents submitted a repeal referendum petition that contained forgery and other flaws. Attorney for the petitioners, Andy Taylor, is quoted as saying, "The thing that is super significant here is that the jury found no fraud," adding, "This mayor has been claiming for over six months that these hardworking citizens committed fraud and this jury found that they did not. So they can take that to the bank."

What's next?  The Chronicle reports that attorneys on both sides said that the presiding judge, Robert Schaffer, will now begin counting which signatures are valid to see if opponents have reached the needed 17,269-signature threshold. Schaffer reportedly retains wide legal discretion in what he deems valid. The report says:
The jury's ruling Friday will trigger a series of legal dominoes that, eventually, will yield a definitive answer: The judge will count the signatures, issue a decision on whether the petition is valid and then the case will almost certainly go to the appellate courts.
The piece noted that jurors were tasked with poring over the almost-5,200-page petition and answering six questions about the work of more than 100 circulators. Ten of the 12 jurors signed off on the final decision.

1 - Legal battles continue concerning same-sex marriage in Alabama

This past Monday in Alabama, a federal judge's ruling went into effect, allowing marriage licenses to be issued for same-sex couples across the state.  The first day, according to a map on the AL.com website, fewer than 10 counties were actually issuing the licenses to same-sex couples. Chief Justice Roy Moore had instructed probate judges in Alabama not to issue the licenses.

On Thursday, in response to legal action filed against the Mobile County Probate Judge, Don Davis, the same judge that ruled the state's marriage amendment unconstitutional, ordered that judge to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.   By the end of the week, according to an updated map, over 40 counties had begun to issue licenses to such couples.

But, the legal action has not ended.  AL.com reports that late Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed, by a 6-2 margin, to consider a petition by two groups seeking a halt to the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses by state probate judges.

The high court reportedly set up a schedule for the coming week for the different sides to file their answers and briefs on the request by the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program. The court, however, did not say whether it would hold a hearing for oral arguments before responding to the petition.

API and ALCAP on Wednesday filed their emergency petition for a writ of mandamus declaring the state's ban on same-sex unions is still in force and to halt any probate judge from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order stated that briefs by probate judges should address issues raised by the petition, including whether the state Supreme Court even has jurisdiction to hear the petition.  Answers and briefs by probate judges are to be filed by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, then ALCAP and API will have a chance to respond by 5 p.m. Thursday.

National legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel is also involved in asking the Alabama Supreme Court to prevent probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The 3 - February 8, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature:  a new development in the case of an Oregon bakery who refused to endorse a same-sex wedding by baking a cake for it.  Also, there's been quite a bit of commentary on President Obama's message at this week's National Prayer Breakfast likening the brutality of ISIS as an extreme perversion of religion to, as he put it, the Crusades or Jim Crow laws.  And, an appeals court ruling upheld the rights of a parachurch ministry to set its practices on who to employ or terminate according to its faith principles.

3 - Christian bakers in OR found guilty of discrimination, could pay huge fine

In 2013, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery in Oregon, declined to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, according to a report by Todd Starnes on the Fox News website, who said that the owners, Todd and Melissa Klein, were relentlessly pummeled in the media. LGBT activists launched protests and boycotts. Starnes reports that their small children even received death threats - simply because they chose to follow the teachings of their faith.

He also states that:
At some point the activists threatened to launch boycotts against any wedding vendor that did business with the Kleins. That turned out to be the death blow to their retail shop. Today, Melissa bakes cakes out of the family’s home.
The report says that last year, investigators concluded the bakers had violated the couple’s rights to equal treatment in places that serve the public.  And, in the latest development, an Oregon administrative law judge ruled on January 29 that the Todd and Melissa did, in fact, discriminate in 2013 when they declined to provide the cake for the lesbian couple because it would have violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.  The announcement of the judge's ruling was made this past Monday, according to a piece on the Baptist Press website.

There will now by a hearing on March 10 at which the Kleins will learn how they will be punished. They could have to pay at least $150,000 in fines.  Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian will be making that determination. Starnes reports that in 2013, Avakian told The Oregonian that it is the government’s desire was to "rehabilitate" businesses like the one owned by the Kleins.

Aaron Klein is quoted as saying that there will be no reconciliation and there will be no rehabilitation. He said, "There's nothing wrong with what we believe...It’s a biblical point of view. It’s my faith. It’s my religion.”

2 - Critics call out President for comments about religious extremism at National Prayer Breakfast

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event held in the nation's capital which generally features a keynote speaker, along with a message by the current President.  Dr. Ben Carson was the speaker in 2013, Eric Metaxas the year before that.  This year, NASCAR great and Fox Sports commentator Darrell Waltrip was the guest speaker.  He shared about his own personal faith journey and apparently delivered a strong presentation of gospel truth.  WORLD reported on Waltrip's message:
“If you’ve never gotten on your knees and asked Him to forgive you of your sins—you’re just a pretty good guy or a pretty good gal?—you’re going to go to hell,” Waltrip said, after telling the story of how he accepted Christ following a bad crash in 1983. He walked away from the wreckage wondering what might have happened to him if he had died.
During his younger years, Waltrip said he was arrogant and drank too much. He was more interested in hanging out at bars than going to church. But his wife, he said, prayed for him for years and continually pointed him toward God. When he finally got on his knees, he said it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
However, Waltrip's testimony has been overshadowed by the words of President Obama.  WORLD reports that Mr. Obama said that Islamic State militants are part of a “death cult,” not a legitimate religion: “We are summoned to push back against those who would distort our religion for their nihilistic ends.”

But, as the article points out:
Rather than focus his comments on Islam, Obama wagged a rhetorical finger at Christians, who he said were responsible centuries ago for atrocities during the Crusades and more recently for using the name of Christ to justify slavery and later Jim Crow laws in the United States. Because of that history, the president said, Christians especially should be humble in assuming they have all the answers or a direct line to divine revelation.
A number of Christian leaders were swift to respond, such as Franklin Graham, who posted on his Facebook page, according to The Christian Post:
"Today at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President implied that what ISIS is doing is equivalent to what happened over 1000 years ago during the Crusades and the Inquisition," Graham wrote. "Mr. President — Many people in history have used the name of Jesus Christ to accomplish evil things for their own desires. But Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness."
Graham further wrote that unlike Jesus, who lived His life without sin, Mohammed took many innocent lives.
"[Jesus] came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life. Mohammad on the contrary was a warrior and killed many innocent people," Graham asserted. "True followers of Christ emulate Christ — true followers of Mohammed emulate Mohammed."
The article reports that Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also criticized Obama for his easy willingness to condemn Christian brutality but inability to acknowledge terrorist ties to Islam. He told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that he thinks the president squandered a chance to bring more awareness to the lives of people currently being oppressed by Muslim oppressors, which currently includes an American citizen, Saeed Abedini.

And, Western Journalism reports on the words of Bishop E.W. Jackson of STANDAmerica on Fox and Friends, telling Elizabeth Hasselbeck:
This president does everything he possibly can to defend Islam and does almost nothing to defend the honor of this country. And yes, once again, he’s giving them exactly what they want. And you know, Elizabeth, they’re laughing at us because all they see it as, is a sign of weakness. And America needs to operate from strength.
Jackson concluded his comments with a strong message to Christians:
Pray for our president. I think he’s deeply misguided and confused. Pray for our country. We need leaders who will defend the integrity of our nation.


1 - Appeals court rules that parachurch ministry can set employment qualifications based on faith 

This past Thursday, a ruling was handed down by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and its employment practices. According to a Christianity Today report, the ruling is apparently an extension of the Hosanna-Tabor decision that said that churches could establish practices concerning the hiring and firing of employees based on their faith principles.

In 2013, a former spiritual director at InterVarsity filed a lawsuit challenging her firing. She had been placed on paid leave in 2011 after informing her supervisor she was considering divorce, and terminated that December for what she alleges was "failing to reconcile her marriage." (Her husband filed for divorce the following month.) She claimed that two of her male colleagues in similar situations had not received the same treatment.

According to the report, the court ruled that because InterVarsity is a religious organization and the employee was a "ministerial employee," "IVCF’s decision to terminate her employment cannot be challenged under federal or state employment discrimination laws."

The article provided some of the backstory of the Hosanna-Tabor case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a Lutheran school teacher was a "minister" who could not sue the church that fired her in 2005, on the basis of the “ministerial exception,” which allows religious institutions to hire and fire employees according to their religious criteria. While the Sixth Circuit acknowledged that IVCF was not a church, it granted faith-based organizations the same rights.

The article quotes David French, an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented IVCF in this case, who wrote, “These conclusions demonstrate profound respect for our constitutional structure and for the First Amendment...It is simply not the business of the government to determine who may or may not serve as a minister of the Gospel—or a minister of any other faith."

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The 3 - February 1, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes some good news from Great Britain for a large-scale missions organization.  Also, more legal developments regarding a federal judge's ruling that Alabama's marriage amendment was unconstitutional.  And, there's news concerning New York City, where city attorneys continue to fight for the right to keep churches from meeting in school buildings - the defense team for a local church filed a brief this week with the U.S. Supreme Court.

3 - Youth With a Mission workers will be allowed to stay in Great Britain

Youth With a Mission is an organization that operates around the globe.  Its website describes the organization, also known as YWAM, as "a global movement of Christians from many cultures, age groups, and Christian traditions, dedicated to serving Jesus throughout the world."

In 1960, the organization's main focus was to get youth involved in missions. Today, it still focuses on youth, and people ages 8 to 80 are involved. It currently works in more than 1,100 locations in over 180 countries, with a staff of over 18,000.

In December, according to a Christianity Today piece, Britain suspended licenses for 300 YWAM missionaries and their families due to issues with the organization’s sponsorship paperwork.  Without the authorization to sponsor visas, YWAM would have been forced to send the missionaries home as soon as April, cutting its presence in England and Wales in half.

This week, it was announced that government officials reinstated the organization’s sponsorship status, meaning that these YWAM workers could continue their work.  In a statement, YWAM said that, "We are extremely grateful for this positive outcome, but admit that we have had to learn several hard lessons about our internal processes and our approach to record keeping.”

The missionary organization, which has operated in the UK for more than 40 years, released a statement Tuesday praising God for the resolution to its visa issue and thanking supporters for their encouragement.

2 - Alabama marriage amendment defended by Chief Justice and Governor, Attorney General appeals federal judge's ruling

Over a week ago, on January 23 a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama issued a ruling saying that Alabama's marriage amendment, defining marriage as one man and one woman, was unconstitutional.   That ruling, along with another that she issued dealing with same-sex marriage, were both placed on hold until February 9, giving the 11th Circuit appeals court an opportunity to extend a stay on the ruling taking effect.

A Baptist Press piece follows the series of events involving probate judges in the state, who would be charged with issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples. After the initial ruling, the Alabama Probate Judges Association issued a statement claiming the ruling only applied to "parties in the case" and did not require its members to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But a clarification issued by the judge, Ginny Granade, on January 28 led the president of the judges' organization to say in a statement that the association now believes its members could be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples February 9.

The piece also includes a report on the letter that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore sent Gov. Robert Bentley on January 27 stating that Moore would "continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." Moore added that "nothing in the United States Constitution grants the federal government the authority to redefine the institution of marriage," according to a report on al.com.

In response, Bentley issued a statement expressing his support of the marriage amendment. He stated, "The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between man and woman...As governor, I must uphold the Constitution. I am disappointed in Friday's ruling, and I will continue to oppose this ruling. The Federal government must not infringe on the rights of states."

As an AL.com article points out, the governor filed a court brief to support Attorney General Luther Strange's appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put the January 23 ruling on hold.

The piece reports on the 24-page brief submitted by attorneys for Bentley, which argues, among other points, that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants the power to define marriage to states.

They argue that a stay pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court would avoid substantial confusion on the law concerning marriage licenses in Alabama.  The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the issue of same-sex marriage in its upcoming term.  

1 - Legal team files brief in defense of churches' right to meet in public school buildings, New York City mayor's legal team defends ban

This past Monday, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a brief before the U.S Supreme Court answering New York City’s arguments against the high scrutinizing its attempts to ban worship services in empty public school buildings, according to the ADFMedia.org website.  In September of last year, ADF asked the high court to review a 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that upheld a city policy prohibiting worship services in public school buildings during non-school hours.  The panel’s ruling is on hold until the Supreme Court decides whether to take the case.

ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence contends that, "In New York City, any community group can meet in vacant school buildings for any purpose except for religious groups meeting to worship God. The city’s arguments in defense of this policy cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny," adding, "Evicting churches and the help they offer the people in their communities through their worship services in otherwise empty buildings on weekends helps no one. Violating the First Amendment, as New York City is doing, hurts everyone. For that reason, we hope the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear this important case."

The New York City Department of Education has defended this policy, known as Regulation I.Q., in court on and off since 1995 even though the department allows other community groups to rent space for their meetings. As ChristianNews.net reports, this case began in 1995, when Bronx Household of Faith submitted an application to rent a public school building for its worship services, but was denied by the Board of Education.  The matter then went to court, and the Board of Education argued that allowing churches to use school facilities and to advertise their services amounted to a violation of the Establishment Clause in the United States Constitution.  The church, represented by ADF, pointed to the fact that religious student groups already use school rooms after hours for Bible reading and prayer.

The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the matter.  In 2012, however, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Presha issued a permanent injunction, allowing the Bronx Household of Faith to continue to hold services in local public school buildings indefinitely. She stated that denial of the use of the building equated to an infringement of the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

But the ruling was again appealed, and last April, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling that the school board's prohibition doesn’t violate the Constitution. The case was then again appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, despite the declaration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during his campaign, quoted by Christianity Today, that, "I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access," attorneys for the city argued to keep its current restrictions.  Their brief said, according to ChristianNews.net, said, "The department’s decision to make public schools available to religious organizations for a wide range of activities, but not for worship services or as a house of worship, is constitutional." It also stated, "The policy does not prohibit, limit, or burden any religious practice; does not entangle the government in matters of religion; and does not impair petitioners’ ability to speak freely."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The 3 - January 25, 2015


This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, highlights the latest action from the fire chief in Atlanta, who lost his job after publishing a book that presented a Biblical view of sexuality. Also, another Federal judge has struck down a state marriage amendment in another Southern state - this time in Alabama.  And, the top story: a throng of marchers gathered in Washington, DC to stand for the right to life for pre-born babies, with a special concentration on those children with disabilities.

3 - Former Atlanta Fire Chief fights back

An attorney representing fired Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that the former chief was terminated due to his religious beliefs, claiming that this action violated his civil rights.

According to an article on The Blaze website, Alliance Defending Freedom "Allied attorney Jonathan Crumly filed an EEOC complaint on behalf of Chief Cochran yesterday based on the City’s clear religious discrimination against the Chief,” according to a statement by ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco.  He added, ”Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of losing their jobs because of their beliefs and thoughts.”

The piece related that Cochran, in his filing, recounted his version of events, noting that he served as fire chief for nearly five years and that his problems with city officials began on Nov. 24, 2014, when he was suspended without pay following controversy over a book that included a section on sinful behavior, including sexuality.  The Blaze article referenced an interview with Todd Starnes of Fox News, in which the former chief said that he did “not single out homosexuality” in his book.  He is quoted as saying, “I simply spoke to sex being created by God for pro-creation and He intended it to be between a man and a woman in holy matrimony – and that any other sex outside of that is sin,”

Cochran said that he was later informed that an investigation the government conducted while he was out of work found zero instances in which he had discriminated against other staff members, but he alleges that his faith became a factor in the dismissal process. In the complaint, he stated, “The book expresses my deeply held religious convictions on many subjects,” he concluded. “I believe that I have been discriminated against because of my religion — Christian — in violation of Title Vll of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.”

The mayor of Atlanta is apparently trying to contend that the chief was fired because he disobeyed orders. Mayor Kasim Reed claimed at a press conference earlier this month that Cochran’s judgement was at the center of his firing.

The mayor said he wasn’t consulted before the book was written and that Cochran, who spoke out about his battle with the city to religious groups when he was reportedly told not to, violated policies by not having the book cleared by an ethics panel, as required by the city.

Cochran claims Atlanta ethics officer Nina Hickson gave him verbal permission to write the book and that he had given a copy to Reed’s office last January, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

However, according to Christianity Today, the mayor had said when the book came to the attention of city officials, that he worried that Cochran’s positions in the book would lead to accusations of discrimination. It referenced a USA Today story, quoting the mayor as saying, "I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran's book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the administration's work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all citizens—regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, and religious beliefs."

2 - One judge negates hundreds of thousands of voters regarding Alabama's marriage law

Late Friday afternoon, a Federal judge in Mobile ruled that Alabama's marriage amendment, approved by 81 percent of the voters, is unconstitutional.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is quoted as saying, "This federal judge is throwing out the votes of the people of Alabama and attempting to shut down the debate over marriage. In exercising their right to vote, Alabama voters overwhelmingly sent a message that that they want to see society rebuild and strengthen marriage - not have it redefined by unelected judges.

He also said that, "There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that empowers this federal judge to overturn Alabama's marriage amendment nor any basis for the U.S. Supreme Court to impose a 50 state same-sex 'marriage' mandate."

According to AL.comU.S. District Judge Ginny Granade ruled that the Alabama Marriage Protection Act and the amendment that later enshrined it in the state constitution both were unconstitutional.   The Ballotpedia.com website indicates that over 697,000 Alabamians voted in favor the amendment in 2006.

Also, AL.com reported that the Alabama Probate Judges Association issued a statement Saturday night saying despite Friday's federal court ruling, the state's probate judges cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Al Agricola, attorney for the Alabama Probate Judges Association, stated in a press release. "The legal effect of this decision is to allow one person in one same sex marriage that was performed in another state to adopt their partner's child. There is nothing in the judge's order that requires probate judges in Alabama to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples."

And on Sunday, according to AL.com, Judge Granade issued a 14-day stay of her ruling. She reportedly rejected arguments by the Alabama Attorney General's Office that the state likely would win on appeal. But she agreed to give attorneys two weeks to make their case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If it does not act in that time to extend or lift the stay, the order will take effect on Feb. 9. The judge said she also would issue a follow-up opinion clarifying the original order.

1 - Hundreds of thousands take part in March for Life, House passes ban on taxpayer funding of abortion

The 42nd March for Life was held in the nation's capital on Thursday, and another large turnout participated.  According to a report on the LifeSiteNews.com website, "hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists gathered beneath sunny skies and surprisingly warm temperatures to hear speeches from pro-life politicians and prominent movement leaders."

March for Life President Jeanne Monahan Mancini stated that, "I’m so grateful” for those who traveled from around the country and around the world to join the march. She explained that this year’s theme, “Every Life is a Gift,” refers especially to babies with prenatal diagnoses of potentially disabling conditions like Down syndrome who are aborted at a much higher rate than the general population.

The article reported that several lawmakers spoke, including Rep. Kathy McMorris-Rogers of Washington state, the mother of a boy with Down syndrome.  She promised that despite the Republican GOP leadership’s eleventh-hour decision to refrain from voting on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, she and her pro-life colleagues are committed to its passage, along with the passage of a healthcare conscience rights act. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said, “The Senate will stand shoulder to shoulder with the House as you move forward legislation that protects life.”

Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey touted the importance of the passage of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, saying, "That legislation is historic...It will end our forced complicity, our funding of abortion.”  In addition to those 3 Republican lawmakers, Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois declared, “Everyone needs to come together to protect life,” adding, “Women deserve better than abortion.”

Also, it was reported that as the March itself began, organizers announced the winners of the annual student contest, themed “Every Selfie has a Story.” They then introduced this year’s march leaders, the entire student body and faculty of Shanley High School in Fargo, ND - 400 total people, who filled eight buses and drove 24 hours straight to carry the banner at the front of the march.

Senior Julia Johnson said, “As a school, we are humbled and honored to have been selected to hold the banner for this year’s March for Life.” In a brief speech, Julia proclaimed, "Our cause in defending life is a noble one,” and added, “We are living in a modern-day holocaust … that takes the lives of 3,000 babies each day, more than one million babies each year.”

On Wednesday night, the eve of the March for Life, a vote that was timed with that massive event was suddenly cancelled, the vote on the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which The Daily Signal website describes as a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks, except in cases where rape or incest had been reported to authorities.

The piece quotes a Politico report that said, "The evening switch comes after a revolt from a large swath of female members of Congress, who were concerned about language that said rape victims would not be able to get abortions unless they reported the incident to authorities."

As The Daily Signal points out, the bill passed in the House in 2013 without controversy over the exceptions. And a Quinnipiac poll asked this question: “In 2013 the House of Representatives approved legislation that would ban virtually all abortions nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape and incest that are reported to authorities...Would you support or oppose such legislation?”

In response to that specific question, 60 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of women, said they would support such legislation in response to the poll, which was released in November.