Sunday, October 14, 2018

The 3 - October 14, 2018

This week, on this edition of The 3, voters went to the polls in Romania to define marriage as one man and one woman, but the vote on that constitutional amendment did not garner that necessary percentage of eligible voters in order to be recognized.  Also, cake bakers in the United Kingdom who declined to provide a cake in support of so-called "gay marriage" were exonerated by the U.K. Supreme Court.  And, an American pastor is back home in the U.S. after being released from captivity in Turkey.

3 - Romanian marriage amendment invalidate due to insufficient turnout

Residents of the eastern European nation of Romania were scheduled to go the polls recently to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman.  But, according to a report on the WORLD Magazine website, the vote did not reach the threshold necessary to allow the referendum to be recognized.

WORLD reports:
More than 90 percent of Romanian voters supported defining marriage in the constitution as the union of one man and one woman, but election officials said just 20.41 percent of eligible voters participated, short of the 30 percent required for the referendum to be valid. The nation’s constitution currently defines marriage as between “spouses.” It does not allow civil unions, nor does it recognize same-sex marriage from other countries.
The WORLD article states that: "the Orthodox Church, which backed the referendum, called the vote 'a partial success which calls us to hope and work more.'" The country's president supports same-sex marriage, and, according to the article, "said the country should tackle the issue further with 'a mature approach and openness to dialogue.'"

2 - Cake bakers receive favorable court ruling in U.K.

There was a resounding court ruling recently from the U.K. Supreme Court in the case of Ashers Bakery, which, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, is "a Christian-owned business in Northern Ireland that politely declined to create a custom cake with the slogan 'Support Gay Marriage...'"

ADF Senior Vice President, U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner, who had "argued the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the U.S. Supreme Court," is quoted as saying:
“The UK Supreme Court recognized that artists and other professionals don’t discriminate when they object ‘to the message, not the messenger.’ The court also affirmed the fundamental freedom of Ashers Bakery’s owners to decline to express through one of their cakes ‘a message with which they deeply disagreed.’ In the U.S., Alliance Defending Freedom represents many creative professionals—like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers, Carl and Angel Larsen of Telescope Media Group, and Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals, just to name a few—who all draw that simple line: They serve all people but do not express messages that conflict with their deeply held beliefs."
The U.K.'s Coalition for Marriage states on its website:
This is an emphatic victory for free speech. Five of the UK’s top judges have ruled that the law cannot compel someone to endorse a message with which they fundamentally disagree.
This ruling was vital, not just for the McArthur family who own and run Ashers bakery, but for business owners across the UK.
On the website of The Christian Institute, General Manager Daniel McArthur is quoted as saying:
“We’re delighted and relieved at today’s ruling. We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order. After more than four years, the Supreme Court has now recognised that and we’re very grateful. Grateful to the judges and especially grateful to God.
“We’re particularly pleased the Supreme Court emphatically accepted what we’ve said all along – we did not turn down this order because of the person who made it, but because of the message itself.”
The site noted that it was a unanimous ruling and that, "Senior judges accepted arguments put forward by The Christian Institute over the last four and a half years."

1 - American pastor held in Turkey freed

Great news out of the nation of Turkey, where American pastor Andrew Brunson had been ministering for over 20 years.  He has spent the better part of the last two years either in prison or house arrest.  And, early Friday, a Turkish court reaffirmed the charges against him - and then set him free.  The pastor is now back in the U.S.

CBN News story quotes Pastor Brunson: "My entire family thanks the President, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support. This is the day our family has been praying for – I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States."

The story states that:
Before the court hearing, US Vice President Mike Pence said the release of Pastor Brunson has been a priority for the Trump administration.
"Our administration has made very clear that we will continue to stand strong until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free and back home in the United States with his family and with his church," Pence said.
The article said that:
Turkey accused Brunson of participating in a 2016 coup to overthrow the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pastor Brunson was facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted...of espionage, but those charges were dropped Friday.
CBN News reports that Brunson visited the White House on Saturday and met with President Trump in the Oval Office.  The article says:
Brunson prayed for the commander-in-chief in the Oval Office saying, “I ask that you give him strength. I ask you to protect him.. make him a great blessing to this country and fill him with your wisdom and strength.”

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The 3 - October 7, 2018

In this week's edition of The 3, there is a story out of north Alabama involving prayer before football games and community response to the school board's ban on the practice.  Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a lower court ruling in favor of a Tennessee pro-life amendment to stand.  And, the governor of California has vetoed a bill that would have authorized on-campus medical abortions.

3 - School prayer ban in Alabama county yields strong response from community

In Blount County, Alabama, the school board put an end to prayer before football games, even if led by a student or volunteer, an incorrect response to a threat from the so-called Freedom from Religion Foundation.  Parents responded by saying their own prayer in the stands at the county's Locust Fork High School, according to the Christian Examiner.  It reported:
Gregg Armstrong, a parent of a Locust Fork High School student and the county revenue commissioner, vowed to a local ABC News station after the announcement last week that he and other Christians around the county would say the Lord's Prayer in unison during the moment of silence.
"We are not doing this by any way to be negative or anything like that," Armstrong explained. "We are just doing this with love and doing what we feel like God has called us to do. I believe if you have 1,000 people in those bleachers saying the Lord's Prayer vocally, not over a PA system, that is probably going to be a little bit more moving than just one person praying."
Area churches banded together and sold over a thousand "We Believe" t-shirts and the article says, "An online video shows a spectator leading the crowd at the Locust Fork game by reciting the Lord's Prayer through a megaphone."

The article points out that, "Critics of the school district's decision include Roy Moore...," who "argued at a news conference in Montgomery last week that it's constitutional for students to pray over the loudspeaker before games as long as it's done so free of influence from school officials."

2 - U.S. Supreme Court allows TN pro-life amendment to stand

In 2014, voters in Tennessee amended the state constitution, according to a Baptist Press article; the amendment, "removed a right to abortion and a requirement for abortion funding from the Tennessee constitution."

The article states that:
The effort to pass the amendment followed a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2000 that struck down state restrictions on abortion and ruled the state constitution provided stronger protections for abortion rights than the U.S. Constitution, The Tennessean reported. In the wake of the ruling, an analysis by the newspaper showed more than 25 percent of abortions sought in the state were from women who lived in states where abortion restrictions were in effect.
Those challenging the amendment were essentially trying to get it thrown out on a technicality - the 6th Circuit found in favor of the state and on the first day of the new term of the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices said they would not review the lower court decision.

That Tennessee amendment was influential on an Alabama lawmaker, Matt Fridy, who proposed the constitutional amendment that Alabama voters will be considering on November 6, according to LifeNews.com, which reports:
The proposed amendment says the Alabama Constitution does not protect a right to abortion or taxpayer-funded abortions. It also directs state policy “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.”
The LifeNews.com article says:
State Rep. Matt Fridy, a Republican, said he had the future in mind when he proposed the amendment, according to AL.com. He told the local news that he was thinking about Tennessee where the state Supreme Court ruled that a woman has a “right” to abortion under the state constitution.
That ruling made it basically impossible for Tennessee lawmakers to pass even moderate abortion regulations, such as parental consent for minors or a ban on taxpayer-funded abortions. In 2014, Tennessee voters approved a ballot measure to amend their constitution to make it clear there is no right to abortion.
1 - CA Governor vetoes bill allowing abortion pills to be distributed at colleges

It is a bill that is not really unexpected out of California. According to a Fox News story, a bill, "would have required university health centers to offer women medical abortions on campus by Jan. 1, 2022. The majority of the funds-- $9.6 million-- would come from private donors, The Sacramento Bee reported."

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill.  Fox reports that:
In his veto message, Gov. Brown called the bill “unnecessary,” noting that abortions are a “long-protected right in California.” He said most abortion providers are within a reasonable distance from campus communities.
So, not a pro-life epiphany for the governor, but a positive step for life nevertheless. The article quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: The bill was drafted after a failed effort in 2016 by students at UC Berkeley to provide medical abortions on campus, according to The Chronicle. Medical abortions differ from surgical abortions in that the former requires taking a pill over two days during the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy to trigger a miscarriage.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The 3 - September 30, 2018

This week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three news stories impacting the Christian community, includes good news out of a Federal agency, which cancelled a contract with a provider of fetal tissue from aborted babies.  Also, administrators at a Christian university had moved to change policy toward same-sex relationships, only to have the school's trustees reverse the decision.  And, a Louisiana law that requiring that abortion doctors adhere to certain standards was upheld by a Federal appeals court.

3 - Department of Health and Human Services end contract with company involved in trafficking of body parts from aborted babies

After hearing from a number of pro-life leaders and organizations, the Department of Health and Human Services has announced that the contract with a company, Advanced Bioscience Resources, to provide the Food and Drug Administration with fetal tissue from aborted babies has been cancelled, according to a press release from Liberty Counsel.

It reports that:
National and state pro-life leaders recently sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar urging the government to end the taxpayer-funded use of aborted fetal tissue for research. The letter read, in part: “We were shocked and dismayed at the news report that the FDA has signed a contract to purchase ‘fresh’ aborted fetal organs from ABR, for the purpose of creating humanized mice with human immune systems.
In a statement, HHS said that it "...was not sufficiently assured that the contract included the appropriate protections applicable to fetal tissue research or met all other procurement requirements. As a result, that contract has been terminated, and HHS is now conducting an audit of all acquisitions involving human fetal tissue to ensure conformity with procurement and human fetal tissue research laws and regulations."

2 - Christian college modifies policy to remove language banning same-sex relationships

It was recently announced that a Christian school, Asuza Pacific University, was changing policy in order to allow same-sex relationships, according to Faithwire, which quoted Bill Fiala, associate dean of students at APU: “The change that happened with the code of conduct is still in alignment with our identity as a Christian institution. The language changed, but the spirit didn’t. Our spirit is still a conservative, evangelical perspective on human sexuality.”

The article says that:
The updated policy still requires all students to abstain from sexual behavior, but now no longer “singles out” those in the LGBTQ community, barring them from entering into romantic relationships.
This apparently came about after a campus gay group described in the story as "underground," a group called Haven, with assistance from an LGBTQ advocacy group called Brave Commons, has entered into talks with campus administrators.  The Faithwire story stated:
Those conversations, Fiala said, resulted in the university’s decision to change its rules regarding same-sex couples on campus.

The college’s SGA passed a resolution last year, asking APU administrators to create something more formal — like Haven — for the campus’ LGBTQ community.
But, wait, not so fast now - the Board of Trustees has now stepped in to reinstate the original language.  The student website ZU News reported:
Azusa Pacific University reinstated the original language in their code of conduct, reaffirming their “biblical understanding of the marriage covenant as between one man and one woman.”
Earlier in the 2018-19 school year, the APU administration board removed language from their student code of conduct prohibiting public LGBTQ+ relationships.
The Board of Trustees sent an email on Sept. 28 alerting the community of their decision to restore the code of conduct to its previous state.
“Last week, reports circulated about a change in the undergraduate student standards of conduct,” the email stated. “That action concerning romanticized relationships was never approved by the board and the original wording has been reinstated.”
1 - Federal appeals court rules in favor of Louisiana law mandating that abortion doctors have admitting privileges

A law was passed in 2014 in the state of Louisiana that, according to LifeNews.com, "requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges in case patients experience emergency complications." The article notes that, "Soon after it became law, the Louisiana abortion facility Hope Medical Group for Women and the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged it in court."

The website reports that this past week:
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said there is “no evidence” that the law will burden women’s access to abortion, rejecting abortion activists’ claim, according to The Hill.
The article points out that while this law is similar to a Texas bill that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled against two summers ago, "...the Fifth Circuit panel said the Louisiana law is different because it “does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women.”

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The 3 - September 23, 2018

This week's edition of The 3, spotlight three recent Christian news stories, includes a ruling in favor of the free speech of pregnancy resource centers in Hawaii, which was issued as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a punitive California law.  And, the violence by radicalized Muslims toward Christians in Nigeria continues.  And, Chinese Christian leaders are pushing back against new regulations that have restricted the religious freedom of Christians there.

3 - Pro-life victory in Hawaii related to recent Supreme Court decision

Not too long ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of pregnancy resource centers, who would have been forced to violate their deeply held beliefs and share information about where clients could obtain an abortion.  The implications of the Supreme Court ruling have now reverberated to the state of Hawaii.

Alliance Defending Freedom announced on its website that:
A federal district court struck down a Hawaii law forcing pregnancy centers and pro-life doctors to advertise for the abortion industry Thursday, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision affirming free speech in NIFLA v. Becerra.
“No one should be forced by the government to express a message that violates his or her beliefs, especially on deeply divisive subjects like abortion,” said Kevin Theriot, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of the Center for Life. “In NIFLA v. Becerra, the Supreme Court affirmed that we don’t force people to say things they don’t believe. For that reason, the district court was correct to permanently halt Hawaii’s enforcement of Act 200’s compelled speech requirement.”
The state of Hawaii had passed a law, Act 200, that according to the website, "required pro-life pregnancy centers to direct women to a state agency that provides abortion referrals and funding. It would have required pro-life centers to post large signs or provide notice to clients that the state of Hawaii 'has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services,' which include abortion-inducing drugs."  A Calvary Chapel-related pregnancy resource center had challenged the law.

ADF reports that even the Attorney General of the state had "agreed that the compelled speech mandate at the heart of the law was unconstitutional," in light the the NIFLA decision."
2 - Radicals in Nigeria continue to kill Christians

Over the last two months, Fulani radicals in Nigeria have taken the lives of more than 250 Christians in the nation, according to a story on the ChristianHeadlines.com website, which relayed a report from International Christian Concern about the bodies of a nine- and ten-year old which had been "found riddled with bullet holes and machete slashes." ICC stated, "The Nigerian government continues to be complacent in dealing with the problem of the Fulani militants, who have in 2018 killed nearly three times as many people as Boko Haram..."

The article, published on Thursday, September 20, points out that there are challenges that the government is mischaracterizing these attacks:
In August, board chairman of Intersociety Emeka Umeagbalasi, told The Christian Post that the Nigerian government is trying to characterize these murders as conflicts between farmers and herders. But what is really happening, he said, was a calculated attack designed to kill and drive Christians out of Nigeria.
Intersociety reported on Sunday that no fewer than 250 Christians have been killed in the last two months. They obtained this number by combining the statistics and news reports of killings since July.
Michael Brown of The Stream, has been speaking out on the plight of Nigerian Christians, to the extent of having his Twitter account temporarily suspended.  He wrote at The Stream:
Babies are being hacked to death. Children kidnapped. Women raped and savaged. Young and old burned alive. Houses destroyed, livestock plundered. Muslim herdsmen are massacring their Christian neighbors while the Nigerian media misreports and the Nigerian government refuses to act. Some even claim the government is complicit in these attacks.
President Buhari, as the watching, worldwide community, we appeal to you to act decisively and put an end to this horror. Right now, sir, many believe there is blood on your hands. Please show the world that this is not true.
He quoted from a Professor, Gerald McDermott, whom Brown described as "a respected educator and Anglican Church leader:"
The Fulani herdsman, who are Muslims, have lived in peace with their Christian neighbors for decades. Also, they cried out “Allahu akbar [Allah is great]!” as they swooped in upon these villages with death and terror.
The real story, Christians tell me, is that Islamists from other countries (like Niger and possibly Saudi Arabia) have radicalized previously-peaceful Muslim herdsmen. And the government, which is controlled by a Muslim administration, is taking advantage of this to consolidate its hold on this Middle Belt of Nigeria. Right now Jos is majority-Christian. But if the government can use these radicals to drive Christians out, Jos can become a majority-Muslim area.
1 - Chinese Christian leaders release document of solidarity concerning religious freedom

Chinese Christian leaders are pushing back against what they see as an increase in state oppression of Christians.  Faith McDonnell reports at the Institute on Religion and Democracy website:
In the midst of a campaign by the Chinese Communist Government to “Sinicize” religion and demand unswerving loyalty to the Communist Party, Chinese Christian leaders have declared their unswerving loyalty to Jesus Christ.
The article states that as of last Tuesday, the 18th, according to the St. Charles Institute, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, over 340 leaders had signed the declaration.

McDonnell writes that, "The declaration opens with the Chinese church leaders’ affirmation of the gospel and their accountability before God to share it with the world," and adds:
It goes on to list what churches in China believe, their right to practice freely their religion, their value to and love for their country, and their refusal to compromise with the state. The courageous leaders have all identified themselves both by name and by church, and their concluding statement is a sober one, “For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses—even the loss of our freedom and our lives.”
The St. Charles Institute website states:
Since the official “Regulations on Religious Affairs” came into effect on February 1, 2018, the state has enforced a dramatic tightening of controls over religious matters. The new regulations have emboldened relevant governmental departments in charge of religion, and a fresh wave of attacks on religious gatherings, places of worship, and individuals have since erupted.
The site mentioned the ban on online retailers selling the Bible. A more "Sinicized" Bible is being developed. The site also reports:
Other physical manifestations of the “Sinicizing” order includes forcing churches to sing “Red songs,” or songs sung during the Cultural Revolution, praising the Communist Party of China (CPC), and advocating for support of the CPC. There have also been many churches, including official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) churches, who have been forced to take down crosses and Christmas trees, and instead, replace them with photos of Xi Jinping or the national flag.
Many house churches, which the government views as “uncontrollable,” have been subjected to harsher treatment.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The 3 - September 16, 2018

This week's edition of The 3, focusing on three stories of relevance impacting the Christian community, includes the story of a minister facing eviction from a senior living facility for his role in leading a Bible study.  Also, a Federal court has ruled that a large cross in a park in Pensacola in unconstitutional, while criticizing the precedent for the decision.  And, a large group of pro-life organizations has rebuked the FDA for purchasing fetal tissue from aborted babies.

3 - Pastor in trouble for hosting Bible study

An 86-year-old semi-retired Lutheran minister living in an a senior living facility in Fredericksburg, VA, is facing being evicted from his home there in a series of events related to a Bible study that he has held at a meeting room there.  According to a story about the plight of the pastor, Ken Hauge, on the Christian Headlines website:
The study was held for several months until July 23, when religious activities were banned in the community room, First Liberty said. Further, on the same day, Hauge received a notice saying his lease would be terminated unless he “stopped leading the Bible study entirely, either in his private apartment or in the Community Room,” according to a letter of complaint from First Liberty to management.

First Liberty asserts, the actions by the apartment complex violate the Fair Housing Act.
The article points out that:
Douglas Erdman, president of Community Realty Co. – which owns the apartment complex – told The Free Lance-Star newspaper that First Liberty did not “accurately portray the situation.”
Hauge and his wife have “at no point ... been denied the right to practice their religion in their apartment, nor have any other of the residents,” Erdman added.
That Free Lance Star article, referring to comments by First Liberty attorney Hiram Sasser, stated:
The manager approved Hauge’s request to use the club room in January, Sasser wrote. But he claimed other tenants attempted to interfere with the Bible studies on several occasions, and the complex released a new policy last month prohibiting religious activities in the club room.

The Evergreens continues to permit nonreligious activities, including birthdays, baby showers and wedding receptions.
2 - Federal circuit court rules against Pensacola cross, laments precedent (again!)

For what appears to be the second time in the past few weeks, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling while decrying court precedent in the case.  One such incident occurred in a case involving an abortion ban that was passed by the Alabama Legislature, in which the judge's upheld a lower court's ruling against the law, but two of the judges expressed dissatisfaction with the precedent by which the ruling should be made.

Now, in the case of a 34-foot cross displayed in a park in Pensacola, according to Baptist Press:
Judges said their hands were tied by the 1983 ruling in the nearly identical case of ACLU v. Rabun County, when the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered a cross be removed from Black Rock Mountain State Park in Georgia.

"Given the parallels between the two cases -- and crosses -- we think it clear that Rabun ... controls our analysis and requires that we affirm the district court's decision," the three-judge panel in the current Eleventh Circuit Court wrote in its Sept. 7 decision.
The story goes on to say that:
Two of the three judges in the latest ruling, Charles Ashley Royal and Kevin Newsom, said the precedent itself should be revisited and reversed by the full Eleventh Circuit slate of judges.

"There is no injury, no harm, and no standing to support jurisdiction in this case, but there is an Eleventh Circuit rule that directs us to affirm the district court based on this flawed precedent," Royal wrote in his concurrence. "Rabun County needs to be reversed, and this Court needs to devise a practical standing analysis."

Both Royal and Newsom called the precedent and other legal jurisprudence in the Establishment Clause "a hot mess."
According to the article, attorneys with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty indicate they will file an appeal.

1 - Pro-life leaders call on government to stop buying fetal tissue from aborted babies

In light of recent revelations that the Food and Drug Administration had reached an agreement with a company that had acquired fetal body parts from aborted babies from Planned Parenthood to purchase the organs for research purposes, a consortium of some 45 pro-life organizations have contacted the Department of Health and Human Services to register their dissatisfaction, according to the website of the Susan B. Anthony List website, which posted a portion of the letter sent to the FDA, which stated:
“We were shocked and dismayed at the news report that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has signed a contract to purchase ‘fresh’ aborted fetal organs from Advanced Bioscience Resources, for the purpose of creating humanized mice with human immune systems. We expect far better of our federal agencies – especially under the leadership of a courageous pro-life president – entrusted with the health of American citizens. It is completely unacceptable to discover that the FDA is using federal tax dollars and fomenting demand for human body parts taken from babies who are aborted. …The federal government must find ethical alternatives as soon as possible, and should end all association with those who participate in any trafficking or procurement of aborted baby organs. No taxpayer dollars should continue to go to this gruesome practice.”
The article points out that a Planned Parenthood affiliate, one of four referred by the Justice Department for criminal investigation, had been harvesting organs from aborted babies and selling them to ABR for over 10 years.

Meanwhile, the President of the SBA List weighed in on the selection of Dr. Leana Wen as the new President of Planned Parenthood, replacing Cecile Richards.  In a press release, Marjorie Dannenfelser is quoted as saying, "Planned Parenthood’s selection of a doctor to be their next president is an opportunity to clean up their sorry record,” adding, Planned Parenthood is America’s largest abortion business with 35 percent of the national abortion market. In 2016, according to their latest annual report, abortions made up 96 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services for resolving a pregnancy while prenatal services, miscarriage care, and adoption referrals together made up less than 4 percent." She stated, "The best thing Dr. Wen could do for Planned Parenthood is to help them live up to their claim of being an authentic women’s health care provider.”

Sunday, September 09, 2018

The 3 - September 9, 2018

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting current stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a move underway to deprive faith-based adoption agencies of their freedom to make decisions according to their faith beliefs, and a recent example comes from Buffalo, NY.  Also, Christians in Iran are facing stiff challenges to the practice of their faith, and current imprisonments can no doubt cause concern.  And, there is a new statement, drafted by a diverse committee of Christian leaders, attempting to evaluate the concept of "social justice" from a Scriptural perspective.

3 - Faith-based adoption agencies facing opposition

Those who claim to be the purveyors of tolerance display a stunning amount of intolerance for any sort of disagreement.  The agenda does not seem to contain an allowance of differing points of view, but to force others to adopt their perspective.

This has been seen over the past few years in the arena of faith-based adoption agencies: even though, out of religious convictions, they would prefer for other agencies to place adoptive children in homes headed by same-sex couples, that doesn't satisfy those who want to advance the LGBT agenda.

The Daily Signal published a comprehensive article recently detailing some instances where these agencies have been so harassed that they have closed.  One such example is Catholic Charities in Buffalo, New York.  The article states:
The agency can no longer cooperate with the government there because the state will not allow Catholic Charities to operate consistently with its religious mission.
It goes on to say:
Catholic Charities places children in homes with both a father and a mother in accordance with Catholic teaching on marriage and the family.
Unfortunately, the state now considers that belief to be discriminatory against LGBT individuals. New York issued an ultimatum: Abandon your beliefs, or quit your ministry. Catholic Charities is unable to comply with these rules and now must shut down, leaving the state with even fewer agencies to meet the needs of kids.
The Daily Signal article also reports that:
Earlier this year, the city of Philadelphia canceled its contracts with Catholic Social Services due to its religious beliefs about marriage, displacing hundreds of children in the process.
Meanwhile, the ACLU and Lambda Legal are litigating in Michigan and Texas in hopes of making these shutdowns the new normal nationwide.
And, there are other locales:
California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., have already driven out religious providers through similar policies. They did so even though religious agencies are unique assets to the child welfare system, with great track records for overall recruitment and for finding homes for difficult to place children.
Fortunately, some states are fighting back regarding this religious liberty issue.  As Jim Daly of Focus on the Family wrote just prior to Kansas and Oklahoma passing legislation to protect faith-based adoption agencies:
The good news is that seven states (Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia) have passed legislation to protect such agencies’ religious beliefs, despite strong opposition by secular groups, including the ACLU. Other states are introducing similar bills. An important bill has been introduced in Congress – The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act – which requires any government entity at the federal or state level that receives and administers federal dollars specifically targeted for adoption purposes, to respect the beliefs and practices of faith-based agencies.
The Daily Caller reported on the passage of the Kansas and Oklahoma bills in May and had another story on the Federal bill in July, stating:
The House Appropriations Committee adopted a measure that would ensure federal funding for faith-based adoption agencies that object to placing children with same-sex couples.
GOP Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama introduced the measure, which is an amendment to an upcoming funding bill, as a way to curb further discrimination against faith-based adoption agencies.
2 - Iranian Christians face significant prison terms resulting from their faith

Four Iranian Christians have been sentenced to a combined total of 45 years in prison, according to a
CBN News story that states that these Christians were "allegedly conducting 'illegal church activities' and spreading propaganda which reportedly 'threaten national security.'"

Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran is quoted as saying: "These Christians were solely arrested for practicing their Christian faith, including attending Christmas gatherings and organizing house churches..."

The article reports:
In 2014, Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz was arrested when plain-clothed security forces raided his home during a Christmas party. In 2017, an Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced him, along with Hadi Asgari, to 10 years in prison for "forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security" in relation to their church activities. The same court sentenced Amin Afshar Naderi to five years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam.

In January 2018, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Shamiram Issavi to five years in prison for "membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security" and another five years in prison for "gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security."
Issavi is the wife of Pastor Bet-Tamraz.

And, another Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, is back in prison.  Another CBN story, from early August, reported:
More than 70,000 people have signed a petition calling for the release of jailed Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice, plain-clothed Iranian authorities raided Nadarkhani's home on July 22 and arrested him in front of his family. Several other church members were also arrested.
He's been reportedly sentenced to ten years in a prison notorious for persecuting Christians. Pastor Nadarkhani was also sentenced to two extra years of "internal exile" for allegedly "promoting Zionist Christianity."
The ACLJ website reports that number is now over 107,000 signatures.

The story provides a reminder that, "Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been in and out of prison for his faith numerous times. Six years ago, Pastor Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity. He was later acquitted." And, it points out that, "In May 2016, the pastor was arrested again along with several other Christians during multiple home raids. They were later freed on bail, according to the ACLJ."

1 - Christian leaders craft statement calling for Biblical approach to justice issues

Thousands have affixed their names to The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, which I believe is a serious attempt to address some areas that have resulted in division in the body of Christ and to provide some Scriptural perspective on matters related to justice.  It has brought some spirited discussion on social media and even yielded a host of fake, even vulgar signatures, which seem to have been cleared up. The introduction states:
Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.”
On matters concerning race, in section 12, the statement offers this perspective:
We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.
The section declares that “'Race' is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority."
Section 14 talks about racism, and declares:
WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people.
It also says that,
We deny that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities. We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another. And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture.
While much of the discussion seems to have centered on what the statement has to say in the area of race, there are also pointed comments with regard to other matters, such as homosexuality.  Section 10 states:
We reject “gay Christian” as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that any kind of partnership or union can properly be called marriage other than one man and one woman in lifelong covenant together. We further deny that people should be identified as “sexual minorities”—which serves as a cultural classification rather than one that honors the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God.
The group of initial signers includes Voddie Baucham and Darrell Harrison, who are both African-American, as well as John MacArthur and James White, who are Biblical teachers who are white.  Subsequent signers have included Ted Baehr, E.W. Jackson, and Kelly Kullberg.  Over 6,000 signatures have been affixed online to the statement.  It appears that around six dozen church bodies have signed on, as well.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

The 3 - September 2, 2018

Another week, another edition of The 3, spotlighting three relevant stories to the Christian community.  One story involved a cheerleader unit that has been in and out of court for some six years over the issue of Scripture on football posters through which the players run before a game.  Also, there was an event at the White House this week involving around a hundred Christian leaders.  And, a sudden turnaround in California, where a bill that could have had a chilling effect on pastors and counselors was withdrawn by the sponsor.

3 - Another round in court goes to the Kountze cheerleaders

I don't know how the high school football team in Kountze, Texas is doing on the field, but the school's cheerleaders are on a winning streak. Just this week, KDFM.com reports that "...the Texas Supreme Court today denied Kountze ISD's petition for a review of a lower court ruling allowing cheerleaders to create Bible verses on run-through football banners, according to information David Starnes, the attorney who represented the cheerleaders, provided to KFDM/Fox 4 News."

The Kountze Independent School District has been filing a series of legal challenges essentially against its own students ever since the Freedom from Religion Foundation contacted officials and said the banners were unconstitutional.  This was in 2012.  The television station's story stated:
The Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont sided with the cheerleaders in a September opinion, then denied the district's request for a rehearing in October.

The Kountze ISD attorneys responded by saying the appeals court opinion, "that the run-through banners are neither government speech nor school sponsored speech, leads to absurd results."
Kountze ISD requested the Texas Supreme Court clarify the opinion, citing conflicts with precedent set by previous rulings in federal court.
Hiram Sasser of First Liberty, one of the attorneys for the cheerleaders, in a quote on the law firm's website, is quoted as saying: "As the football season kicks off across Texas, it’s good to be reminded that these cheerleaders have a right to have religious speech on their run through banners—banners on which the cheerleaders painted messages they chose, with paint they paid for, on paper they purchased. School districts everywhere should learn an important lesson from this failed litigation by the Kountze Independent School District: stop harassing cheerleaders and accept that they are free to have religious speech on their run through banners."

2 - Evangelical leaders dine at White House

There is a significant number of Christians who made the choice in 2016 to vote for Donald Trump for President, believing that he was a better option than his opponent.  He has acted strongly on behalf of pro-life policies, has appointed two traditionalist judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, one of which stands confirmation hearings beginning this week, and has been a clear defender of religious freedom.

So, it's not surprising that the White House would invite a number of Christian leaders, about 100 in all, for a special dinner recently.  Religion News Service reported on the occasion.  The report stated:
Calling America “a nation of believers,” President Trump said at the event that they had gathered to “celebrate America’s heritage of faith, family and freedom.”
“As you know, in recent years the government tried to undermine religious freedom, but the attacks on communities of faith are over,” the president said. “We’ve ended it. We’ve ended it. Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty.”
Reports about those in attendance include a the names of number of Faith Radio programmers, including Jim Garlow, David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Eric Metaxas, and Tony Perkins.  Franklin Graham was also in attendance.

The President ended his remarks, according to the story, by saying, "The support you’ve given me has been incredible, but I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back — just about everything I promised, and, as one of our great pastors just said, ‘Actually, you’ve given us much more, sir, than you’ve promised,’ and I think that’s true in many respects.”

Some of the reporting, including this story, has centered on the apparently non-formal remarks that were recorded and sent to the New York Times, in which the President encouraged those in attendance to make sure their constituents voted and made reference to those that would overturn the gains on religious liberty, "quickly and violently."

1 - California bill that would have limited freedom of speech pulled by sponsor

After the California Senate passed a bill, AB 2943, that could have resulted in the banning of counseling for people seeking to overcome unwanted same-sex attraction and the sale of resources in the state to that end, it looked as if a pending vote in the other chamber, the Assembly, would go in a similar direction; after all, the chamber had originally passed the bill and had to vote again because of Senate changes.

However, on the final day the bill could be passed before being sent to the governor, the sponsor, Assemblyman Evan Low, pulled it from consideration.  The Los Angeles Times reported:
But after religious groups assailed the proposal, calling it a threat to their right to practice their faith, Low went on a listening tour to meet with clergy across the state. Low ultimately decided to pull Assembly Bill 2943 before final approval in the Assembly, he said.

“I believe we are on the side of the angels on this issue,” Low said. “Having said that, in order to get it right, why wouldn’t we want to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations?”
The article goes on to say:
The bill was staunchly opposed by practitioners and adherents of “conversion therapy,” who argued it deprived adults of the choice to pursue such a practice. Others said the measure infringed on religious practices and could even be used to ban the Bible or other printed materials. The bill was amended to clarify that only services, not goods, would be subject to the law.
Still, faith leaders considered the bill’s language to be overly broad, sparking fears that pastors or church counselors could be subject to lawsuits if they ministered to people grappling with their sexuality.
One of those was Azusa Pacific University chaplain, Kevin Mannoia, who was one of those clergy with whom Low met.  Mannoia had written in an op-ed in the Orange County Register this week, “The breadth of the language in AB2943 will limit the ability of California’s pastors to engage fully with the real struggles of their people,” adding, “Mr. Low has said that is genuinely not his intent. I am hopeful that he and the LGBTQ Caucus may still collaborate with churches and institutions to preserve their freedom of ministry while at the same time protecting LGBTQ people from harm.” In the op-ed, he took a swipe at so called, "reparative therapy," calling into question its effectiveness, which is a position that is certainly not universally held by Christian leaders, especially those who work in the area of helping a person experience freedom in Christ.

Jonathan Keller of the California Family Council stated:
“AB 2943 would have tragically limited our ability to offer compassionate support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and even to preach Jesus’ message of unconditional love and life transformation.”

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The 3 - August 26, 2018

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a ruling by a Federal appeals court against an Alabama abortion ban, in which two of the judges criticized the court ruling responsible for making abortion legal in America.  Also, a bill that would have created another gender category for Massachusetts driver's licenses went down to defeat due to some clever action by an opposing legislator.  And, an Army chaplain and his assistant will no longer face charges due to their work in a situation involving a same-sex couple that wished to attend a marriage retreat.

3 - AL abortion ban ruled unconstitutional by Federal appeals court

In 2016, the Alabama Legislature passed a ban on what are called "dismemberment" abortions, which, according to a National Review story, typically occur between 15 and 18 weeks of pregnancy. The law was blocked by a Federal court judge, and recently, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court decision by a unanimous vote, but what is interesting is that, according to the article, "two of the judges criticized the precedent set by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case."

According to the National Review story:
“In our judicial system, there is only one Supreme Court, and we are not it. As one of the ‘inferior Courts,’ we follow its decisions,” Chief Judge Ed Carnes wrote in the ruling. “Our role is to apply the law the Supreme Court has laid down to the facts the district court found.”
The judge also wrote, “Some Supreme Court Justices have been of the view that there is constitutional law and then there is the aberration of constitutional law relating to abortion,” adding, “If so, what we must apply here is the aberration.” 

The article also stated that:
While the judges acknowledged that the state has an interest in reducing the “gruesomeness and brutality” of abortions, they found that the ban on dismemberment abortions constituted an “undue burden,” under the precedent established by Roe.
2 - Bill allowing additional gender designation on driver's licenses stopped in MA

It looked like that in liberal Massachusetts, adding a third gender choice for driver's licenses would be a slam dunk.  A bill to authorize that had already passed the Senate and was heading for passage in the House, until one representative pulled an incredible legislative maneuver.

The Christian Post reports that...
...the bill was ultimately withdrawn due to the efforts of one Republican Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover, MA, who decided to challenge it on its merits and utilize the legislative procedures at his disposal at a critical time.
Lyons moved to require the chamber to vote on dozens of other gender options in addition to the "X" designation for trans-identified persons the bill originally called for. He put forward 73 amendments, demanding a vote on each of the available genders that he had tallied on Facebook, among them "cis woman," "gender fluid," "gender variant," and "genderqueer."
Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, told the Post that "Rep. Lyons called their bluff and demonstrated where the logic of this uncoupling of identity from reality ultimately leads..."
1 - Chaplain and assistant exonerated in case of same-sex couple and marriage retreat

Early Friday (August 24), it looked as if Army Chaplain Scott Squires and his assistant, Staff Sergeant Kacie Griffin, were perhaps on their way to a court-martial for "dereliction of duty," because the Chaplain had scheduled a same-sex couple for a marriage retreat other than the one he was conducting, due to his endorsing agency, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, having a prohibition on its chaplains demonstrating approval for same-sex marriage. Griffin assisted him in the rescheduling process.

But, as the law firm representing them, First Liberty, announced on its website, things shifted on Friday. The site stated:
Today, the United States Army announced that it has rejected the findings of an investigation, and will abandon charges of “dereliction of duty” against First Liberty Institute clients Chaplain Scott Squires and Chaplain Assistant, SSG Kacie Griffin. An earlier Army report recommended Squires be disciplined for following the rules of the Army and taking three business days to reschedule a marriage retreat he was prohibited by his denomination from facilitating.
“We are grateful that the Army has rejected and abandoned these baseless charges,” said Mike Berry, Deputy General Counsel and Director of Military Affairs to First Liberty. “The United States military is no place for anti-religious hostility against its own military chaplains. Chaplains like Scott Squires assistant Kacie Griffin do not have to give up their First Amendment rights in order to serve their fellow soldiers.”

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The 3 - August 19, 2018

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a development concerning an Air Force General's prayer-centered website; the Department of Defense has been asked to investigate.  Also, a controversial bill in California that would stifle freedom of speech concerning God's plan for sexuality has crossed another hurdle. And, Colorado baker Jack Phillips is facing more opposition from a Colorado board, the same one that was called out by the U.S. Supreme Court for hostility toward Jack in the recent case before the high court.

3 - Air Force general with prayer page facing pushback

An Air Force Brigadier General is receiving some opposition to a website devoted to prayer, according to an article on the Los Angeles Times website. The newspaper reports that the website of Brigadier General E. John Teichert is "called 'Prayer at Lunchtime for the United States,' in which the commander says he encourages 'Bible-believing Americans to take time to specifically pray for our nation at lunchtime every day.'"

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has requested an investigation.  The Times website states:
The foundation has asked the Defense Department to determine whether Teichert’s conduct “interferes with or violates the civil liberties of service-members and civilians under his command” or “the diversity or equal opportunities of service-members and civilians under his command.”
And, true to form, the foundation claims that there have been multiple complaints.

Teichert is the installation commander at Edwards Air Force Base.  The story states:
On his religious website, Teichert goes only by “John,” and writes that he is an active duty brigadier general who has served in the Air Force since 1994, “and who was saved by grace through faith in Christ in 2004.”

“The Lord has blessed his career while burdening his heart with the need for our nation to return to its Christian foundation,” his bio reads.
The website features a prayer list, which includes “President Trump, Vice President Pence, and the Trump administration,” “a return to our Biblical foundation,” “recognition of God’s preeminence in our lives and in our land” and “the unborn,” among others.
2 - California Senate passes bill banning materials offering hope to gay individuals who wish to break free

The bill has been on the radar of a number of Christian groups throughout this year, and the California Senate has now passed bill AB 2943.  The California Family Council reports that...
...AB 2943 is the radical bill from Assemblymember Evan Low and the LGBT Legislative Caucus. With Thursday’s vote, elected leaders told churches and those with biblical beliefs about gender and sexual orientation that advocating for their views could get them sued.
The article goes on to say, "This bill attacks the freedom of Christians...to find the services and resources from counselors, schools, and faith-based organizations that help them live out their biblical convictions regarding sexual behavior and gender identity." It also states, "Legal experts confirm that by targeting financial transactions, AB 2943 threatens religious non-profits, churches, and pastors who provide paid resources to help people practice their faith."

So, materials that point to the Biblical perspective that people who struggle with same-sex attraction or homosexuality would be banned in the state.

However, there is a small ray of hope.  The Senate made some small adjustments in the bill, so it has to go back to the other chamber, the Assembly, which has until August 31 to pass it.

1 - Jack Phillips possibly heading back before Colorado Civil Rights Commission

It looks as if Colorado cake baker Jack Phillips, fresh off his victory at the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed him to decline to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding celebration, may be back before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission again.

The Alliance Defending Freedom website reports that:
On June 26, 2017, the same day that the Supreme Court agreed to take up Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, an attorney asked Phillips to create a cake designed pink on the inside and blue on the outside, which the attorney said was to celebrate a gender transition from male to female. Phillips declined the request because the custom cake would have expressed messages about sex and gender identity that conflict with his religious beliefs. Less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips in his first case, the state surprised him by finding probable cause to believe that Colorado law requires him to create the requested gender-transition cake.
The website states: "Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Phillips and his cake shop filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday against those officials for doubling down on their anti-religious hostility."

The Supreme Court had already chided the Colorado commission for hostility toward Phillips, and ADF contends that the body is at it again. ADF says:
As the new lawsuit explains, “The Constitution stands as a bulwark against state officials who target people—and seek to ruin their lives—because of the government’s anti-religious animus. For over six years now, Colorado has been on a crusade to crush Plaintiff Jack Phillips…because its officials despise what he believes and how he practices his faith. After Phillips defended himself all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, he thought Colorado’s hostility toward his faith was over. He was wrong. Colorado has renewed its war against him by embarking on another attempt to prosecute him, in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s ruling in his favor. This lawsuit is necessary to stop Colorado’s continuing persecution of Phillips.”

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The 3 - August 12, 2018

On this week's edition of The 3, exploring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, a former high school football coach in Washington state has found some support by a legendary college coach and other high-profile people.  Also, a well-known evangelist has had billboards advertising an upcoming crusade in California removed.  And, a Midwestern university has taken strong action against a number of campus organizations, including faith-based groups.

3 - Legendary college football coach stands with high school coach who lost job for praying

Joe Kennedy is the former assistant high school football coach in Bremerton, Washington who, for years, would walk to midfield to pray following games - that is, until the school district stepped in to restrict him from doing so.  Even after he was told not to do it, he believed that he had a constitutional right to pray in the way he did, and he was terminated.

He has gone to court and has been rejected by a Federal district and appeals court - so he has his eyes set on the highest court in the land, according to Tallahassee.com, which reported on former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden becoming involved in the case by filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Kennedy.  The newspaper's website stated:
The former Florida State football coach has joined members of Congress, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and 12 attorneys general in their effort to have the U.S Supreme Court hear the case of a former high school football coach suspended for praying on the field.

Multiple amicus briefs – including Bowden’s – were filed this week on behalf of Joe Kennedy to the nation's highest court. There is no guarantee the Supreme Court will accept the case that has attracted national attention.
The article also said:
According to his amicus brief on Kennedy’s behalf, Bowden said he believed "no coach should have to set down their faith when they pick up a whistle."
The brief further explained, "In coach Bowden's view, the Circuit Court's opinion jeopardizes an observant coach's ability to impart these life lessons and otherwise strips them of their spiritual identity while in the presence of their student-athletes by categorically eliminating at the public schoolhouse gate their First Amendment rights to engage in any form of religious expression."
2 - Crusade ads removed from Southern California mall

This coming weekend, thousands will converge on Angel Stadium in Los Angeles for the Harvest Southern California Crusade, featuring evangelist Greg Laurie.  But, one attempt to promote the crusade has been eliminated, according to ToddStarnes.com.  Starnes reported that;
Billboards depicting evangelist Greg Laurie holding a Bible were removed from a popular outdoor mall in Southern California after numerous complaints and at least one “serious threat.”
The management of Fashion Island declined to say why they took down the billboards, but the contract between Harvest Crusade and the shopping mall includes a clause about the right not to display any materials that could be construed as “vulgar or offensive.”
The billboards were promoting the upcoming SoCal Harvest gathering – expected to draw tens of thousands of people to Angel Stadium, CBN News first reported.
Todd also reported:
After the initial complaint, the Christian organization revised the advertisements to include only the word “Harvest” with the dates of the event.
Harvest executive director John Collins is quoted as saying, "Then they came back and said they just wanted the ads completely removed and they refunded us..."  Starnes also reported that:
Collins told CBN News. “It’s sad that our culture is at this degree of intolerance…There’s such intolerance against Christianity that we aren’t allowed to state that or to publicly advertise this event. That’s amazing.”
On his blog, Laurie wrote:
We enjoyed working with the Irvine Company and displaying our banners in their amazing malls. I hope to work with them again in the future.
Everybody needs to just relax a little bit. I see images on billboards and displays in stores that I find offensive all the time. I do not complain or boycott. I just think as Christians we ought to have “equal time” and a voice in the marketplace.
1 - IA Christian student group rejects LGBT leadership

The University of Iowa is currently conducting a purge of student organizations that it seems to believe is discriminating against other students. ChristianHeadlines.com ran a story about the Christian organization, Business Leaders in Christ, which, according to the article...
...says it has the right as a religious group to require members to affirm a statement of faith. The controversy began in 2016 when the group refused a leadership position to a gay student because he did not affirm its beliefs.
The article goes on to say:
“The University is discriminating against [us] because of our religious beliefs, while allowing other student groups to form around their shared values and beliefs,” Jacob Estell of Business Leaders in Christ told The College Fix. “We have not changed our mind or caved in to the University’s wishes.”
According to Christian Headlines, "The university stripped the group of its official status, but the group sued and won in court earlier this year. That lawsuit is still pending."  Earlier, the Gazette, based in Cedar Rapids, had reported that:
The University of Iowa has deregistered another 38 student groups after a federal judge found it unequally enforced its human rights policy by kicking off campus a student organization that had barred an openly gay member from becoming a leader.
At least 22 of the newly deregistered groups are organized around religion, culture or ideology.
It looks as if the Business Leaders in Christ lawsuit set off a disturbing series of events, according that publication:
Although merits of the case have yet to be decided, with a jury trial scheduled for March 2019, a U.S. District Court judge agreed BLinC was singled out and ordered the university let the group remain on campus until the legal dispute is resolved.
Before the judge’s ruling, UI attorneys said the school did not proactively enforce compliance with its policy but rather responded only to complaints.
After the ruling, the university in late January and early February reviewed hundreds of its student organizations’ governing documents and found 356 were out of compliance by failing to have the full and correct human rights clause in their constitutions.
That large group has been whittled down to the 38 that have been dismissed from campus, with some Greek organizations having until September 4 to comply.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The 3 - August 5, 2018

This week's edition of The 3, my weekly blog post dealing with three stories of relevance impacting the Christian community, I spotlight a ruling against prayer at the beginning of school board meetings in a district in California.  Also, a women who had encountered a man in the ladies' locker room at a Michigan health club has received a favorable court ruling.  Plus, the U.S. Attorney General has announced a task force to support religious liberty.

3 - 9th Circuit strikes down prayer at beginning of governmental meetings

There does seem to be more confusion about the issue of prayer before public meetings of government bodies. It could have been concluded that the 2014 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case involving the town of Greece, New York, may have settled it, but more appeals court rulings have muddied the waters.

Advocates for Faith and Freedom reports on a case it has been involved in, regarding the Chino Valley Unified School District in California.  It states in a recent press release:
...the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the Chino Valley Unified School District board policy that allows invocations before the start of school board meetings is a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals came to a different conclusion in 2017 in American Humanist Association v. McCarty.
Robert Tyler of Tyler & Burch, LLP and legal counsel for the district, is quoted as saying, “This requires the Board to censor or otherwise remove individuals who attempt to say a prayer, or anything that might resemble a prayer, during the public comment period,” adding, “Such an overbroad injunction is a clear violation of the right of private citizens to address their local representatives in public meetings and is dangerous to the First Amendment.”

The press release also says:
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld ceremonial prayer at city council meetings in Town of Greece v Galloway. In that decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted the historical significance of such invocations. “Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government…,” Kennedy wrote.
During the previous session of the high court, it refused to hear a case out of North Carolina, in which the 4th Circuit had ruled against prayer before government meetings. UPI.com reported:
The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case leaves in place a lower court's 2017 decision that Rowan County, N.C., commissioners' practice of leading mostly Christian prayers before public meetings and inviting the public to join violates mandated separation of church and state in the First Amendment.
And, earlier this year, the 6th Circuit, in a ruling involving the entire court, according to The Christian Post, ruled "...in favor of a Michigan county's invocation policy for monthly public meetings that allow commissioners to give prayers." The article stated:
In a decision released by the full court on Wednesday, a majority of the Sixth Circuit concluded that Jackson County Board of Commissioners' invocation policy was constitutional.
So, you seem to have different decisions coming up of multiple circuits on similar cases; that could mean the high court will accept one or perhaps more of these in the future.

2 - Court rules in favor of woman in gym dispute

A Michigan woman who had filed a lawsuit against Planet Fitness because of an "unwritten" policy allowing men who identify as women to use the women's locker room received a positive ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court recently.

Liberty Counsel reported:
Yvette Cormier's lawsuit against Planet Fitness was filed in Midland County in 2015 after her membership was canceled because she warned fellow gym members over several days about seeing a biological man, who claims to be “transgender,” in the women’s locker room. Planet Fitness told her that it allows people to use the locker room that matches their “identity.” Midland County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Beale dismissed the lawsuit in 2016. Cormier then appealed the decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The appeals court affirmed Beale's ruling in June of 2016, but Cormier then took her case to the Michigan Supreme Court, which reversed and sided with Cormier.
Liberty Counsel has an interest in this case, certainly: as it states on its website:
Liberty Counsel represents “Mrs. H” whose membership was canceled at Planet Fitness in Leesburg, Florida, because she objected to a man in the women’s locker room.
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, stated: “This is a safety issue for women who understandably do not want to share a locker room with men. This is also discrimination based on sex and violation of state law. Planet Fitness cannot have secret policies and expect to get away with it..."

1 - Sessions announces Religious Liberty Task Force

The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a strong message to people of faith in America: we hear you and we will defend your First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.  This past week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of a Religious Liberty Task Force.

The National Religious Broadcasters website reported:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week announced, “The Task Force will help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance by ensuring that all Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations. That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”
This announcement follows previous action, as the website points out: "Per the direction of President Donald Trump in his May 2017 executive order signed on the National Day of Prayer, the DOJ last year issued an extensive guidance for all federal agencies on religious freedom."

Jerry A. Johnson, President and CEO of NRB, stated: “Just one week after the State Department’s historic ministerial, the creation of this new DOJ task force is yet another powerful testament to the seriousness of the Trump administration as it seeks to defend religious freedom,” adding, “I am encouraged by top leaders working to right wrongs against people of faith here in the U.S. and abroad. While such action is common sense to many Americans, it sadly is not to many ‘progressive’ elites.”

I spoke with Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel of First Liberty Institute, about the formation of this task force, as well as two recent incidents involving religious freedom in the military.  You can listen to or download that conversation here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The 3 - July 29, 2018

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a development at a Wyoming Air Force Base involving a POW/MIA table, in which a Bible is being replaced.  Also, a group of pro-life sidewalk counselors received a court victory recently.  And, world leaders gathered in Washington in a meeting centered around the topic of worldwide religious freedom.

3 - Bible replaced at table of honor at Air Force Base

A Bible that been displayed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming as part of a ceremonial remembrance table has been replaced, according to Todd Starnes' website.  Starnes writes:
The ceremonial remembrance table is a tradition that was started after the Vietnam War, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division.
The table traditionally includes a Holy Bible to represent “faith in a higher power and the pledge to our country, founded as one nation under God.”
Ultimately, it seems another "book of faith" will be used.  Starnes quoted from base commander Col. Stacy Huser, who, in a statement, said:
"One of our focus areas … is increasing the sense of belonging for all our Airmen; a large part of that effort is ensuring the religious and non-religious feel included and cared for. This concern being brought to our attention only helps us work toward meeting the needs of all Airmen. The 90th Missile Wing is scheduled to replace the Bible on the POW/MIA table with a ‘book of faith’ containing spiritual writings and prayers from the five DoD (Department of Defense) Chaplain appointed faith groups and a sixth set of blank pages to represent those who find solace by other means.”
Starnes reports that Bibles have been removed from POW/MIA tables at "Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals from Ohio to Texas to New York." Leading the charge, as he points out, is the so-called Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which Starnes says is a "militant organization that has fought against Nativity scenes, Bible studies and any outward expressions of the Christian faith on U.S. military installations."

2 - Sidewalk counselors in New York win court victory

Throughout America, there are courageous individuals who stand in front of abortion clinics and offer Christ-centered viewpoints on the decision that those who enter are about to make. A group of such counselors in New York, according to the Thomas More Law Center, were the targets of a Federal lawsuit filed by then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The Law Center's website reports on the AG's press conference, at which he announced the suit against 13 sidewalk counselors and stated that this is “not a nation where you can choose your point of view.”

On Monday (July 23), the TMLC announced a victory in court for the counselors, stating:
In a 103-page opinion issued last Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon rebuked the efforts of the New York Attorney General’s Office to silence sidewalk counselors who regularly assembled outside of Choices Women’s Medical Center (“Choices”), a Queens abortion clinic, to plead for the lives of the unborn.
Attorney Tyler Brooks made these comments: “A radical state attorney general abandoned his duty to enforce the law fairly in favor of pursuing an ideological campaign intended to silence pro-life Christians. The federal court, however, has seen through the State of New York’s efforts and made clear that the free speech of Christians will not be censored simply because some people on the left do not like it.”

The article said that the Attorney General's office...
...alleged that the thirteen sidewalk counselors violated federal, state and New York City laws prohibiting the obstruction of abortion facilities, and harassment and intimidation of women who were seeking abortions. It petitioned the federal court to create a sixteen-foot buffer zone around Choices abortion premises and levy fines, attorney fees and compensatory damages against the Defendants.
1 - State Department hosts event on religious freedom

A special event occurred this past week in the nation's capital - it was called the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, convened by the U.S. State Department and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  The National Religious Broadcasters website stated that "more than 80 foreign delegations, as well as NRB and other religious and civil society leaders from around the world, gathered in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom."

The story pointed to an op-ed in USA Today, in which he wrote: “Countries that champion individual freedoms are often the most secure, economically vibrant, and prosperous in the world. Religious freedom is an indispensable building block of free societies.”  According to the NRB website, Pompeo also said in his speech on Thursday: “When religious freedom flourishes, a country flourishes.”

The NRB story also reported:
The Secretary of State also announced new funding and programs to advance the cause of religious freedom around the world. In particular, he highlighted a new Potomac Declaration and Potomac Plan of Action. “These documents reassert the United States’ unwavering commitment to promoting and defending religious freedom. They recommend concrete ways the international community and governments can do more to protect religious freedom and vulnerable religious communities,” Pompeo said.
Other speakers included Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.

In a letter, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president & CEO of NRB, told Secretary Pompeo: “Religious liberty is a source of strength and stability for societies, and the focus that President Donald Trump and his administration have placed on this core principle sends a powerful message within our nation and to governments abroad.”

CBN News reported that documents emerging from the Ministerial state:
  • People ought to be able to change their beliefs, to convert to a new religion.
  • Religious communities ought to be able to do things like print, import and distribute literature. 
  • Religious speech should not be suppressed under the guise of national security.
  • Nations have no right to pick and choose which religions will be tolerated in their countries.
  • Blasphemy laws should be repealed.
  • Nations should not require people to register their religious beliefs with the state.