Sunday, August 09, 2020

The 3 - August 9, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news out of Portland, as an anti-Bible campaign emerged in the midst of the protests.  Also, Chinese state-sanctioned churches are preparing to re-open, but the pre-requisite is to follow Communist Party directives.  And, another California church is at odds with government authorities, as a local judge has said that the church could not hold indoor worship services.

Portland protesters burn Bibles

The violence in Portland continues to be a problem, even after the withdrawal of Federal agents.  A CBN News story said:

While CBN News was there, windows were smashed, buildings defaced, and fires burned nightly around the courthouse, but Portland mayor and police commissioner Ted Wheeler ignored the conduct, even joining the protesters in calling for federal police to leave the area.

Wheeler has since taken protesters to task and reminding them that they are contributing to the re-election of Donald Trump.  Meanwhile, as the story, posted last Monday, points out: "Tensions eased somewhat over the weekend as federal agents were replaced by...police officers who must follow much more restrictive rules of crowd control measures. But that didn't stop protesters from burning American flags and even Bibles. How that relates to racial justice wasn't immediately clear.

The story quoted Pastor J.W. Matt Hennessee from Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church Portland, who said: "We need to pray for the ability to listen, to learn and to find out how God wants us to engage and to do that in a very, very like, intentional way for us to be able to be used by God, as instruments in this space..."

Author and commentator Eric Metaxas has been on the forefront of decrying this behavior that has disrespected the Bible.  A Christian Post article chronicled Eric's appearance on Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News recently:

In an interview with Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson on Thursday, Metaxas stressed that he wasn't suggesting everyone living in the U.S. must identify as Christian. Instead, his point was that the Bible is more than a sacred book; it's "what led ... to freedom and self-government" that most Americans cherish.

“We’ve forgotten that freedom is utterly impossible on the American model without the values we got from the Bible,” said Metaxas, a bestselling author and radio host, in response to images of rioters burning stacks of Bibles in Portland last Friday night.

Metaxas went on to say:

“All of the Founders understood that the Bible wasn’t just a sacred book for some people. It was what gave us the West and what led to the idea of freedom and self-government,” Metaxas said, asserting that those who are attacking the Bible and Christianity are “attacking foundational ideas” that built the nation.

Chinese churches allowed to reopen after COVID only after swearing allegiance to leader

The reopening of churches is not only an issue in the United States, but the nation of China has some troubling guidelines in its progress to reopening, according to a Bitter Winter article referenced by the Christian Post.  The article, released last week, says that:

In mid-June, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Zhengzhou, the capital of the central province of Henan, issued a list of 42 requirements for places of worship to start functioning after the coronavirus lockdown has been lifted. On top of scrupulous adherence to the epidemic prevention measures, people who want to enter religious venues must register online, cross-referencing their health code, and provide their personal details, including name, gender, ID card, and phone number. Venues must intensify patriotic education and study China’s religious policies and other regulations, and implement the “four requirements.” Those that fail to meet the prerequisites are not allowed to reopen.

The article reports that these types of requirements were seen throughout Henan province.  In June, churches in one particular county in the province were given their "marching orders:"

They all were to extol President Xi Jinping for “the right way to lead people in defeating the epidemic” and praise China for its single-party rule while slandering the United States and other countries. “I had to preach as the state required,” one of the preachers said. “Otherwise, the church would not have reopened.”

These restrictions, of course, are for the government-sancition, Three-Self churches.  The article says: 

“The government said that churches must preach about national affairs if they want to reopen,” a Three-Self church member from Henan’s Sanmenxia city commented. “With Xi Jinping’s speeches as the main content, it’s better for churches not to reopen.”

The Christian Post article said:

It was previously reported that Communist authorities converted a number of state-approved Three-Self churches into cultural centers promoting Xi's socialist values.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, poor Christian villagers in several provinces were ordered to renounce their faith and replace displays of Jesus with portraits of Chairman Mao and Xi or risk losing their welfare benefits.

In recent years, hundreds of Christians have also faced arrests, detentions, imprisonments, and church attacks.

California judge places halt to church's indoor services

The law firm, Tyler and Bursch, reported on its website on Friday that, "A Ventura County Superior Court judge issued an emergency temporary restraining order today against Godspeak Calvary Chapel and its Pastor Rob McCoy. The church has been holding indoor worship services asserting its constitutional right to the free exercise of religion."  A hearing has been set for August 31; the firm states, "The church intends to present expert witnesses for the purpose of establishing that the State of California and the County of Ventura lack a compelling interest for the prohibition of indoor worship services and that the decision to prevent indoor worship services, while allowing other indoor activities, is arbitrary and without a rational basis."

The VCStar.com website reported that in mid-July, the county's Public Health Officer, Dr. Robert Levin "...ordered the closure of indoor activities at places of worship as well as for protests, offices offering non-essential services, malls, salons, barbershops and gyms. That followed a similar action by the state after the county and others were placed on a state watch list because of concerns over progress in curtailing the disease."

The law firm's website says that, "We believe that COVID-19 can be fought with far less restrictive measures than banning all healthy persons from church and our expert witnesses will prove that," citing statistics that the risk of death for Ventura County residents under age 65 is .18%, based on reported cases.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

The 3 - August 2, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, shines the spotlight on a group of senators who called on President Trump to undergird the First Amendment rights of people of faith during the COVID-19 situation.  Also, with recent attacks on churches and religious symbols, some churches may sense a need for relief; the Department of Homeland Security has recently announced a new effort designed to enhance church security.  And, a letter sent to the NCAA urges the governing body of collegiate sports not to support a boycott of the state of Idaho because of its law that mandates that athletes compete in sporting events based on their biological gender.

Senators speak out on First Amendment protections for churches, urge COVID-19 relief to be conditional on respect for religious freedom

It has certainly been discouraging to see how churches in a number of states have not been afforded the same opportunities to assemble under the law as other forms of gathering.  In addition to multiple lawsuits that have been filed against states by churches, with some yielding a positive outcome, now members of the U.S. Senate have asked the President to take action against state and local government officials that do not allow church participants to exercise their First Amendment rights.

The National Religious Broadcasters website announced that 10 U.S. Senators wrote a letter to that effect, stating:
In their letter, the senators urged the President to support proposals in Congress to place restrictions on any forthcoming COVID-19 relief funding to states and localities that prevent churches, houses of worship, and religious schools and institutions from reopening with appropriate CDC implemented guidelines.

“Such executive action would send the nation and government leaders a clear and unequivocal message that religious liberty matters, and that no state or locality can unilaterally strip away protected constitutional rights,” they said.
NRB CEO Troy Miller said, in part, "we’re seeing special restrictions on the First Amendment right of faithful Americans to exercise their religion – even when done in compliance with safety precautions found in CDC guidance..."

Department of Homeland Security provides assistance for churches under duress

There is great concern over a spike in attacks on churches around the world; noted author and commentator Eric Metaxas is quoted on the Family Research Council website as saying: "There is something about it that is an unbridled, roaring fury...and if you don't treat it in the way that it needs to be treated, if you don't deal with it with some force, really then you are allowing other people to be harmed." The FRC site said that Metaxas "ticked off examples throughout history of rebels wanting to overthrow authority and then turned their attention to the church -- people in France, Russia, China. They all 'found themselves swept up in a rage that had no bounds and that could never be satisfied.'"

The Christian Emergency Network website pinpointed several attacks on churches, including, a Florida church statue being beheaded, an attack on a pastor in Virginia, and arsons in California and Florida. Mix that with the burning of Bibles in Portland by protesters and it is not too far of a reach to think that churches and religious artifacts are in danger.  

The Department of Homeland Security has announced its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure (CISA) Faith-based Website, which, according to CEN, provides access to information that supports efforts to secure churches or ministry gatherings whether large or small. In addition, the website contains a self-assessment tool that is designed for individuals as well as security teams with little or no experience to take the first step in knowing their risks and capabilities to develop customized security plans even in the midst of escalating civil unrest.”  CEN expressed its appreciation for the DHS efforts, and highlighted resources that it provides in order that churches can keep their attendees safe.  

Christian groups part of effort to keep males identifying as transgender out of women's sports; letter recently sent to NCAA

A letter was sent this past week to the NCAA by over 300 female athletes, in association with a coalition called Save Women's Sports, which supports a recently-passed Idaho law that, according to ChristianHeadlines.com, "requires biological sex – and not gender identity – to be used in determining who plays on high school and college teams." The letter urges the NCAA to, according to the article, "reject calls for a boycott of Idaho due to a new law that protects the integrity of women’s sports."

The organization was founded by powerlifter Beth Stelzer; WORLD Magazine says that some of the allies of the group include Concerned Women for America, the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom, as well as liberal groups.  The article relates:
Stelzer says biological males are competing as females in swimming, wrestling, track and field, cycling, soccer, softball, powerlifting, and other sports, robbing females of opportunities, medals, scholarships, records, sponsorships, and even participation. “I never would’ve started powerlifting if I’d known I’d have to compete against males,” she told me.
Recently, Concerned Women for America announced its support for this letter, with Penny Nance, CEO and President of the organization saying:
“Female NCAA, professional, and Olympic athletes who signed this letter speak for all women and girls across America who simply want to compete against other female athletes. This is what Title IX achieved over 40 years ago. The NCAA has no business overturning that victory by promoting inequity in women’s athletics.

“This is not a left or right issue. Women and girls, regardless of political affiliation, deserve to have the laws that protect us respected and followed, ensuring equal opportunities and benefits in sports for all female athletes.”

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The 3 - July 26, 2020

This week in The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, the state of Nevada will not have to change its restrictions on churches that were initiated as the result of the coronavirus, thanks to the highest court in the land.  Also, a large social media platform has announced its intention to censor therapy that results in people struggling with same-sex attraction changing.  Plus, a faith-based adoption agency in New York has received a favorable ruling from a Federal appeals court after a governmental entity tried to shut it down because of its beliefs about Biblical marriage.

U.S. Supreme Court upholds state restrictions during COVID-19 - again; this time for Nevada

For a second time, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to lift restrictions placed on churches during the coronavirus crisis.  Just days ago, as CBN.com reports:
In a 5 to 4 ruling Friday against the request filed by Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, the high court upheld the limit of 50 people in houses of worship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The church, which is located east of Reno, argues that the state is treating churches unfairly compared to casinos, restaurants, and entertainment parks.
The dining and entertainment venues are allowed to open at 50% capacity, which, as the article points out, could be significantly larger than the 50 people or less allowed in churches.

Three justices wrote dissents, including the court's newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote that he is in agreement that “courts should be very deferential to the States' line-drawing in opening businesses and allowing certain activities during the pandemic." He added, "But COVID-19 is not a blank check for a state to discriminate against religious people, religious organizations, and religious services...Nevada is discriminating against religion."

In late May, the high court had denied an emergency appeal, again by a 5-4 margin, by a California church that had challenged an order by the governor that loosened some of the restrictions on houses of worship, but still only allowed up to 25 percent of capacity, with a maximum of 100 people, according to Liberty Counsel.

Meanwhile, in California, in light of recent orders by California Governor Gavin Newsom that banned indoor worship in much of the state, The Christian Post reports that Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, pastored by John MacArthur, announced it would be meeting this past weekend.  The article quotes MacArthur as saying, "Government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders..." The article also states:
The pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, therefore, “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services,” he added.
The welcome to Dr. MacArthur was described as "raucous" over at Capstone Report, where these words from the sermon can be found:
“This is not a problem to be feared. This is a triumphant hour for the church to be the church,” MacArthur said. “Standing for the glory of our Lord is more important in this hour than I’ve ever known it in my life. For His glory, we will stand and meet and worship and preach the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The report says:
MacArthur read from the Book of Daniel, chapter 6 and explored the purpose of the church and the eternal condition of the lost world citing Scripture that shows the lost world does not understand the spiritual things—in fact the things of God are foolishness to the world.
MacArthur pointed out the double standard during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic.
Facebook announces ban on posts supporting sexual orientation change therapy 

It's called "gay conversion therapy," and there are many who try to make that seem like a bad thing. But, it's essentially helping a person who has experienced unwanted same-sex attraction to break free through the power of Christ.  But, Facebook apparently wants to quell any talk of it on its platform, according to an article at the CBN.com website.

A spokesperson for Facebook says, "We don't allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services. We are always reviewing our policies and will continue to consult with experts and people with personal experiences to inform our approach..."  As the article points out, Facebook-owned Instagram has already banned ads for this type of therapy.

Well, perhaps Facebook would consider the testimonies of people who have been set free in Christ. CBN quoted April Lockhart from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who wrote: "I had fully believed in this lie that gets perpetuated that people don't change, they can't change, and if you try to change them, it's detrimental to their health. And I just want to say that's a lie." She added, "Nobody has the right to tell you can't be what you want to be. And I did want change. And through the power of God, the Creator of heaven and earth, this was able to happen. These days we're able to happen. These moments. And I'm a happy woman. I don't suffer depression. I don't suffer with anxiety. I don't drink myself into stupors like I used to have to."

Luis Ruiz of Orlando testified to Jesus "looking for me." He said, "I was able to find a church where they loved me. And they taught me that my identity is not my behavior. My identity was not who I thought it was. But it was a child of God. So, I stand here to say that I was a homosexual,...And now I am a child of God."

New York faith-based adoption agency receives positive ruling from Federal appeals court

New Hope Family Services is a faith-based adoption agency based in the state of New York. According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, "The New York State Office of Children and Family Services singled out the religious nonprofit for its policy prioritizing the placement of children it serves in homes with a married mother and father."  So, the office set out to close New Hope down.

A Federal district court dismissed New Hope's lawsuit against the agency, but recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit said the suit should not have been stopped.  ADF's website says that the 2nd Circuit...
...reversed a district court’s dismissal of New Hope’s lawsuit against New York officials seeking to shut down the provider simply for its religious beliefs about marriage. In November, at the request of Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing New Hope, the 2nd Circuit temporarily halted state officials from interrupting current adoption placements or mandating the closure of New Hope’s adoption program until the court had a chance to consider whether to reverse the federal district court’s decision. The case now goes back to district court for further proceedings.
It seems that the court actually went back to Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in Obergefell, stating, regarding so-called "same-sex marriage": "Indeed, the Court has suggested that differing secular and religious views in this area should be allowed to coexist. This is evident from the fact that, at the same time that the Court ruled that the Constitution does not permit government to prohibit same-sex marriage, it ‘emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.’”

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The 3 - July 19, 2020

This week on The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there are developments concerning a ban on singing in churches in California, where indoor worship services have been prohibited for around 8-out-of-10 residents of the state.  Plus, members of the U.S. Navy, as the result of a recent order, can not participate in indoor worship services.  And, two states recently have experienced rulings against pro-life "heartbeat" bills.

California singing ban challenged, governor enacts more restrictions

There was certainly consternation at the announcement by California health officials that singing and chanting in public settings was no longer allowed.  The law firm, Tyler and Bursch, in association with other organizations, including the American Center for Law and Justice, has challenged the edict in court, requesting, according to a press release by the law firm, "...a restraining order and injunctive relief based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments," adding, "Our clients would like to see a quick resolution, with the governor and health officers changing or modifying this wording."

The firm notes:
Since the initiation of the lockdown, restrictive mandates in the state’s health orders have been applied to houses of worship unfairly and much more aggressively than other businesses arbitrarily deemed essential, including restaurants and other gatherings. In fact, once they are allowed to reopen, this current state order does not ban singing or chanting in dine-in restaurants/bars/wineries, casinos, family entertainment centers, day camps, hotels, shopping malls, childcare centers, schools, or music, tv and film production.
In some counties of the state, indoor worship has been prohibited - this was not challenged in the lawsuit against singing, because the plaintiffs were not in counties where this was put into effect.

But, the Sacramento Bee reports on Governor Newsom's July 13 order, stating:
The order restricting indoor worship services applies to any county on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list. On Monday, Newsom said that encompasses 80 percent of Californians.
Jonathan Keller, president of the conservative California Family Council, said Newsom’s order shows that the governor “trusts big box stores like Costco and Target more than churches and synagogues.”
In a statement, Keller said, “Coupled with last week’s ban on singing during worship services, people of faith are increasingly alarmed by Sacramento’s disregard of their constitutional rights. We have to ask ourselves: where do we draw the line?”  The article reported on some churches' disappointment in this new order.

U.S. Navy allows indoor worship

In the Faith Radio broadcast area, worship services have been allowed on Maxwell Air Force Base and at Fort Rucker for several weeks.  But, because of early concerns about outbreaks on certain U.S. Navy vessels early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Navy members were apparently not being allowed to take part in indoor worship services, according to a Daily Caller article, which said:
A memo issued July 7 by the acting assistant Secretary of Defense for the U.S. Navy sought “clarification” of earlier orders prohibiting service members from attending “indoor religious services.”
The article also states:
The follow-up memo states in part that “nothing” in the original orders “should be construed to restrict attendance at places of worship where attendees are able to appropriately apply COVID-19 transmission mitigation measures, specifically social distancing and use of face covering.”
Some Christian organizations had challenged the initial order, so that indoor worship would be allowed, prior to this new language.

Federal judges block GA, TN pro-life "heartbeat" bills

As you are probably aware, a number of states have passed bills that would ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected in an unborn child, which could be "as early as six weeks of gestation," according to a report at the WORLD Magazine website, which reported on recent decisions by Federal judges who have ruled against "heartbeat" legislation in two states.

The article says that, in the case of a Georgia law, "U.S. District Judge Steve Jones on Monday permanently ruled the state’s 2019 “heartbeat” law unconstitutional after the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of pro-abortion advocates and abortion providers." And, in Tennessee, "U.S. District Judge William Campbell on Monday issued a temporary restraining order on similar protections for unborn babies in Tennessee, just hours after Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law."  Keep in mind this is temporary; and a hearing is scheduled for July 24.

WORLD reports that eight states passed "heartbeat" bills in 2019 and all eight have been blocked by court action.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The 3 - July 12, 2020

There is encouraging court action from the highest court in the land, which handed down another victory for religious schools, this time in the area of employment practices.  Plus, it gave a charity that is operated by nuns a long-fought victory against a government mandate to provide objectionable components in its health insurance plan.  And, Virginia has a new law that could force wedding photographers to photograph same-sex weddings, and a man in that profession has challenged it.

U.S. Supreme Court follows one positive ruling for religious schools with another plus for religious schools

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of the participation of religious schools in a scholarship program made available to private institutions. Another ruling favoring religious schools came down from the high court this week involving granting that type of organization's right to govern its practices toward employees.

Liberty Counsel offered on its website some information and analysis of the decision, saying:
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that faith-based schools have a First Amendment Free Exercise right to make employment decisions regarding religious teachers without government interference. The principles set forth in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel apply beyond teachers at a religious school.
Two teachers at separate Catholic schools who had signed employment agreements that included upholding church teachings were dismissed at the time of their annual review and filed lawsuits claiming discrimination. As Liberty Counsel points out, "The Supreme Court ruled that both schools were protected religious organizations and that the courts could not interfere with their employment decisions under the 'ministerial' exception that protects the autonomy of houses of worship and religious employers."  The website also says:
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, states: “The First Amendment protects the right of religious institutions “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.”
Little Sisters of the Poor journey through courts may have reached end at Supreme Court

It has been a lengthy case, one among many centered on the Affordable Care Act dictates that employers, even religious ones, must provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.  The group of charitable nuns known as Little Sisters of the Poor did not wish to violate its religious convictions by providing these components in their health insurance.  After many years of litigation, the Little Sisters have received relief from the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the Susan B. Anthony List states on its website:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of President Trump’s regulations protecting the Little Sisters of the Poor and other moral and religious objectors from the Obama-Biden HHS abortifacient drug mandate, which sought to require the Little Sisters and other entities to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.
The article quotes SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, who said, “We hope today’s victory at the Supreme Court will finally allow the Little Sisters to carry out their mission to love and serve the elderly poor without having to violate their conscience. The Sisters, along with other religious and moral objectors who conscientiously object to abortion, should never be forced to go against their consciences to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans."

Virginia photographer challenges new law that could force him to photograph same-sex wedding ceremonies

Recently, the state of Virginia passed a law called the Virginia Values Act.  A Christian photographer, concerned about perhaps being forced to create works that violate his Biblical beliefs, filed a lawsuit in association with the Alliance Defending Freedom.  CBN.com states:
Chris Herring believes the newly enacted Virginia Values Act forces him to promote same-sex marriage in defiance of his Christian convictions, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

The entrepreneur “faces an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against his faith, or close down,” said his attorneys at ADF. “And this was exactly what Virginia officials wanted for those who hold Chris’ religious beliefs about marriage. Legislators who passed Virginia’s law called views like Chris’ ‘bigotry’ and sought to punish them for ‘unlimited punitive damages’ to remove them from the public square.”
The CBN article says the new law, "...bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations, and access to credit." Herring, according to his attorney, would like to post a notice on his website regarding why he will not photograph same-sex wedding ceremonies, but he thinks that doing so may result in a stiff fine, according to CBN - "...starting at $50,000 and $100,000 for each additional violation, according to the ADF’s court documents..."  But the article notes that the attorney general is doubling down to "protect" LGBTQ individuals from so-called "discrimination," according to a spokesperson for the AG.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

The 3 - July 5, 2020

There was plenty of activity from the U.S. Supreme Court during the past few days, and while the high court did offer some glimmers of hope, two rulings stand out as being disappointing for Christian groups and leaders: the rewriting of civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity under a broadened definition of "sex" and ruling against a LA law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors.  But, the court did issue a ruling allowing religious schools to participate in a Montana scholarship program.  And, it sent two Indiana pro-life laws back to an appeals court for another review.  Plus, California has banned singing in church to try to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus.

U.S. Supreme Court rules that religious schools should be eligible in choice programs

In Montana, a state program had forbidden scholarship dollars made available for students to choose private schools from going to religious schools.  According to Family Research Council, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that program to be unconstitutional.

The piece at the FRC site was written by Katherine Johnson and she said that, "More broadly, we are confident that the case sounded the death knell for Blaine Amendments, which are state constitutional provisions that prevent any public aid from being distributed to any schools with a religious affiliation," pointing out that, "Thirty-eight states have Blaine amendments that prevent religious parents and students from using tax credits to sectarian schools."  Johnson points out:
In the majority opinion, the Supreme Court noted the injustice of only allowing students who would use the tax credits towards secular schools to participate in the scholarship programs. This choice forces students to choose between their faith and educational opportunities.
After disappointment in LA case, SCOTUS makes decisions more acceptable to pro-lifers

The Supreme Court, while getting it right on religious freedom, had a chance to reverse a decision from four years ago, when the court at the time struck down a Texas law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  With two new justices and a Chief Justice who had voted in favor of that Texas law, you would think that the high court would right its wrong in a similar case out of Louisiana that came before it.

But, as the Christian Post reports, that is not the case. Here's the backstory, according to a Post article:
In 2014, Louisiana passed the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform the procedure.
The law was blocked from taking effect and a similar law passed in Texas was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 5-3 decision in 2016 known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Last October, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in the case and in March, oral arguments in the case were heard, with both sides holding demonstrations outside the court.
Many considered the case noteworthy since it was the first abortion-related case brought before the Supreme Court since the confirmations of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled against the Louisiana law, with Justice Breyer writing the majority opinion: “Those findings mirror those made in Whole Woman’s Health in every relevant respect and require the same result. We consequently hold that the Louisiana statute is unconstitutional.” The article said that Justice Thomas "authored one of the dissents to the court decision, saying that the majority was 'enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction.'

Later in the week, though, the high court issued rulings in two cases out of Indiana; the Christian Post reported, "In orders issued Thursday, the high court tossed out rulings against Indiana laws requiring abortion clinic staff to show mothers an ultrasound image of their baby before an abortion is scheduled to be performed, and another requiring parental notification before an abortion is performed on an underage girl."  Those cases will now go back down to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The article stated:
Indiana Right to Life President and CEO Mike Fichter said in a statement released Thursday that he was “cautiously optimistic that the ultrasound and parental notification appeals will find success in the Seventh Circuit.”
California governor to churches: no singing

State officials in California are trying to get a handle on the surge in Coronavirus cases in his state, so they have taken a rather novel approach that has a chilling effect on freedom of speech and religion - just ban singing in churches!  That's right, The Sacramento Bee reports on the state's newest set of guidelines:
Citing the risk of spreading the coronavirus, updated COVID-19 guidelines issued Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health say “places of worship must therefore discontinue singing and chanting activities.”
In previously allowing religious organizations to reopen in late May, the state merely said these institutions should “strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances.”
The article says:
It remains to be seen if, or how, the state or counties are expected to end singing in houses of worship. Churches were among the most aggressive institutions in pushing back on Newsom’s original stay-at-home order in mid-March. Several sued the governor to overturn the order, saying it violated their First Amendment rights, although none were successful in court.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The 3 - June 28, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news out of Nigeria, where there have been several attacks on Christian villages.  Also, there is a positive court ruling for New York City residents about the size of gatherings, including churches, during the COVID-19 crisis.  And, in a disappointing development from California, a church has been forced by the city not to be able to worship in its own building.

Concern over Christian persecution in Nigeria

We are continuing to experience a worldwide health crisis, but there is another crisis that continues to proliferate in various parts of the world, as well - that is the virus of Christian persecution, and a government organization that monitors religious freedom around the world is crying foul about what is occurring in the African nation of Nigeria.

Baptist Press reports that:
The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram faction, is blamed for three June attacks in Northeast Nigeria that killed at least 121 and injured hundreds of residents of Christian villages, according to news reports. At least 20 Nigerian soldiers were also killed.

The United States Commission on international Religious Freedom (USCIRF) encouraged the Nigerian government to protect religious freedoms under attack there.
The Commission is an arm of the State Department, and made a statement on June 22 about the conditions in that country. Vice Chair Tony Perkins, who heads the Family Research Council, said: "The Nigerian government needs to be doing more to protect the freedom of religion, particularly in the northeast region," adding, "Over two years after ISWAP abducted Leah Sharibu, it is unacceptable to see the group continue to inflict such devastation on the Nigerian people."  Leah was one of 110 girls who were taken from a school in Dapchi in 2018; that ISWAP faction killed four and then released 105, leaving just Leah, who reportedly refused to yield to Islam.

USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava stated, "Hundreds have died in recent weeks as ISWAP continues to inflict terror and target civilians based on their beliefs," adding, "Recent ISWAP attacks on innocent civilians are reprehensible. We condemn this deplorable violence."

The Baptist Press article said:
In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF urged the U.S. State Department to designate Nigeria a "country of particular concern" and to designate Boko Haram an "entity of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for "engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom."
New York officials overruled by court over gatherings

Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been tension between governmental leaders and churches regarding restrictions on gatherings. The Christian legal advocacy organization Liberty Counsel reports on a significant ruling by a Federal district judge against officials in the state of New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.  Liberty Counsel states:
Senior U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction and said that Governor Cuomo is wrong to limit worship services as a “matter of public safety” yet condone mass protests. In awarding the injunction, the court noted that “nonessential businesses” that enjoy a 50 percent capacity limitation are not justifiably different than houses of worship.
The three officials are "enjoined and restrained" from placing restrictions on houses of worship that are in excess of restrictions on other indoor gatherings and from restricting outdoor religious gatherings as long as social distancing guidelines are being followed.

The legal organization reported that Sharpe said that Cuomo and de Blasio "could have just as easily discouraged protests, short of condemning their message, in the name of public health and exercised discretion to suspend enforcement for public safety reasons instead of encouraging what they knew was a flagrant disregard of the outdoor limits and social distancing rules."  Or, they could have remained silent, the judge noted.

California city determines church cannot meet in its own building

It's not related to the Coronavirus, but a church in California has experienced restrictions so excessive that it cannot meet in its own building in Salinas, CA, according to a FoxNews.com story, which reports:
A federal court in the San Francisco Bay Area ruled an evangelical church does not contribute to a city's goals of a vibrant and fun atmosphere, and therefore can be excluded from operating in downtown Salinas, Calif.

The New Harvest Christian Fellowship, a church that rented space along Salinas' Main Street for more than 25 years, purchased a building on that same street in 2018.
The church intended to use the first floor as a worship center, but the city intervened.
The church went to court, and a Federal Magistrate Judge, Susan van Keulen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, said, according to Fox, that the "church generates limited interest. It does not draw tourists, the court said, and therefore detracts from the city’s goals of 'vibrancy' as well as a 'street of fun..."

Kevin Snider, chief counsel for Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the church, told Fox News that the city "deems churches as less deserving of equal treatment under the law than the live children’s theatre, two cinemas, and event center" that are in the downtown area.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The 3 - June 21, 2020

This week's edition of The 3 features a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that opens up the language of civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.  Also, the U.S. Department of Justice is calling for even-handed enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions on social distancing.  And, there is an encouraging story out of a Federal appeals court upholding a Missouri pro-life law.

U.S. Supreme Court redefines the word, "sex" in civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity

In a dramatic 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, responding to three cases that had been combined, redefined the word, "sex" in Title VII in the 1964 Civil Rights Law to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

Alliance Defending Freedom represented the plaintiff, a funeral home, in one of the cases, involving a male employee who had decided to dress as a woman in greeting guests.  The employee was fired and filed a lawsuit.  ADF, on its website, stated:
The EEOC and the American Civil Liberties Union claimed the funeral home’s decision violated Title VII—a federal law intended to ensure equal opportunities in employment regardless of a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, or sex—by redefining the word “sex” to include gender identity. The Supreme Court concluded that courts and the government may redefine that term in Title VII, even though Congress clearly did not intend that meaning when it wrote the law and is the only body with the constitutional authority to change it.
ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch stated, "Redefining ‘sex’ to mean ‘gender identity’ will create chaos and enormous unfairness for women and girls in athletics, women’s shelters, and many other contexts. Civil rights laws that use the word ‘sex’ were put in place to protect equal opportunities for women. Allowing a court or government bureaucrats to redefine a term with such a clear and important meaning undermines those very opportunities—the ones the law was designed to protect.”

Family Research Council, on its website, included this quote from its President, Tony Perkins:
"The core issue before the Court in this case was whether it is within the legitimate power of judges to suddenly redefine the meaning of words and rewrite a 55-year-old statute. Sadly, the Court answered in the affirmative.
"Allowing judges to rewrite the Civil Rights Act to add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes poses a grave threat to religious liberty. We've already witnessed in recent years how courts have used the redefinition of words as a battering ram to crush faith-based businesses and organizations...
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the case.

U.S. Department of Justice urges even-handed enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions

While churches are continuing to reopen during this pandemic and finding some states continuing to place narrow restrictions on these congregations, hundreds and thousands are gathering throughout the nation to protest in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.  While public, peaceful protesting is generally regarded as an expression of free speech, churches could readily see that their free speech opportunities and freedom of religious expression are being unfairly curtailed.

ChristianHeadlines.com reported:
The Trump Justice Department is pressuring Washington Gov. Jon [sic] Inslee to loosen restrictions on churches by arguing the state’s policy of allowing unlimited peaceful protests while capping houses of worship is discriminatory and likely unconstitutional.
The Department of Justice, in a June 11 Statement of Interest in a Tacoma, Wash., federal court supporting a Washington state church, argues “imposing a hard cap on all religious worship and no cap on secular gatherings constitutes unequal treatment.”
State law had capped outdoor church services at 100 people, regardless of precautions, such as social distancing.  Indoor church services were limited to 25 percent of capacity, with a 50-person limit. The article also says:
U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran of the Western District of Washington said the “ability to gather to express one’s faith and seek comfort is a fundamental right.”
“Just as we have seen peaceful protestors gathered together and exercising their First Amendment rights, so too must we protect the right of religious institutions such as churches, mosques and temples to gather together and express their faith,” Moran said in a statement.  
On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington announced a relaxation of restrictions on church, according to FoxNews.com, which said:
During the new stage, places of worship can accommodate up to 50 percent their normal capacity or up to 400 people, whichever is less, Inslee’s office said Thursday.
This is only for counties qualifying to move into Stage 3 of the reopening process.

Federal court upholds MO pro-life law, concept that life begins at conception

A pro-life law in Missouri providing for informed consent for a woman considering an abortion has been upheld in a Federal appeals court, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

LifeNews.com reports:
The case — a victory for pro-life advocates, unborn babies and mothers — involves a Missouri informed consent law and a challenge by “Judy Doe,” a member of the Satanic Temple. Doe claimed the law violated her religious freedom because she does not believe that “the life of each human being begins at conception.”
The article relates that the court said, "… a state is free to use ‘its voice … to show its profound respect for’ life...," language that the article says was taken from a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The 3 - June 14, 2020

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is continued action against Christian churches in China, where there continue to be reports of numerous crosses on church buildings being removed.  Church attendance, or lack of it, related to the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to be an issue, and a Missouri senator is concerned about limitations of church gatherings, even in light of large protests which have not been limited.  And, a denominational report on the Bible's teaching on sexuality has been released.

More crosses coming down in China

One of the troubling news stories that we have seen concerns the removal of crosses in the nation of China. The Christian Post reports that in just one Chinese province in the first four months of 2020, in excess of 250 crosses were removed.  The article, released last Thursday, says that the publication Bitter Winter...
...reported on Tuesday that the 250 crosses were removed from churches affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in cities that include but are not limited to Lu’an, Ma’anshan, Huaibei and Fuyang.

One of the churches that had its cross removed from outside its building is The Gulou Church in the center of Fuyang city, a Protestant church that dates back over a century.

The church had its cross taken down on April 2 after over 100 congregation members tried to stop authorities from removing the cross from the church the previous day.
The article states:
One congregation member told the magazine that local officials told the church members that the cross' removal was done in accordance with a national policy requiring the removal of all religious symbols, not just Christianity.
The Christian Post pointed out that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an arm of the State Department, "In its 2020 annual report...noted that not only have authorities removed crosses from churches across the nation but they have also banned youth under the age of 18 from participating in religious services."

Church worship continues to encounter legal issues

The move to reopen churches across the nation has progressed slowly, and not without some bumps in the road.  Locally, concern over the growing number of Coronavirus cases in the River Region has resulted in some churches perhaps considering a slower phase-in of a return to worship than had originally been planned.  And, in Lexington, KY, a church that had re-opened has closed in-person services due to a spike in cases among church members.  The Courier-Journal reported:
Clays Mill Baptist Church in Jessamine County, Kentucky, has temporarily halted in-person worship services after at least 18 members recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
But pastor Jeff Fugate, who stood alongside Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in April and called for Gov. Andy Beshear to lift restrictions on in-person worship, stressed there is "no indication" anyone contracted the virus while at church.
And, the governor and pastor traded comments early last week, with the newspaper saying, quoting the governor:
"I hope that everybody (who) tested positive from services at Clays Mill has seen or talked to a doctor," Beshear said near the end of his daily briefing on the coronavirus situation in Kentucky. "We want all of you to be OK."
Beshear then mentioned how Fugate stood with Cameron in April and said, "Governor, we can do this safely."
"Well, he couldn’t," Beshear said.
Fugate responded to Beshear in a Facebook post Monday night, telling the governor his statement earlier in the day was "wrong."
The pastor wrote: "There is no evidence that anyone contracted the virus at our church. That was only an 'insinuation' by the media," adding,"They may have got the virus at a grocery store or another place of business that they had visited. ... Your bias and misinformation against 'church' is too obvious."

And, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri is asking the Department of Justice to look into why churches are still facing restrictions in the size of gatherings while peaceful protesters are apparently not being required to abide by those limits.  The Washington Examiner reports that:
In a Tuesday letter, the Missouri Republican decried a double standard in closing churches and limiting the number of people allowed to attend services while protesters have been permitted to gather in large crowds across the country after George Floyd's death in police custody.
"State officials have violated the free speech and free exercise rights of religious Americans by treating religious gatherings and speech differently than the speech and mass gatherings of protests," he wrote. "I urge you to launch a full civil rights investigation."
Hawley said he supports the right of people to protest peacefully but asked for equal treatment for those seeking to worship in a physical space.
The day before the Senator released the letter, Attorney General Barr, according to the Examiner, "said First Amendment rights need to apply equally to everyone, whether they are protesters against police violence or churchgoers looking to worship together."

Presbyterian Church in America offers report on sexuality

The movement within the evangelical church that exalts "gay identity" over identity in Christ, expressed in a visible way through the Revoice conference, has led the denomination in which the two previously-held conferences originated, the Presbyterian Church in America, to issue some strong statements on a Biblical view of sexuality.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, on its website, offered a summary, written by Colin Smothers, who wrote:
Last year in Dallas, amidst an ongoing controversy surrounding Side-B “Gay Christianity” and the Revoice conference, the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) General Assembly voted to commend CBMW’s Nashville Statement as a “biblically faithful declaration.” The General Assembly also voted to form a study committee that would “study the topic of human sexuality with particular attention to the issues of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism and prepare a report.”
Even though the PCA did not hold its General Assembly this year, it did release a report, which Smothers describes as a "biblically faithful declaration."  Some of the highlights include:
  • Declares same-sex attraction to be morally culpable: “The experience of same-sex attraction is not morally neutral; the attraction is an expression of original or indwelling sin that must be repented of and put to death” (Statement 4).
  • Rejects “gay Christian” identity: “[W]e name our sins, but are not named by them.” (Statement 9). “We affirm that those in our churches would be wise to avoid the term ‘gay Christian'” (Statement 10).
The document also "Affirms all desire for sin is sin, including unconscious and unwanted desire," declares that "internal temptations to same-sex desire are sinful.." and "Rejects celibate same-sex partnerships and romantic relationships..."

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The 3 - June 7, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, there is plenty to discuss on the topic of race relations, and this week, that topic is explored and how the Church, the body of Christ, has been responding.  Also, the President has issued a new Executive Order setting aside millions of dollars for the cause of international religious freedom. And, the state of Illinois has apparently converted mandates to guidelines in the area of religious freedom in reopening churches.

Church responds to racial unrest

This time of turmoil in our nation gives the Church an opportunity to speak Biblical truth into the difficulties that we face.  One example is that a church in Beltsville, MD, in the Washington, DC area, hosted a "listening session" with none other than the Vice President, Mike Pence.  The Christian Post reported on the event, which was hosted by Hope Christian Church, pastored by Bishop Harry Jackson, who said that the death of George Floyd...
...was almost prophetic and symbolic of a time and season that change had to come," adding, "Black and whites came together to address the civil rights movement, and we found momentum. I think we will similarly find momentum during this time."
Jackson also said, "This administration didn't create this problem, but it has the opportunity to help us heal."  The Vice President said, "I couldn't help but feel that as our nation reels from the tragic death of George Floyd, that a place to start a conversation is a place of worship," adding, "It's the wellspring of our nation's strength...It's been the wellspring of our national unity and our steady march toward a more perfect union."

The Post stated:
The recommendations that came out of the event included ensuring that black youth feel heard and acknowledged; leaders of faith use their platforms to address race; funding and resources for historically black colleges and universities to increase; tackling criminal justice reform; and providing more practical, hands-on training, evaluation, and accountability for police officers.
Churches are being involved in calling for national healing, and participating in rebuilding their neighborhoods. The American Conservative featured a piece by Chicago pastor Corey Brooks, who wrote:
On the south side of Chicago, where I pastor a church and lead a ministry, Project H.O.O.D., we are in the business of building dialogue as the way of rebuilding our community. We help build community leaders and we equip our neighbors—especially young black men who are exiting gangs—to build their own character and to help rebuild the streets. We build self-esteem and respect for our fellow man. And we build stronger families with firmer foundations.

The destructive violence, rioting, and looting of the last few days, however, have quickly erased years of our dialogue.
Brooks' church members have been helping resident find needed supplies.  He echoes a cry for justice and better relationships with police; but rather than pull back on policing, as some have advocated, the pastor says:
We need justice in the George Floyd case, and we need assurances that these hateful acts will not take place again. At the same time, we need partnerships with the police so they will help us re-establish law and order in our neighborhoods.
A story on the Western Journal website describes the scene in Phoenix last week, as about a thousand Christians gathered for a time of prayer.  The article quoted from one of the organizers, Kimberly Deckel, who said: “I think sometimes we — it’s such a simple thing — we forget the importance of praying and gathering together to do that,” adding, “Just, yeah, the power of being a collective witness and praying and crying out together to show we are in solidarity with those who are suffering.” The article noted that, "The crowd gathered at Neighborhood Ministries, an inner-city ministry dedicated to meeting 'basic necessities of life' for those living in poverty."

In the River Region, ministers in Prattville participated in a time of prayer this past Friday, and the monthly O.U.R. Montgomery prayer event featured a gathering in downtown Montgomery on Saturday, where prayers were offered for racial reconciliation.

President issues Executive Order on international religious freedom

The Trump Administration has taken actions for the last three years in the interest of religious freedom, and this past week, the President signed an Executive Order regarding international religious freedom, according to CBN, which reported: "In the Oval Office, Trump signed an executive order that appropriates $50 million for programs that advance international religious freedom around the world."

The article relates:
Under the order, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will develop country-specific action plans for prioritizing religious freedom.
To top that, all personnel assigned to positions overseas will now receive international religious freedom training.
U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback stated, "It makes international religious freedom a whole of government approach on our basic foreign policy apparatus..."

Illinois lifts restrictions on churches

The state of Illinois has gained a reputation over the last few weeks for having some of the most restrictions on the reopening of churches, but Governor J.B. Pritzker made a stunning about-face just last week, according to Liberty Counsel, which reported on May 28 that:
Within a few hours yesterday after two Romanian churches filed an emergency injunction pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh ordered Gov. Pritzker to respond by 8:00 p.m. Thursday night. Just before the deadline, Gov. Prtizker issued “guidelines” for houses of worship, none of which are mandatory.

Liberty Counsel represents Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries.
As Liberty Counsel points out, "The guidelines are only suggestions and contain no legally enforceable requirements whatsoever. The governor is no longer imposing his draconian 10-person limit on church services."  The city of Chicago had threatened these two churches with "summary abatement," which could have resulted in churches who are deemed to be in violation to be shut down - permanently.  Just this week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had issued a set of guidelines for area churches; NBC 5 Television reported:
Under the "Be Safe. Places of Worship" guidelines, churches are required to only allow a maximum of 50 congregants per room or 25% of a room's capacity as long as social distancing can be maintained, according to a news release.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The 3 - May 31, 2020

This has been a turbulent week across our land, and this week's edition of The 3 begins to spotlight some response in the Christian community to the death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis.  Also, California churches made good on the promise to meet in-person on Sunday, regardless of the state governor's orders.  And, President Trump took action against social media censorship this week, an issue that has been of great concern to Christians.

California churches reopen despite governor, SCOTUS rebuffs

A consortium of California churches had declared that this past Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, would be the date that they would resume worship services.  An appeals court decision prior to Memorial Day had upheld Governor Gavin Newsom's almost-total ban on churches meeting together and the governor had held out a short olive branch on Memorial Day, saying churches could meet at 25% capacity, but no more than 100 people could gather in any one service.

Then, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to churches desiring to see Newsom's stance overriden.  According to NBC 4 Television:
On Friday a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the restrictions on religious gatherings imposed by Newsom during the COVID-19 pandemic and denied an injunction sought by a church in Chula Vista.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts voted with liberal justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer to deny an injunction sought by South Bay United Pentecostal Church and its senior pastor, Bishop Arthur Hodges III, that alleged state and local elected officials have “intentionally denigrated California churches and pastors and people of faith by relegating them to third-class citizenship.”
More than 1500 church leaders had signed on to a "Declaration of Essentiality," which involved churches meeting this past weekend.  A large Southern California church, Harvest Christian Fellowship, where Greg Laurie is the pastor, was taking reservations for congregants at two of its locations. Laurie tweeted out: "It’s Pentecost Sunday! Welcome back to Church!"

President issues order designed to reduce social media censorship

For years, Christians and conversatives have been documenting and decrying instances of censorship by social media companies.  National Religious Broadcasters, in fact, had formed Internet Freedom Watch to bring awareness to this ongoing problem.

And, President Trump, after having several of his tweets labeled by Twitter to be non-factual, issued an executive order that is attempting to curb the action of Twitter and other companies, which have been enjoying an exemption under Federal law from possible litigation because they have set themselves up as a neutral carrier of information.

CBN News reported:
"They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences," Trump said of social media companies as he signed the order. "There is no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of human interaction.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also explained in advance, "The President will take action so that big tech does not stifle free speech and that the rights of all Americans to speak and tweet is protected."
NRB issued a press release, which said that the consortium of Christian communicators, "is encouraged that President Trump’s Executive Order and proposed legislation are opening up an important conversation about the threats posed by powerful social media companies that often censor opinions with which they disagree."

The release says that among other things, "The President also called for clarification of the scope of the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, which facilitates internet companies’ 'Good Samaritan' blocking of offensive content by defending them from lawsuits based on content their moderation efforts may have missed."

Christian leaders respond to George Floyd death

There has been much response from Christian leaders about the brutal death of George Floyd, who, according to a Religion Unplugged story from which I quoted Friday, was involved in ministry in a Houston community and was influential in helping Christian leaders to do ministry in the area.

In response, Franklin Graham called for a Day of Prayer on Sunday, according to BillyGraham.org, which quoted from a Facebook post from the evangelist:
We need to pray for PEACE, because “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Pray for PERSPECTIVE, because “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
Pray for PATIENCE, because of God’s “kindness and forbearance and patience” toward us all (Romans 2:4). And pray for an OUTPOURING of His wisdom and direction for our leaders and officials who are dealing with this crisis. Ask God to change hearts and heal this divide in our nation.
The article also mentioned that Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains had been deployed to the area. BillyGraham.org website pinpointed a prayer effort in Minneapolis:
Pastor Herman Colón and his wife Yolandita led a prayer and worship service in the parking lot of their church only blocks away from boarded-up and graffitied businesses.
Pastors of various denominations took turns praying—some in person and some by phone over a loud speaker. Dozens worshipped, crying out to God.
Every now and then, a burning smell wafted over the crowd. The fourth day of protests were starting nearby.
“[God] You put us up—a watchman on a wall, and we have failed,” a Canadian pastor prayed by phone, his voice carried over the loud speaker.
“Father, forgive us because now we see a city that is running around without direction.”
Twitter post that was disseminated from John Mason featured a short video of a prayer meeting in Minneapolis. One of the notable statements about the tragedy came from legendary coach and Faith Radio programmer Tony Dungy, who said:

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The 3 - May 24, 2020

In this edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is good news concerning an American pastor who was detained in India for over half a year, who has recently been released.  Also, one of the familiar names in the pro-life movement has been mischaracterized in a television documentary, say some who knew her well.  And, a Mississippi church that had sued its city regarding worship services during COVID-19 was apparently burned by arsonists.

American pastor held in India released

An American pastor who had been detained in India and held in prison for seven months has finally been released, according to a story on the ChristianHeadlines.com, which reported on what had happened to Bryan Nerren of Shelbyville, TN, who leads Asian Children’s Education Fellowship.  The article states:
According to The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), a Christian advocacy non-profit law group which has been representing Nerren, noted that the pastor was detained and arrested upon his arrival at the airport in Bagdogra, India for allegedly “evading a duty on funds.” Nerren was carrying a sum of money that he intended to use to cover the expenses of his trip and the conference, but according to the ACLJ, the sum was not enough to make transporting it a crime.
Nerren had declared the funds when he flew into New Delhi, but when he arrive in Bagdogra, he was arrested and held until his release on May 15.  The article notes:
Nerren garnered the support of U.S. Congress members, the State Department, the U.S. Embassy and the National Security Council.
More than 200,000 ACLJ members also signed a petition urging for Nerren to be released and allowed to return home.
Friends defend pro-life stance of "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade

The late Norma McCorvey is an icon in the pro-life movement - she was the "Jane Roe" in the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, and professed Christianity, was baptized by Flip Benham, father of Jason and David, and spoke on behalf of the unborn.

Now, the FX documentary, AKA Jane Roe, is claiming that McCorvey said it was all an act.  The
New York Post reported that McCorvey said late in life:
“I took their money and they took me out in front of the cameras and told me what to say,” she says, without specifying.
“I did it well too. I am a good actress. Of course, I’m not acting now.”
According to the documentary, she said that it essentially didn't matter to her whether or not a young lady wanted to have an abortion.

McCorvey was on staff of Operation Rescue after her embrace of pro-life principles. A press release on the Christian Newswire website quotes current president Troy Newman:
"I knew Norma well, and at one time, she lived with my family in the Wichita, Kansas, area for several months. I knew her to be a straightforward, down-to-earth woman who was witty and kind. She loved children and adored my own five children," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. "There is no way her Christian faith or her pro-life beliefs were false. The makers of 'AKA Jane Roe' should be ashamed that they took advantage of Norma in the vulnerable last days of her life, then released their spurious movie after she passed away when she could not defend herself."
Another press release on the Christian Newswire website, from The Justice Foundation, quoted from its Founder and President Allen Parker, who said, "In view of my many conversations with Norma and considering the sworn testimony she provided to the Supreme Court, I believe the producers of the newly-released FX documentary 'AKA Jane Roe' paid Norma, befriended her and then betrayed her. This documentary can not be trusted and the perception it attempts to create around my friend and former client, Norma, is patently false."

The release pointed out several facts that contradict the narrative of the FX documentary:
  • Norma's sworn testimony provided to the Supreme Court details her efforts to reverse Roe v. Wade.
  • Norma changed her mind from being pro-abortion to being pro-life after working in the abortion industry. The actual reality of the callous disregard for women led her to change her mind on abortion.
  • Once she became pro-life, Norma fought to the end of her life with all of the power and effort she could muster to reverse Roe v. Wade, including asking the Supreme Court to hear her case again. McCorvey's arguments in her Rule 60 Motion which she filed have still not been ruled on by the Court to this day.
  • Norma McCorvey loved the women of Operation Outcry, the women who had been injured by abortion and who helped Norma collect testimonies of women injured by abortion.
  • Every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, she felt the grief, sorrow and burden of another million babies killed in America. Even though she knew she was forgiven, still felt legally responsible for the deaths. She felt used and abused by the legal system, including her lawyers and the Supreme Court.
Mississippi church vandalized

A few weeks ago, a Bible study at the First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi was raided by police based on the city's Coronavirus restrictions and the church filed suit against the city, according to the Daily Citizen website of Focus on the Family, which reported that:
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order allowing the church to hold drive-in services, and the city agreed to revise its ordinance to permit them. The state and local ban on in-church services, however, remained.
This past week, the church burned to the ground; arson is suspected.  The Daily Citizen notes that:
Spray-painted on the parking lot in front of the destroyed house of worship were the words: “Bet you stay home now, you hypokrits.”
The article says that the pastor is perplexed over who would commit such a heinous act.  Bruce Hausknecht of Focus on the Family, who wrote the Daily Citizen article, stated:
It’s hard to believe that anyone could commit such an unspeakable act of domestic terrorism simply as an objection to Christians wanting to meet to together in worship, but that’s what it looks like at this point.
We need to pray that the perpetrator will be found and brought to justice, and for the congregation’s needs to be met as it rebuilds, and that ultimately the name of Jesus be glorified through this situation.
Meanwhile, this past Friday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California Governor Gavin Newsom's order that keeps churches from reopening for in-person worship in the state.  According to the website of Grace Community Church, pastored by John MacArthur:
Late Friday night, the Ninth Circuit, which is generally known as the most left-wing and anti-biblical circuit court in the nation, ruled 2-1 in favor of California Governor Newsom's statewide stay-at-home order, rejecting an emergency motion to allow for religious services to proceed.
To say that we strenuously disagree with this decision would be an understatement. All credible data show that this coronavirus is far less dangerous than initially projected, even while the economic, mental, and spiritual toll of an extended lockdown order is far more dangerous. Meanwhile, although the initial response arguably might have been somewhat even-handed, as the situation has developed, religious organizations have increasingly been unfairly treated, even targeted.
The church was originally planning to resume in-person worship this past Sunday, according to a tweet from Phil Johnson of Grace to You and changed direction after the ruling.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The 3 - May 17, 2020

This week's edition of The 3 includes a positive court ruling involving a San Diego church that had fought a government order to include abortion in its health care plans.  Plus, there is more news about the reopening of churches, including some who have gone to court and others who have decided to reopen, even though state orders do not permit it.  And, we are reminded that Christian persecution is continuing, including violence in India against Christian believers.

San Diego church is victorious in challenge to law forcing it to include abortion in health plan

In 2014, the California Department of Managed Care sent out letters with a requirement that church health care plans cover abortions.  Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, which was pastored by Jim Garlow at the time (and John Maxwell before that), filed a lawsuit to challenge this decision by the Department to erase religious exemptions to the directive to include abortion.

The Alliance Defending Freedom represented Skyline, and at its website, it states:
After ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care, the district court denied the church’s request for relief. The church then appealed to the 9th Circuit.
In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights issued its determination that the mandate violates federal law.
Recently, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the church in its lawsuit; ADF reports that, "The 9th Circuit recognized that Skyline Church suffered an injury when the state issued its August 2014 letters mandating that church healthcare plans cover elective abortions."

North Carolina churches set to reopen after court strikes down governor's order

With churches across the Faith Radio broadcast area and across the nation putting their reopening plans into place, we can see that churches are challenging laws that restrict their First Amendment freedoms - in a number of these cases, they have been successful.

One of the most recent is in the state of North Carolina, where, according to ABC 15 News:
This weekend a federal judge approved a restraining order that will allow houses of worship all across North Carolina to reopen.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday as the Governor pleaded with churchgoers to keep the faith in his leadership amid a growing chorus of challenges to his executive orders. This included an additional lawsuit filed in court and another group threatening litigation.
Governor Roy Cooper has said that he would not appeal the order, which has a 14-day maximum.  This comes on the heels of a rally that occurred in Raleigh last Thursday, according to WRAL Television, which reported: "The group leading the charge, Return America, is led by pastors and Christian educators...During the rally, the group announced that they had filed a lawsuit against Cooper over not allowing indoor assemblies at churches...Those filing the suit say the state's restrictions violate the First Amendment and treat churches differently from retailers."  The governor had fixed a 10-person limit to indoor gatherings.

David Gibbs, Jr. of the Christian Law Association, heard on The Legal Alert, was involved in filing the lawsuit, and said, "We have the ability to open our churches safely, with higher standards than they are asking us to do..."

This was also the weekend that the Peaceably Gather movement was involved in reopening churches, led by Pastor Brian Gibson of HIS Church in Owensboro, KY, according to ChristianHeadlines.com, which reports that the movement "has attracted the support of nearly 50 pastors at churches in a dozen states who have signaled they will gather their congregations for an in-person service."  It's been reported the church has two locations in Kentucky and two in Texas.

And, recently a group of California pastors have declared they will reopen May 31, which is Pentecost Sunday, whether or not Governor Gavin Newsom has issued an order allowing them to do so; The Christian Post reports:
Church United, a network of approximately 3,000 churches representing 2.5 million members in the Golden State, has announced its intentions to reopen before the state sets in motion the third phase of its reopening plan, which permits modified reopening of houses of worship.
Jack Hibbs, Pastor at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills told the Post: "...we have been extremely compliant for over two months, our state, when petitioned, when we asked our governor's office: 'Where are you placing the value of the church? The fact that we provide mental and spiritual health and stability at such a critical time, where do you place us in priority?'"  The article goes on to say:
Thus far, the governor's office has said that the church may be in the third or fourth phases of reopening, which could begin anywhere from a few weeks to months from now. His words have left some wondering if it will ever be politically correct for churches to resume services.
Christians in India face violence for their faith

During our current health crisis, we recognize that not only are Christian believers affected around the world, but there are those who being persecuted for their faith.  Case in point: in the nation of India, where a CBN News article recently reported on how five Christian families in Chhattisgarh state on May 5 were attacked because, as the story states, "The Christians had forbidden a tribal animist leader, Dulla Poyami, to perform tribal worship on their land."

The Christians attempted to meet with the village leaders; an MSN report quotes a local pastor - the article says:
"The village leaders told the Christians, 'You are not partaking in our tribal rituals, and so we cannot allow you to profit from your agricultural lands,'" according to the pastor.
CBN relates that:
The elders then stood up and attacked two of the Christians, Madda Poyami and Badda Poyami. As they began beating on the two men, a mob of about 60 people encircled the families, telling them they must give up their Christian faith.
Poyami was also stoned, according to Morning Star News. He was later admitted to a local hospital. Six others were also injured.
Alliance Defending Freedom International got involved in helping the villagers file a complaint with the local police.  Meanwhile, another group of Christians was mobbed because they tried to bury one of their own in the local graveyard.  ADF International became involved and secured police protection for the funeral service.