Monday, November 30, 2020

The 3 - November 29, 2020

Two ongoing stories: COVID-19 and election challenges, have a presence in this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community.  The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down COVID-19 regulations in the state of New York which treated religious gatherings differently than retail activities.  And, a number of Christian leaders have continued to call for ongoing challenges to the election of 2020 to be explored through legal channels.  Plus, a Tennessee abortion ban centered on Down Syndrome children, as well as decisions regarding race and gender, has been upheld temporarily by a Federal appeals court.

High court overturns New York regulations on COVID disproportionately affecting houses of worship

“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten..." Those are words contained within the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling against COVID restrictions that had been put into place by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to a report on The Christian Post website.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America had sued the governor, according to the article, because of "his executive order limiting worship gatherings to 10 people for those in red zones and 25 for those in orange zones." The Christian Post relates that, "The court said that the are likely to succeed in their arguments that the restrictions violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and that they would cause irreparable harm."

The Supreme Court also said, as the article notes, "The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch was very direct in his critique of the governor's actions, writing, according to the story, “the only explanation for treating religious places differently seems to be a judgment that what happens there just isn’t as ‘essential’ as what happens in secular spaces.” Gorsuch also said: “Indeed, the Governor is remarkably frank about this: In his judgment laundry and liquor, travel and tools, are all 'essential' while traditional religious exercises are not. That is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids..."

Christian leaders continue to stress importance of counting legal votes in election

The Facebook Live gatherings called the Global Prayer for U.S. Election Integrity have been continuing on a periodic basis since the day after the Election, with the first one actually announced by organizer Jim Garlow on The Meeting House that day.  Another installment occurred Sunday night.

Christian leaders were part of a statement issued Monday, November 23, about which The Daily Signal states: 

Members of the Conservative Action Project—a coalition of American political, economic, and social activists—say they are standing with those refusing to allow the election to conclude “until every legal vote has been counted.”

Among Christian leaders who signed the statement were: Gary Bauer of American Values, Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint of the Conservative Partnership Institute, Kelly Monroe Kullberg of the American Association of Evangelicals, Marc Little of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, or CURE, Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, Tony Perkins and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council, as well as Ken Blackwell, who serves with FRC and is listed on the letter as being with Constitutional Congress, Inc.  Other signers included: Kelly Shackelford of First Liberty, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, and Frank Wright of D. James Kennedy Ministries, who also serves as Treasurer of National Religious Broadcasters.  

The statement from the Project, headed by former U.S. Attorney General, Edwin Meese, also included these words:

Ours is a government of laws. Included in those laws are the processes by which elections at every level of government are conducted. The purpose of subjecting the election process to a legal regime is to ensure that results are, and are accepted as, just and accurate. This system works and all Americans should trust it. But, it must be allowed to fully work.

And, recently, an initiative called the Jericho March announced a national gathering in Washington on Saturday, December 12. This is related to events that have been taking place at state capitols. One of the organizers, Arina Grossu, told CBN: "God was calling us to set up these marches and help mobilize our people – saints and patriots – out around their state capitols, especially in the swing states." She added, "We wanted to encourage people to go and peacefully pray, protest and march around their state capitol seven times every single day at noon in collaboration with everyone else until December 14, 2020, when the Electoral College votes..."  CBN reported that around 700,000 people had been involved in these marches since the election.  

Court rules that state of Tennessee can ban abortions based on Down Syndrome, as well as race and gender

The state of Tennessee will be allowed to continue to ban abortions due to Down Syndrome, as well as race and gender, based a ruling from the Sixth Circuit federal appeals court, according to the website, JustTheNews.com, which reported:

The ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, reversed an earlier court order that put an injunction on the law's "reason bans" while legal suits around it play out.

In addition to forbidding Down syndrome-motivated abortions, the "reason bans" would forbid a doctor from performing an abortion if he were aware that the mother sought it for reasons related to the unborn child's sex or race.

The court did allow a ruling against the state's ban on abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy to remain in place. 

The article noted: "Research has suggested that as much as 75% of all mothers whose unborn children are diagnosed with Down syndrome will opt to abort those children." 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The 3 - November 22, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news regarding the overturning of a ban in a county in Florida on counseling for minors struggling with same-sex attraction.  Also, an author's book on the harmful nature of the transgender agenda was removed from a large retailer, then restored.  And, a large California church that has challenged government restrictions related to COVID has been given a clean bill of health by a public health agency.

Federal Appeals court removes ban on counseling minors regarding same-sex attraction

Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in Florida who have been involved in counseling minors struggling with same-sex attraction. The City of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County had enacted ordinances that Liberty Counsel reports "prohibit minors from voluntary counseling from licensed professionals." So, Doctors Otto and Hamilton filed a lawsuit.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that the bans were unconstitutional; one of the judges wrote, "We hold that the challenged ordinances violate the First Amendment because they are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.” That judge, Judge Grant, also stated, "The First Amendment does not protect the right to speak about banned speech; it protects speech itself, no matter how disagreeable that speech might be to the government. And what good would it do for a therapist whose client sought SOCE [sexual orientation change efforts] therapy to tell the client that she thought the therapy could be helpful, but could not offer it? It only matters that some words about sexuality and gender are allowed, and others are not…" The court pointed out, "What the governments call a ‘medical procedure’ consists—entirely—of words. As the district court itself recognized, plaintiffs’ therapy ‘is not just carried out in part through speech: the treatment provided by Drs. Otto and Hamilton is entirely speech.’"

Liberty Counsel pointed out that, "This is the first federal Court of Appeals decision on such laws since the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra (NIFLA)."  NIFLA said on its website that:
In 2018, the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling in favor of the free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers and all Americans. In addition to protecting the work of life-affirming pregnancy centers, this landmark ruling also expanded protections for the free speech rights of medical professionals, Christian counselors and churches.

Retail chain removes, restores book warning against transgender agenda

Abigail Shrier has been sounding the alarm about the advance of the cultural embrace of transgenderism, and wrote a book called, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Girls.  She has even had conversations with what Family Research Council describes in a recent article as "lifelong LGBT supporters" who are "dealing with the fallout of this devastating ideology."

Shirer has written, according to that article:

"Unsuspecting parents are awakening to find their daughters in thrall to hip trans YouTube stars and 'gender-affirming' educators and therapists who push life-changing interventions on young girls -- including medically unnecessary double mastectomies and puberty blockers that can cause permanent infertility."

FRC points out that there are those who wish to silence Abigail, stating:

They bullied Amazon into blocking ad buys for the book. Then, this past week, a single tweet was all it took to persuade Target to pull the title from their shelves. The move hardly came as a shock, since this is the same company that still allows men in their girls' restrooms and changing rooms.

But, the backlash against Target was apparently significant; FRC reports:

Twenty-four hours later, the company released this statement: "Yesterday, we removed a book from Target.com based on feedback we received. We want to offer a broad assortment for our guests and are adding this book back to Target.com. We apologize for any confusion."

Get ready; this battle over normalizing transgenderism will intensify in a projected Biden Administration.  As CBN.com reported, at a town hall meeting during the Presidential campaign, "Biden told a mother who said her eight-year-old daughter was transgender that he supports children who want to change their gender." The article says:

"I would just flat out change the law," Biden replied. "Eliminate those executive orders number one."

"The idea that an eight or 10-year-old child decides you know, 'I decided I want to be transgender. That's what I think I'd like to be. It would make my life a lot easier.' There should be zero discrimination," he continued.
As Michelle Cretella of the American College of Pediatricians stated in a 2017 piece at the Daily Signal website: "...prior to the widespread promotion of transition affirmation, 75 to 95 percent of gender-dysphoric youth ended up happy with their biological sex after simply passing through puberty." She goes on to say that:
Today’s institutions that promote transition affirmation are pushing children to impersonate the opposite sex, sending many of them down the path of puberty blockers, sterilization, the removal of healthy body parts, and untold psychological damage.

These harms constitute nothing less than institutionalized child abuse.

Good news for CA church that has stood against state's COVID restrictions

Grace Community Church in Southern California has continued to challenge public health laws in the state and county and meet together in-person and inside.  This week, according to The Christian Post, the church was found to be in compliance with county health authorities.  The article says:

“We are glad to announce that we received a notice from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health … saying that we have been cleared of COVID-19 outbreak,” the church says on its website.

The article points out that: "L.A. County requires places of worship to report to the Public Health Department when there are at least three COVID-19 cases within a span of two weeks, after which the agency determines whether there is an outbreak."  After three cases were reported last month, the church, pastored by John MacArthur, had restrictions placed on it, but the church has now been "cleared."

Monday, November 16, 2020

The 3 - November 15, 2020

In this week's edition of The 3, there is a development on COVID restrictions being unevenly applied to churches - a lawsuit contends that New York's governor is putting rules into place that restrict worship, but not other similar types of gatherings.  Also, a U.S. Supreme Court justice has spoken out regarding the threat of state coronavirus orders that threaten religious liberty.  And, Nevada voters have decided to change the definition of marriage in its state constitution to include so-called "gay marriage."

Lawsuit filed against NY governor for COVID-19 restrictions on churches

With increased COVID numbers across the country, states that have been under stringent lockdown may continue or intensify their regulations, and states previously under intense lockdown, such as New York, may be expected to introduce or renew COVID restrictions.

The Daily Citizen website of Focus on the Family reports on the efforts of a Catholic diocese in New York to halt Governor Cuomo's attempts to clamp down on church attendance in a more severe manner than other gatherings.  The site reports:

The Diocese argues that Gov. Cuomo “expressly singles out ‘houses of worship’ by that name for adverse treatment relative to secular businesses, and does so in a way that is not narrowly tailored to any compelling government interest, in direct violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.”

After being rejected in Federal district court and on the appeals court level, the Diocese is now taking its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The article says:

The petition adds that Governor Cuomo’s order imposes no capacity limits on businesses that are “essential,” like supermarkets, pet stores, hardware stores and brokers’ offices, “even in the most restrictive ‘red’ zones.” Additionally, in the orange zones, even many nonessential businesses, like department stores, can stay open without in-person limits. Churches on the other hand, cannot.

Supreme Court justice warns against violations of religious liberty in COVID regulations

Speaking of COVID and the Court, one of the U.S. Supreme Court justices, Samuel Alito, has made some comments that have gained quite a bit of attention in Christian media. Liberty Counsel, on its website, reported on comments that Justice Alito made at the National Convention of the Federalist Society, where he said: "The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on personal liberty. We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020. Whatever one may think about COVID restrictions, we surely don’t want them to become a recurring feature after the pandemic has passed,” and he added, “tolerance for opposing views is now in short supply...In certain quarters, religious liberty has fast become a disfavored right. For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry and it can’t be tolerated even when there’s no evidence that anybody has been harmed.”

The justice made reference to two cases on which the high court ruled earlier this year - he was in the minority on both of them. Liberty Counsel says that in these instances, "...the High Court sided with states while claiming the Coronavirus as the reason for restrictions on the size of religious gatherings." These were two 5-4 rulings in which the court upheld coronavirus restrictions by California and Nevada, ruling against churches in those states that had filed Federal lawsuits. 

Nevada voters affirm gay "marriage"

Nevada voters, when they went to the polls on November 3, approved a constitutional amendment that, as Baptist Press states, "institutionalizes in the state’s constitution a right to same-sex marriage regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, a 5-4 ruling in 2015 that states must recognize marriages between people of the same sex."  Previously, the state had passed an amendment that would forbid so-called "same-sex marriage in the state."

Nevada Baptist Convention Executive Director Kevin White was critical of the amendment, but did express appreciation that there was an attempt to protect clergy who decline to perform a gay marriage ceremony from facing lawsuits.  White said, “We of course strongly support the biblical description of marriage (between one man and one woman),” adding, “We did appreciate the protections that they were putting for pastors who would refuse to conduct same-sex marriage; but at the same time, we’re deeply concerned that these protections could easily be removed and place biblical pastors in legal battles that could destroy churches financially." White added that the change "...saddens my heart greatly as we move so far away from God and His designed plan for our lives.”

Monday, November 09, 2020

The 3 - November 8, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is election news, centered around an increase in pro-life women being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Also, a blind Rhode Island women who had been banned from a public park for sharing her faith has been allowed to return.  Plus, four Alabama Supreme Court justices are calling for the U.S. Supreme Court abortion decisions Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood to be overturned.

Pro-life gains in U.S. House

While votes continue to be counted across the country, it does appear that there have been significant gains on the pro-life front.  As I have pointed out, the life issue is a very important concern, and it appears that there have been at least a dozen pro-life women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to an article at LifeNews.com that was submitted by a representative of the National Right to Life Committee: "at least 13 new pro-life women are headed to the U.S. House, and one new pro-life woman will join the U.S. Senate," according to outlets that have called their races. LifeNews.com also reports that, as of Friday morning, "we are still waiting on final results in several races featuring pro-life women;" 8 races were mentioned.

In other pro-life election news, a constitutional amendment in Louisiana was passed by the voters; LifeNews.com reported:

The Love Life Amendment, or Amendment 1, would add the following language to the Louisiana Constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to protect a right to abortion or the tax payer funding of abortion.”

Blind woman banned from public park regains access

Gail Blair, a blind woman in Westerly, Rhode Island, had visited Wilcox Park in her city, and during her visits, she would take opportunities to share her faith. That is, until..., as First Liberty notes on its website, "Much to her surprise, the Memorial and Library Association, the organization that manages the public park and library, contacted the police and asked them to ban her from the grounds—under pain of arrest, should she trespass—for two years."

First Liberty states: "Public gathering spaces – like parks - have always been a place where diverse communities can come together to freely discuss and exchange ideas." After filing a discrimination complaint with a state commission, the legal organization recently reached a settlement with the Memorial and Library Association, resulting in Gail Blair being able to visit the park again.

Four AL Supreme Court justices call for Roe v. Wade to be overturned

I have reported on the case of a North Alabama man who sued an abortion clinic for damages because his girlfriend, with whom he fathered a child, had gone to the clinic, where the life of the child was terminated.  The Madison County Probate Judge had recognized that the young man, Ryan Magers, could represent the estate of the child.

The case went all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled against Magers on a "procedural basis," according to Yellowhammer News

But the case gave one justice the opportunity to weigh in on Roe v. Wade; Justice Jay Mitchell stated in what the news outlet referred to as a "special concurrence", referring to the two abortion decisions, the original ruling, Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which affirmed it: “The time has come for the United States Supreme Court to overrule Roe and Casey. I respectfully urge the Court to do so at the earliest opportunity. I also encourage other courts across the country to raise their judicial voices, as appropriate, by pointing out the constitutional infirmities of Roe and Casey and asking the Court to overrule those highly regrettable decisions.”  Three other justices, including the Chief Justice, added their agreement. 

Monday, November 02, 2020

The 3 - November 1, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is the stark reminder of violence centered around churches, with two incidences within the past week. And, we remember those Christians being persecuted around the world, with the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church being commemorated this past weekend.  Also, a New York adoption agency that uses its Christian beliefs in declining to place children with gay couples has received a positive court ruling. Plus, a student leadership organization president who has been removed from his position for sharing his faith via text messages has been restored.

Philadelphia church vandalized in wave of violence in city

Within the past week, there have been two churches where apparent acts of violence have occurred. In a wave of violent protests in Philadelphia in the aftermath of a police-involved shooting which left one man dead, the Vietnamese Baptist Church was destroyed by fire.

Baptist Press reported that the church was destroyed on Tuesday, October 27, and says that "The city’s police department told Baptist Press the fire is not being investigated as arson." However, church pastor Philip Pham is not convinced of that. The article says that "Pham told Baptist Press he received a call Tuesday night from a church member whose friend had seen the flames and seven fire trucks surrounding the church. He arrived a few minutes later and said he was told by a bystander at the auto parts store that the bystander had seen a group of people throw something onto the roof of the church shortly before the fire started. The man also told Pham he had called 911."  The pastor stated, “I have no idea why they attacked our church,” adding, “They burned it from the roof. They threw flammable chemicals on the roof and [flames] burned through the roof” and down through the rest of the building. He said the facility is a “total loss.”  

The pastor was concerned about three hard drives that were kept in the church. Thankfully, according to Pham, "I saw the routers and modems and things surrounding the hard drives all burned, melted...But that piece of hard drive, no harm. No harm at all. Just two feet above that, all melted. … That is amazing how God knows our needs and answers our prayers. He is an almighty God. He granted our prayer.”

Also, in France, as the BBC reports, three people were killed in what is described as a "knife attack" at a church in Nice, an incident described by President Macron as an "Islamist terrorist attack". The article also notes that:
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi spoke of "Islamo-fascism" and said the suspect had "repeated endlessly 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest)".
The article states that, "Police have not suggested a motive for the attack in Nice. However, it follows days of protests in some Muslim-majority countries triggered by President Macron's defence of the publication of cartoons that depicted the Prophet Mohammed. There have been calls in some countries for a boycott of French goods."  A suspect, a 21-year-old Tunisian national, has been detained.

New York Christian adoption agency's policy to not place children with gay couples upheld in court

There is a burgeoning issue about whether or not faith-based adoption agencies should be forced by government regulation to place children in the homes of same-sex couples. Liberty Counsel that such an agency in New York received a positive court ruling recently, reporting:

A federal court judge ruled that a New York-based Christian adoption agency cannot be forced to close due to its policy of only placing children with married heterosexual couples.

U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino issued the preliminary injunction against the New York Office of Children and Family Services’ enforcement of its discriminatory policy. The judge stated that the state’s behavior “demonstrates some animosity towards particular religious beliefs” against the adoption agency, New Hope Family Services.

And, as Liberty Counsel points out:

On November 4, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, regarding a Catholic foster care agency that will not compromise its religious beliefs by placing children with same-sex couples. Several foster parents licensed through Catholic Social Services are plaintiffs, including the late Cecilia Paul, who fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the lead plaintiff, a single mother who has fostered more than 40 children in 26 years.

The city had terminated its contracts with the agency in 2018 due to its religious beliefs.

As Amy Howe discusses at the SCOTUS Blog, "The court’s decision in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia could have a significant impact for state and local governments that use private companies to provide services to their residents – if the justices decide to reach the broader issues presented by the case," adding, "The question of how to balance sincere religious beliefs against the government’s interest in protecting LGBTQ rights is one with which the justices have struggled."

She notes that the federal government has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of the agency, and states, "After the Oct. 26 confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this case will be one of the first cases argued with a new, solidly conservative majority on the court. Two justices have recently reiterated their criticism of the court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell."  Isn't it interesting that a Supreme Court justice who had faced harassment because of her religious beliefs is hearing a case on religious liberty during her first few days as a justice?

University Student Senate president reinstated after court ruling

Congratulations to the former - and current - Florida State University Student Senate President, Jack Denton.  You see, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, that Jack was "sharing his personal religious beliefs in private text conversations with other students." For this, he was removed from his position, so he filed a lawsuit. Recently, FSU's Student Supreme Court made the decision to reinstate Denton as Senate president, even as his litigation moves forward.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said: 

... All students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation. As the FSU Supreme Court concluded, the senators ‘during debate reveal that they were neither tolerant nor respectful’ of Jack’s religious beliefs. Further, the court reasoned, failure to reinstate Jack to his leadership position ‘would only deter participation’ in the university’s student government.”

Monday, October 26, 2020

The 3 - October 25, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, includes news concerning the state of Colorado and COVID restrictions that two churches believe are not evenly applied - and a federal judge agrees.  Also, the head of the government agency regulating communications has indicated his concern with social media censorship. And, a U.N. body has issued a declaration that says there is “no international right to abortion.”

Positive outcome for Colorado churches on COVID restrictions

Court battles continue regarding restrictions placed on churches in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. According to Liberty Counsel, which is involved in defending a client in the state of Colorado against COVID restrictions, two Colorado churches have been successful, in a federal district court, in blocking what they see as unfairly-applied restrictions.  The website states:

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Domenico, appointed by President Trump, granted the churches’ temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on the grounds that Governor Polis’ Public Health Order 20-35 violated their rights to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. The basis of the opinion is that the governor’s order treats houses of worship differently than secular establishments that pose an equal risk of spreading COVID-19. Specifically, the court found that the numerical limit (175 people) and the mandatory face-covering provisions are not neutrally applied between nonreligious and religious gatherings.
The website says that the effect of the ruling is "the churches will not be required to limit the number of people except for social distancing and attendees will not be required to wear face coverings." According to Liberty Counsel, the judge pointed out that "there is no meaningful difference between a warehouse, restaurant, or an elementary school where employees, diners, and students spend long periods in a closed-indoor setting and a house of worship."  

FCC chair to further address social media censorship

In light of what appears to be a steady stream of instances of social media posts and pages being suspended by companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has decided to take a closer look at a regulation that governs social media companies, according to the National Religious Broadcasters website.

Chairman Ajit Pai stated, “Throughout my tenure at the Federal Communications Commission, I have favored regulatory parity, transparency, and free expression,” adding, “Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech. But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.” At issue is Section 230 of the Communications Act, which, according to NRB, "protects internet companies from liability for what users post on their platforms and also includes a section facilitating their 'Good Samaritan' blocking of offensive content by defending them from lawsuits based on content their moderation efforts may have missed. But, NRB notes that, "This extra layer of protection, however, has given Big Tech the ability to censor, block, and impede otherwise lawful and non-injurious citizen viewpoints on the web."

NRB had floated the idea of this protection being removed last year, and its CEO was supportive of this latest announcement from the FCC head.

Multiple nations affirm document regarding sanctity of life

“In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning...”

That is a phrase from the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which was signed recently by 32 nations, according to ChristianHeadlines.com, which quoted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that the Declaration, “protects women’s health, defends the unborn, and reiterates the vital importance of the family as the foundation of society.” The document, which is linked to the article, states that “there is no international right to abortion.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stated, “With increasing frequency, some rich nations and U.N. agencies beholden to them are wrongly asserting abortion as a universal human right...These efforts pressure countries to institute progressive abortion laws or risk losing global funding or standing in international fora. Tragically, women around the world unnecessarily suffer health challenges – all too often deadly health challenges – while too many wealthy nations and international institutions put a myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures and derails agreement of women’s health priorities." Azar said, “Today we put down a clear marker,” adding, “No longer can U.N. agencies reinterpret and misinterpret agreed-upon language without accountability.”

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The 3 - October 18, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, there is news out of California regarding the right of a seminary to dismiss students who entered into gay marriages, in violation of the school's standards.  Also, a Washington, DC church has won a lawsuit and will be allowed to meet outdoors in the District after local restrictions did not allow it to do so.  And, a Cabinet official is looking into a removal of religious material in an Oklahoma home for seniors.

Court says that seminary students in gay marriages can be removed

A California seminary had attempted to expel two students who were found to be in gay marriage relationships - and The Washington Times reports that despite court action, a federal judge ruled that it was permissible under the law for them to do so. 

The article says:

Attorneys representing Fuller Theological Seminary said the ruling marks the first time a federal court has recognized a religious liberty exemption for faith-based educational institutions.

“It would create a huge establishment clause [issue] if you have government agents going in and telling a seminary how to do their job and practice their faith,” Daniel Blomberg, a senior attorney for the religious liberty law firm Becket who represented the seminary, told The Washington Times.

A federal district judge issued a ruling in favor of a religious exemption for the school. 

Washington, DC church receives favorable ruling to meet

A Washington, DC church that had been meeting in neighboring Virginia in an outdoor setting filed a lawsuit against the District and the COVID gathering restrictions implemented by Mayor Muriel Bowser.  The church, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, wished to meet outdoors with health protocols in place.

FoxNews.com reports that a Federal district judge found that the restrictions violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying, "The District’s current restrictions substantially burden the Church’s exercise of religion," and adding, "More, the District has failed to offer evidence at this stage showing that it has a compelling interest in preventing the Church from meeting outdoors with appropriate precautions, or that this prohibition is the least-restrictive means to achieve its interest."  The judge cited the double standard that allowed protests in the city, cheered on by Mayor Bowser, while placing restrictions on churches, which were limited to 100 or less participants in outdoor services.

Religious liberty at stake in senior living home

Wilhoit Properties operates a senior living home in Oklahoma, and it has attracted some high-level attention from Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who, according to CBN.com, received a letter from a resident, who "was distressed over management ordering the removal of Bibles and religious decorations from a Christmas tree."

In a statement, Carson said, "Religious liberty is at the core of our Nation's identity and will be upheld under the Fair Housing Act," adding, "Barring religious materials infringes upon this right, and the Trump Administration will not stand for discrimination against any group for practicing their religious traditions."  It is possible that HUD will attempt to resolve the issue itself or refer the situation to the Department of Justice.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The 3 - October 11, 2020

In this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance impacting the Christian community, there is good news out of Texas, where a grand jury has indicted Netflix over an objectionable film that it offers.  Plus, with Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings occurring this week, there are concerns over how her deep faith will be regarded.  And, it's October, but already there is talk of a case involving a Christmas display.

Netflix indicted in TX for objectionable film

Ever since the trailer for the Netflix release, Cuties, was released, there has been an outcry of opposition to the film. Even though officials of the streaming service said that the movie itself would not be as objectionable, a significant level of subscribers thought otherwise, it seems

The Christian Post has announced that Netflix is now in legal trouble over the film, which, according to the article: "... features 11-year-old girls dancing provocatively and simulating sex acts, and has been compared to child porn."

A grand jury in Tyler, Texas has indicted Netflix - the indictments says that the film promoted "the lewd exhibition" involving minors with "no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Netflix, even though it was reported that it has lost 2.5 million subscribers, continues to stand behind its distribution of the film, according to the Post.

Concern over religious harassment as Barrett hearings open

Amy Coney Barrett, who serves on a Federal appeals court and is President Trump's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, is undergoing hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Her supporters defend her based on her "textualist" judicial philosophy, i.e., interpreting the Constitution as written, rather than possessing a "judicial activist" approach which has yielded faulty decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell.  But, it appears that detractors, based on comments made this far, are opposed to her nomination because of her religious beliefs, an issue that was brought up in her appeals court hearings.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has fought back on behalf of Barrett.  FoxNews.com reports that:

The Senate leader pointed to a Guardian report about how Barrett and her future husband lived in a residence owned by the co-founder of the People of Praise religious group while she was in law school, and a Washington Post article with a headline that mentioned Barrett had once been a "handmaid" for the group. The article recognizes that the title was for female leaders in the group who helped other women with various issues, but the term has been used by Barrett's critics to compare her and the group to the dystopian novel and television show "The Handmaid's Tale."

McConnell issued his comments on Twitter.  He said that, "Our coastal elites are so disconnected from their own country that they treat religious Americans like strange animals in a menagerie..." He tweeted out, "The ongoing attacks by Senate Democrats and the media on Judge Barrett's faith are a disgrace," adding, "They demean the confirmation process, disrespect the Constitution, and insult millions of American believers."

It's fall, time for controversy on Christmas display

Well, it's still over two months before Christmas, but that's not too early, it seems, to be discussing a controversial court decision over a Christmas display on government property.

Liberty Counsel is involved in a case out of Jackson County, Indiana. And, it appears that the county did everything right in its display. The legal group's website says that the display included not only a Nativity scene, but also "a large lighted Santa Claus, sleigh with reindeer, and a group of Christmas carolers. The courthouse grounds are also decorated with many kinds of lights and other non-religious symbols of the holiday season."  Unfortunately, the law at this time allows religious displays as long as they are surrounded by secular symbols - it's even been referred to as the "three-reindeer rule."

But, a Federal district judge ruled against the display, and Liberty Counsel noted that the plaintiffs did not have standing in the case; they did not live or do business in the county.  Plus, the organization claims the judge did not use Supreme Court precedent in dealing with the claim that the display violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause; rather it used conflicting lower court decisions. The site notes, "the court barely mentions the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in American Legion, which upheld the Peace Cross in Maryland."  In that case, a large veterans memorial in the shape of a cross was allowed to stand. 

Kelly Shackelford of First Liberty, which had defended the presence of the cross, has expressed optimism that the ruling will change the landscape on court decisions regarding religious symbols. He is quoted as saying, in the aftermath of the Peace Cross decision, “The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over,” adding, "The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”

Sunday, October 04, 2020

The 3 - October 4, 2020

This edition of The 3 features more news out of California and worship gatherings, this time out of San Francisco, where a 1-person limit has been in effect for houses of worship in the city. Also, the state of Virginia has attempted to impose so-called "values" that contradict Christian values on its people, and legal challenges have been filed.  And, the President's diagnosis with coronavirus has dramatically affected the faith community.

Frisco mayor ups restrictions on houses of worship from 1 to a maximum of 100

Up until last Wednesday, the city of San Francisco had a limit on worship "gatherings," well not really a gathering, because it provided for one - one, person to be involved in a worship event.  That has not gone away, according to ChristianHeadlines.com, which says that city Mayor London Breed has loosened the restrictions to 25 percent capacity, with a cap of 100 in an indoor worship setting.

The article notes that, "...several religions and denominations have protested the city’s restrictive rules as 'unjust' limitations not imposed on their secular counterparts.

Also, as the article states:
The Department of Justice also recently warned San Francisco over its limitations, stating they were “draconian, out of step with the treatment afforded other similar indoor activities in San Francisco, wholly at odds with this Nation’s traditional understanding of religious liberty, and may violate the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Challenge filed to so-called Virginia Values Act

On July 1, a piece of legislation known as the Virginia Values Act went into effect in the state - but whose values or what values are mandated in the law?  According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the new law "compels churches, religious schools, and Christian ministries to hire employees who do not share their stated beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and gender identity." And, a companion bill forces employers to include "in employee health care plans coverage for sex reassignment and 'gender affirming'” surgeries that run contrary to their beliefs. And, ministries can no longer offer gender-specific classes in the areas of "parenting, Christian discipleship, and sports."

So, ADF filed a lawsuit in a state court last week on behalf of two churches, three schools, and a pregnancy center network challenging the law, and filed a Federal lawsuit against the law on behalf of a photographer who does weddings and special events, contending the law would force him to photograph events (such as a same-sex wedding ceremony) that violate his religious beliefs.

ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle is quoted as saying, regarding the lawsuit on behalf of faith-based ministries, "Virginia’s new law forces these ministries to abandon and adjust their convictions or pay crippling fines—in direct violation of the Virginia Constitution and other state laws. Such government hostility toward people of faith has no place in a free society.” 

ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said, regarding the Federal suit supporting the photographer, Bob Updegrove, “Because of Virginia’s new law, photographers like Bob face an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against their faith, or close down. The government cannot demand that artists create content that violates their deepest convictions.”

Faith leaders concerned after President's COVID diagnosis

With news of the President's and First Lady's diagnosis of COVID-19, there have been numerous expressions of prayer.  The Presidential Prayer Team issued its original alert on Friday, and has continued to provide updates on Mr. Trump's condition.

There has been media speculation about where the President may have contracted the virus; and the outdoor event announcing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday, the 26th has been the center of attention.  There is certainly a connection to the Christian community, because a number of Christian and pro-life leaders attended the announcement.

Religion News ran a story that outlines some of the faith leaders who were in attendance. One of those mentioned was the President of Notre Dame University John Jenkins, who announced on Friday he had tested positive.  Two individuals, who had been involved in the Washington Prayer March earlier in the day had tested negative, according to the article, which said:

A spokesperson for Franklin Graham said the evangelist — who also led a faith-themed march on Washington the same day as the announcement, attended by thousands — was tested before a trip to Alaska this week, and his results were negative.

The acting Liberty University president Jerry Prevo was also seen sitting behind Jenkins at the event, but a school spokesperson told Religion News Service that Prevo was tested for COVID-19 on Friday morning and his result was negative.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, a Christian who was scheduled to speak in Atlanta last week, according the article told an RNS reporter on Friday, "that he was driving home from Atlanta to quarantine after coming into contact with someone who has the virus and intended to get a test when he arrived." He identified that person as Sen. Mike Lee, who was one of three senators who were initially specified as testing positive for coronavirus.

The article relates that Vice-President Pence, who has tested negative, spoke at the event, as did pastor Jentezen Franklin, who was part of a Call to Prayer for the President yesterday afternoon, hosted by the President's daughter-in-law, Lara on the President's campaign Facebook page.

And, the news came out earlier today that Greg Laurie, Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA and speaker on A New Beginning on Faith Radio, has contracted the coronavirus. He wrote on his Facebook page:

I tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday. I have been in quarantine since then. My wife Cathe is also in quarantine with me. I am happy to report that all members of my family have tested negative for COVID. My symptoms have been mild so far, and I expect to make a full recovery. I have always taken the Coronavirus seriously, and it has tragically taken many lives. At a time like this, we need to pray for those that have it and avoid politicizing it. If our President and First Lady can get COVID-19, clearly anyone can. I chose to first tell those I was directly in touch with and the congregation I pastor. Thank you for your concern and prayers. I hope to see you all soon.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The 3 - September 27, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, spotlights a pro-life executive order announced by the President on behalf of babies who survive abortion attempts.  Also, there's more news on churches and COVID, with one California church being granted a trial for next year, meaning that it can continue to worship in-person, and a DC church suing the city because of its excessive COVID restrictions.  And, a government agency has stepped in to defend two former grocery store employees who would not wear an apron depicting what they views as an endorsement of LGBTQ.

President issues order protecting abortion survivors

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, President Trump announced his intent to issue an executive order to protect babies who survive an attempt to take their lives through abortion.

Liberty Counsel, on its website, notes:

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, President Trump called this “our sacrosanct moral duty.”

President Trump said, “We believe in the joy of family, the blessing of freedom and the dignity of work and the eternal truth that every child born and unborn is made in the holy image of God. I will always protect the vital role of religion and prayer in American society, and I will always defend the sacred right to life.”

Congress has been unable to pass legislation that would protect abortion survivors, according to the website, which notes that there have been over 80 chances to do so.  The site says:

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as the personal testimonies of nurses and abortion survivors themselves, provide evidence that babies survive abortions. According to the CDC, at least 143 babies were born alive after botched abortions between 2003 and 2014 in the U.S., though there likely are more. The CDC also notes that this number is likely underestimated because of unclear terminology and a lack of understanding about spontaneous abortions.

The President began his week by issuing this welcome news to those who are pro-life, and at the conclusion of the week, he made a popular decision among pro-life groups by naming Federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.  

California church gets reprieve, DC church sues city

The saga involving a California church that made the decision to gather in indoor worship services, in response to local COVID-19 health orders that it deemed to be excessive, continues.  An article at The Federalist website states that:

Grace Community Church and its Pastor John MacArthur won another victory in their journey to fight for their constitutional right to worship on Thursday when a judge awarded them the opportunity for a trial.
That judge, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff had earlier issued a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the church from meeting, but the church continued to meet. Now, Beckloff has set a trial for early in 2021, although he will hold a hearing in mid-November. 

Special Counsel Charles LeMandri of the Thomas More Society said, “This ruling prevents Los Angeles County’s attempted rush to judgment in its continued prosecution of Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church for courageously exercising their First Amendment rights,” adding, “We are pleased that Judge Beckloff indicated he agreed with the major points that we made on behalf of Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church and we are very gratified that the judge’s ruling today reflects that he appreciates the importance of the constitutionally protected rights at issue in this case.” Pastor MacArthur said, in part, "The reality is that the county cannot show that their order is even rational, much less necessary..."

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country, a church in Washington, DC has sued the District for its excessive COVID-19 regulations. The Christian Post reports that:

The 850-member Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., is suing Mayor Murriel Bowser over her ban on outdoor church services of more than 100 people during the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that the gathering restriction has been applied unfairly.

First Liberty is involved in the case. The article quotes Justin Sok, one of the pastoral staff members of the church; it says, "The church has applied for multiple waivers to the mayor’s policy. However, city officials 'refuse to provide CHBC with a waiver beyond 100 persons as part of a mass gathering,' Sok added."  He is also quoted as saying, 

“The lawsuit filed Tuesday simply asks that CHBC be permitted to meet in-person, with similar restrictions as area businesses and other gatherings have employed to protect public health,” the pastor stressed. “A church is not a building that can be opened and closed. A church is not an event to be watched. A church is a community that gathers regularly and that community should be treated fairly by the District government.”

Grocery store employees gain powerful ally in refusal to display LGBTQ symbolism

In a case in which an employer attempted to force two of its employees to display symbolism that conflicts with their religious beliefs, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC has stood with the two employees, who lost their jobs, according to the Family Research Council website.  The site relates that:

In this case, the Kroger grocery store in Conway, Arkansas issued new aprons to employees that featured a small, rainbow-colored heart emblem. Two employees perceived this as an endorsement of the LGBT movement, and they objected on religious grounds.

The article goes on to say that: 

The two Kroger employees asked if they could either wear a different apron or wear their name tag over the rainbow emblem. Kroger refused this accommodation and ended up firing the two employees -- leading to the EEOC suit in support of the employees. 
The article, written by Peter Sprigg of FRC, quoted Sharon Fast Gustafson, General Counsel of the EEOC, who said, "If the applicant or employee has a religious belief or practice that requires some kind of religious accommodation, the law requires the employer to give that accommodation to the employee unless it would present some sort of undue hardship to the business."

Sprigg points out that this is a shift for the EEOC, which had filed the original lawsuit against a funeral home on behalf of a transgender employee in the Bostock case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the word "sex" in civil rights law should be interpreted as "sexual orientation" or "gender identity." He writes, "We trust that the Kroger lawsuit means that the EEOC has taken a turn in the direction of consistent support for religious liberty."

Monday, September 21, 2020

The 3 - September 20, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes the issuance of a letter from over a hundred African-American leaders calling out the nation's largest abortion provided for racism. Also, a Federal judge has found that Pennsylvania's restrictions during COVID-19 are unconstitutional.  And, California lawmakers have relaxed the law concerning sexual relationships between adults and minors.

Bi-partisan group of African-American leaders decry Planned Parenthood's emphasis on taking lives of Black children

A group in excess of 120 African-American leaders from both political parties has sent an open letter to the head of the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, calling it out for racism in its targeting of Black pre-born babies, according to The Christian Post, which reports that:

Among those who have signed the letter are Louisiana state Senator Katrina Jackson, Georgia state representative Mack Jackson, and Michigan's Kent County Commissioner Monica Sparks, all of whom are Democrats. Black Republican signers include Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and Texas state representative James White. Conservative think tank Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James, former NFL star Benjamin Watson and pro-life activist Alveda King, who is the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. also signed the letter.
The letter states: “The impact of abortion on Black communities is unequal and disproportionate... Despite constituting only 13% of the female population, Black women represent 36% of all abortions, and Black women are five times more likely than white women to receive an abortion. In some cities, like New York, more Black children are aborted every year than are born alive."

Dean Nelson, Executive Director of the pro-life organization, Human Coalition Action, in a statement to The Christian Post, said that this is a representation of "...the outrage among the Black community that we have been strategically and consistently targeted by the abortion industry ever since the practice was legalized almost 50 years ago.” 

By, the way, Benjamin Watson has a new film, called Divided Hearts of America, which deals with the abortion issue. Crosswalk.com describes it in this way: "In the span of about 90 minutes, Watson interviews more than 30 pro-life and pro-choice leaders as he unveils – in his words – 'the truth about abortion, the laws, the history and where our country is headed.' Alveda King and Katrina Jackson appear in the film.  Watson is quoted as saying, “Can anything save us? Yes. It’s love,” adding,“Will we decide to love each other enough to mend our divided hearts? That's a choice we all have to make. That's a choice that will determine how the story ends.”

Judge rules PA governor's COVID restrictions unconstitutional

Government restrictions in the face of the COVID-19 virus have been challenged in court, and a recent ruling out of Pennsylvania by a Federal judge said that the governor had overstepped his bounds and issued unconstitutional orders. Bruce Hausknecht, writing at the Daily Citizen of Focus on the Family, stated:

Just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court let a COVID-related state lockdown order in California remain effective in the face of constitutional challenges, a federal district court judge in western Pennsylvania says those can’t go on indefinitely, striking down several of Governor Tom Wolf’s orders restricting indoor and outdoor gatherings in that state, his designations of “life-sustaining” and “non-life-sustaining” businesses, and his general “stay-at-home” order.

Hausknecht writes:

The judge addressed the impact of the recent U.S. Supreme Court action in denying an emergency injunction blocking the California governor’s lockdown order in that state, and, in particular, Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent which argued in favor of granting an injunction in that case.

“There is no question, as Justice Alito reasoned in Calvary Chapel, that courts may provide state and local officials greater deference when making time-sensitive decisions in the maelstrom of an emergency. But that deference cannot go on forever. It is no longer March. It is now September and the record makes clear that Defendants have no anticipated end-date to their emergency interventions.
The article says that: "It’s worth quoting something that the U.S. Department of Justice began saying months ago when it came to the support of citizens’ constitutional rights in the face of onerous state lockdown orders: 'There is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.'"

The American Pastors Network, which is led by former Pennsylvania representative Sam Rohrer, partnered with the Pennsylvania Pastors Network to issue an open letter a few weeks ago concerning these orders from state officials.  A summary on the APN site says:

This letter from APN and PPN, which represent more than 1,200 PA pastors, explains that the current COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the executive branch are without authority, are therefore unlawful, and in violation of both the Constitution and statutory law, particularly since the General Assembly in accordance with the law ordered the Governor to rescind all COVID-19-related orders resulting from his natural disaster proclamation on March 6. The resolution calls out these realities and highlights how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has only deepened the constitutional crisis, the letter states.

California liberalizes sex offender law

Concern has been raised about a new California law, recently signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, that appears to loosen restrictions on those who have been found to have sexually abused children. The Daily Signal reports that:

Senate Bill 145—which passed both the state Assembly and Senate, and Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed into law—ensures that adults will not automatically be placed on the sex offender registry even if they engage in sexual acts with minors aged 14 to 17, regardless of what kind of sex they had.

According to the law’s text, SB 145 will “exempt from mandatory registration under the act a person convicted of certain offenses involving minors if the person is not more than 10 years older than the minor and if that offense is the only one requiring the person to register.”

Bottom line, according to the writer of the piece, Nicole Russell: "So, even though it is illegal in California for any adult to have sex with a person under 17, this law will require judges to take each case separately."  She notes that Dr. James Dobson stated, "Any law that lessens protections for vulnerable children is a bad idea. There’s a word for adults who pursue sex with children: pedophiles..."  He also said, “Any proposed legislation that gives incentive or cover for such depravity should be condemned, not passed into law.”

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The 3 - September 13, 2020

In this week's edition of The 3, there is a victory for a pro-life student organization at a Georgia college campus.  Plus, the U.S. Department of Education has committed to preserve the First Amendment rights of students, including free expression of religious faith. And, in North Carolina, a school has nixed day planners provided to students by a local church.

Pro-life group wins religious freedom at university campus

Last year, the pro-life group, Students for Life, on the campus of Georgia Tech, sought university funds in order to present an event featuring the pro-life niece of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Alveda King.  A CBNNews.com report noted that all students, which would include SFL members, pay dues to the Student Government Association for the purpose of on-campus activities.

The article states:

When Students For Life member Brian Cochran presented his group's request to the graduate and undergraduate houses of the SGA, they interrogated him on the content and viewpoints that Students for Life and King would present at the event.

SGA denied the funding, noting the "inherently religious" nature of Alveda King's life. The event went on as scheduled, but without university dollars. But, Students for Life also contacted Alliance Defending Freedom. 

ADF filed a lawsuit against the school, and recently, it was announced that the school and Students for Life had reached an out-of-court settlement.  The article reports:

The University has agreed to change its unconstitutional policies that had allowed the SGA to discriminate against Alveda King and Students For Life. As part of the settlement ending the federal lawsuit, the university agreed to revise its policies to treat all student organizations fairly, regardless of viewpoint, and to pay $50,000 in damages and attorneys' fees.

Department of Education issues order to preserve First Amendment protections regarding faith

The U.S. Department of Education has issued a new regulation that is designed to protect the First Amendment rights of students on college campuses. The Christian Post reports that:

The regulation — Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities — comes in response to an executive order issued in March 2019 signed by President Donald Trump that vowed to withhold federal research grants from colleges and universities that are hostile to First Amendment rights of students.
The article quotes from a summary of the rule, which states that the “...Final Rule prohibits discrimination against religious student organizations because of their beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs..."  The Post says that:
The final rule comes as some faith-based campus groups across the country have been denied recognition by universities for having policies that require leaders of the organizations to adhere to their statements of faith, which has led to several legal battles.
NC school removes Bible verses from daily planners donated by church

A church in Alexander County, North Carolina donated 600 planners to a middle school there, only to find out that the school removed, or, as WSOC Television reported, "cut out" the two Scripture verses that were contained on the back of the planner.

The television report said that, "Parent Roger Hayes said he is in disbelief that East Alexander Middle School cut up his daughter’s planner in an effort to remove the Bible verses."

The article states:
Sulphur Springs Baptist Church said it reached out to the school this summer to find out how they could help and ended up spending more than $2,000 to have the planners printed.

“We just put them back there for encouragement. We know the school year ended rough last year. We know coming back with split days,” Assistant Pastor James Safrit said.
The television station notes that, "The school district said while they appreciate the community support, the principal believed including the scripture verses would violate a student’s rights." Hayes said, “That hurt my feelings, it really did. This society right now, I think we need God in our lives and Jesus in our lives and this tears my heart apart,” adding, “Why couldn’t it be my decision or my child’s decision to take it off.”  School officials, according to WSOC, felt that the planners would be unconstitutionally "indoctrinating" the students.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

The 3 - September 6, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance in the Christian community, we find that Christian leaders are applauding a move from the President that purports to eliminate vestiges of Critical Race Theory in government training.  Also, a U.S. Senator has said "no" to a demand from an atheist organization to cease to post Bible verses online.  Plus, California churches are in various stages of opposing government attempts to limit worship, ostensibly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

President issues order to block "critical race theory," Christian leaders opposing CRT commend

The debate about and exposure of what is known as Critical Race Theory has flared within the Southern Baptist Convention since the haphazard passage of a resolution at its annual meeting in Birmingham last year, when messengers - at least those who were left in the building during the closing hours of the convention - passed a resolution branding CRT and Intersectionality as "analytical tools" in understanding race relations that should be subjected to Scripture.  A number of Christian leaders basically believe that to submit these worldly, divisive philosophies that label people as oppressors and the oppressed based on racial and cultural generalizations to Scripture would mean to repudiate them totally. 

The CRT resolution, also known as Resolution 9, was one of the factors leading to the formation of a group called the Conservative Baptist Network, which has thousands of adherents on social media and relates on its website that its Steering Council is made up of, among others, "former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, past SBC President Charles Stanley, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Vice President Tom Phillips, and immediate past SBC Executive Committee Chairman Mike Stone."

The network and other Christian leaders, including Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries, which has released a video and book, called, By What Standard, that includes information on the infiltration of evangelical Christianity by critical race theorists have offered praise to President Trump's executive order that, according to FoxNews.com, ends "'critical race theory' training in federal agencies, with White House officials calling it “anti-American propaganda."  Fox goes on to report:

Russ Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote a memo informing agencies of Trump's instruction to stop using controversial forms of training on “critical race theory,” “white privilege” and “any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either...that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or...that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.”

“It has come to the President's attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date "training" government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda,” Vought wrote in the memo to heads of federal agencies and offices.

The Conservative Baptist Network offered gratitude for the Adminstration's action, saying: 

The Conservative Baptist Network has been clear from the beginning regarding this divisive, anti-gospel ideology. The Network strongly believes in a just society for all based on biblical truth, opposing racism and sexism in all forms, and therefore rejects worldly ideologies infiltrating the Southern Baptist Convention, including Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and other unbiblical agendas deceptively labeled as “Social Justice.”

U.S. Senator declares intent to continue posting Bible verses online

Even though there are those that attempt to label politics as something that Christians should not participate in, especially when the philosophies of other believers differ from their own, it is gratifying to see that politicians, governmental leaders, actually apply their faith to their practice of lawmaking. An example is found at the ChristianNews.net website, which announced that:

A Louisiana senator says he won’t stop posting from the pages of Scripture on Sundays after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) requested that he take down such quotes from his official social media pages and refrain from citing Scripture on his government accounts in the future.

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation has demanded that I stop sharing Bible verses with you. The left won’t bully me into canceling Christianity. Their request is denied,” Sen. Bill Cassidy posted to his accounts on Tuesday.

FFRF had sent a threatening letter to the senator, to which the article links, in August saying that a "concerned Louisiana resident," who was not named in the letter, had complained about Cassidy's inclusion of Scripture online. ChristianNews.net reported last week that:

On Tuesday, Cassidy said that he would not oblige the Church-State separation group’s request, referring to the letter as an attempt to “bully” him into “canceling Christianity” from the public square.

The following day, FFRF published a news release opining that Cassidy was being “unconstitutionally stubborn” as he “doubled down on his obstinacy.”

California church continues its fight against governor's order

A California church's legal team is declaring that church is "essential" in its fight against draconian restrictions on worship in the Golden State.  That's according to CBN.com, which reports that:

A California church has appealed its case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning Gov. Gavin Newsom's ban on all indoor worship services, including Bible studies, and singing.

The religious rights law group Liberty Counsel is representing the Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry. Attorneys argue that the governor's actions are contradictory, as he continues to encourage thousands of people to gather for protests against social injustice.
The pastor is Che Ahn, and on August 13, Pasadena officials had "threatened fines and criminal charges against Pastor Ahn, the church, and staff of up to one year in prison for noncompliance..."  Just last week, a Federal district court had written an order rejecting a request for a preliminary injunction against the governor, which paved the way for Liberty Counsel to appeal to the 9th Circuit.  Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel stated, "The church has been essential for 2,000 years, and the First Amendment recognizes that the free exercise of religion is essential," adding, "The church is now more essential than ever because there are so many hurting people, especially in California, where the governor has decimated the economy and hurt many people by his draconian restrictions."

Meanwhile, as reported on ToddStarnes.com, Los Angeles County, which had been leasing a piece of property to Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur, for 45 years, has informed the church that the lease is not terminated. A letter sent to the church says, "If Grace fails to vacate the premise as required, the District may enter the premises and remove Grace’s personal property..." Attorney Jenna Ellis, representing the church, said, "Los Angeles County is retaliating against Grace Community Church for simply exercising their constitutionally protected right to hold church and challenging an unreasonable, unlawful health order..."

And, the fines keep accumulating for North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California, according to an article at The Christian Post, which reports that:
The pastor of a large California church that was fined over $50,000 for holding indoor worship services despite adhering to social distancing guidelines said that even as the county continues to increase penalties, the church will remain open.

Jack Trieber, pastor of North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California, said Tuesday that Santa Clara County posted an additional order on the church’s doors this week and is fining the congregation $5,000 for each service.

As of last Thursday, the church has been fined $52,750. 

Treiber is quoted as saying, "I'm in charge of the spiritual health of the people in this city and in this area,” adding, “I've been trying to do it for 45 years. Though health is [of the] utmost importance, spiritual health is supreme. Because we've been locked out in this county of churches, suicide is up, domestic violence, addiction is up, homelessness is up, alcoholism is up. We need to get back to worshiping God. I am commanded to worship God.”  Liberty Counsel is also representing that church.  The article also notes, "Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks was found to be in contempt of court for violating the state's COVID-19 health orders."

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The 3 - August 30, 2020

This edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, features news from around the world, including a man in Pakistan who is facing death for violating the country's "blasphemy" laws.  Also, China is continuing to dismantle crosses from church buildings.  Plus, Idaho's new law banning biological males from participating in women's sports has been put on hold, but two women who have been adversely affected by the influx of males claiming to be transgender will be allowed to participate on behalf of the law in a lawsuit filed against it.

Pakistani man faces death due to blasphemy laws

The same charge that was leveled against Pakistani wife and mother Asia Bibi has now been used against a Pakistani man because he allegedly posted negative comments against the founder of Islam, Mohammed, on Facebook. The Christian Post reports that:

The London-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, an interdenominational aid agency serving persecuted Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan, reports that Sohail Masih in the Nowshera Virkan in Punjab province was arrested on Aug. 5.
CLAAS-UK Director Nasir Saeed, stated: "This is not the first case of its kind, and several Christians... have been charged with blasphemy for sharing or having blasphemous contents either on their phone or on their computers...”  Masih was charged under 2 sections of the Pakistani Penal Code, one of which, 295-C, is the one that was used against Asia Bibi.

According to BBC.com, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and released from prison by the nation's Supreme Court in 2018, is now living in Canada. News of her freedom set off protests that the BBC describes as "violent." She was in France not too long ago to promote her book, and said, "I left of my own volition because I was in danger there. Anything could have happened to me at any point. So that's why I left my country. But I have the same love for my country in my heart now. I still respect my country and I want to see the day when I'm able to go back." The article says:
Ms Bibi called on Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan to free anyone unjustly accused or convicted of blasphemy and to ensure that the charges are investigated properly.

"Innocents should not be punished for no reason and people who are innocent, in prison, should be freed," she said.

Over 900 crosses and counting removed from Chinese churches in 2020

The oppression of Christianity, even in state-sanctioned churches, continues in China. According to a piece at the ChristianHeadlines.com website, more than 900 crosses on church buildings in just one province of the massive country were "forcibly removed."  The article reports that:

Bitter Winter, which monitors religious liberty violations within China, says 906 crosses were pulled down by cranes and other machines in the province of Anhui from January through July. Anhui has the second-largest Christian population in China, Bitter Winter said.

All 906 cross removals involved churches within the legal but heavily restricted Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

According to a church member quoted on the Bitter Winter website, government officials have cautioned Christians that, "Protesting cross demolitions means protesting against the government.” The same church members stated that "all crosses taller than government buildings must be demolished because they overshadow state institutions..."

Idaho ban on transgender athletes put on hold by judge

A new Idaho law that prevents males who claim to be "transgender" from participating in women's sports has been put on hold by a state judge, according to Politico, but there is some positive news about which Alliance Defending Freedom reported.

The Politico article said that:

Idaho Chief Judge David C. Nye, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said those suing Idaho over the law "are likely to succeed in establishing the Act is unconstitutional as currently written." Nye also knocked the Trump administration's own position on transgender athletes, saying that an Education Department threat to schools this year is "of questionable validity."

The Idaho law is the only prohibition in the country against transgender student athletes participating in sports that match their gender identity. The Trump administration has filed a brief in the case supporting the law, which went into effect July 1.

But, as ADF pointed out, in the same order, it gave two athletes the opportunity to intervene in the case, stating: "Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the two collegiate athletes, who run track and cross-country at Idaho State University in Pocatello. The two women, Madison Kenyon and Mary Kate Marshall, are long-time athletes, well familiar with the difference in strength and speed between comparably gifted and trained male and female athletes."

ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said: “The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act is good law because it seeks to protect girls and women across Idaho. Our clients have already experienced the deflating experience of losing to a male runner, and this should not be allowed to continue.” She added: “In one year, 275 high school boys ran faster times than the lifetime best of World Champion sprinter Allyson Felix. As long-time athletes, these young women deserve and will now have a voice in this lawsuit and the opportunity to protect the future of girls’ and women’s sports in Idaho.”

Monday, August 17, 2020

The 3 - August 16, 2020

This week's edition of The 3 continues to glance at restrictions on worship in California and provides an update to the response to restrictions by Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur.  Also, a new document has been released that takes aim at what is called "cancel culture."  Plus, a handful of colleges and universities have altered their policies toward speech on campus.

MacArthur files lawsuit, receives positive temporary court reprieve

This past week, Grace Community Church in California, under the leadership of John MacArthur, filed a lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, according to CBN.com, in order “to prohibit California from enforcing its unconstitutional and onerous coronavirus pandemic regulations” against the church.

The church, in a press release, stated that "Judge James Chalfant denied almost all of the County’s requests, agreeing with Pastor MacArthur and the Church that it is the County’s burden to show why it should be permitted to infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of churches to freely exercise religion. The judge did also express concern for some safety protocols." Legal counsel for the church "offered to comply with mask wearing and social distancing indoors until the matter could be fully heard, rather than the County simply rushing to shut down the Church."  

Then, late Saturday night, the California Court of Appeal set aside the judge's order, saying, according to Yubanet.com, in a story linked to Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson's Twitter feed:

The Court of Appeal’s decision temporarily upholds the County’s Health Officer Orders prohibiting indoor worship services in order to protect congregants and the community as a whole from transmission of the highly contagious and potentially fatal COVID-19 virus.

The Sunday morning indoor service at Grace Church went on as scheduled, presumably because the church viewed the appeals court ruling as bringing the status back to square one. After agreeing to masks and social distancing, the service featured none of the above, since the city had violated the original agreement by filing an appeal.  The Christian Post reported:

MacArthur told the attendees Sunday, “We agreed … look, we’ll comply for a few weeks. They asked that for three weeks. We’re not wanting to be defiant. We will do what is reasonable. That was not enough for the city. They went to the appellate court Saturday late, and had that order removed.”

A hearing is set for September 4.

In a related story from the Golden State, according to The Christian Post:

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow confirmed late last month he will not prosecute churches for holding worship services or for singing in church, which was deemed unlawful by an order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In many counties, pastors have had to decide between revolting or abiding by the order.

Newsom’s order to ban or limit church gatherings has led to lawsuits from churches and even a federal court ruling in May, where District Judge John A. Mendez ruled that Newsom’s order is legal during the COVID-19 crisis.

Christian leaders, other participate in Philadelphia Statement, responding to "cancel culture'

The proliferation of what has come to be known as "cancel culture" has sparked a number of academicians and thought leaders, including Christian ministry leaders, to attach their names to a document called the Philadelphia Statement.  The Daily Signal reported that the statement said, in part: "If we seek to change our country’s trajectory; if we desire unity rather than division; if we want a political life that is productive and inspiring; if we aspire to be a society that is pluralistic and free, one in which we can forge our own paths and live according to our own consciences, then we must renounce ideological blacklisting and recommit ourselves to steadfastly defending freedom of speech and passionately promoting robust civil discourse."

Some familiar names have endorsed the document, including Professor Robert George at Princeton University, who was one of the original co-creators of the Manhattan Declaration, which was a statement of affirmation for life, marriage, and religious liberty.  The founder of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Alan Sears, and its current President, Michael Farris, are signers of the Philadelphia Statement, as well as Dean Nelson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation.  Other notable signers including recent Meeting House guests Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation and former Vanderbilt law professor Carol Swain, who were mentioned in the Daily Signal article.  The website for the statement also indicates that Colson Center head and Breakpoint speaker John Stonestreet also signed on to the document.

The Statement also notes:

A society that lacks comity and allows people to be shamed or intimidated into self-censorship of their ideas and considered judgments will not survive for long. As Americans, we desire a flourishing, open marketplace of ideas, knowing that it is the fairest and most effective way to separate falsehood from truth. Accordingly, dissenting and unpopular voices—be they of the left or the right—must be afforded the opportunity to be heard. They have often guided our society toward more just positions, which is why Frederick Douglass said freedom of speech is the “great moral renovator of society and government.”

Good news for free speech on campus as college students return to school

Students are returning to campuses nationwide, and while the learning environment will certainly be different due to COVID-19 and its accompanying safety protocols, the Alliance Defending Freedom has continued to take steps to make sure that free speech is guaranteed on campus. On behalf of its client, Young Americans for Liberty, ADF's website notes that it has sent 26 letters "to schools in 14 states in response to official policies that violate students’ rights protected by the First Amendment. Many of those policies directly violate state laws known as 'FORUM acts,' which expressly protect students’ free speech on campus. The latest schools that have made policy changes as a result of the letters they received are Jacksonville State University in Alabama, St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and the College of Charleston in South Carolina."

For example, at Jax State, according to ADF, the school has "removed an unconstitutional policy that required its students to notify the school in advance before engaging in any expressive activity..."

Two other schools, Santa Rosa Junior College in California and Western Illinois University, had already changed their policies in response to the letters that had been sent out.  

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, who is director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, stated: “The colleges and universities that have made policy changes so far should be commended for their willingness to quickly conform their rules to the U.S. Constitution and applicable state laws, and they serve as an example to other schools who should likewise desire to respect the constitutionally and legally protected freedoms of their students.”