Sunday, September 17, 2017

The 3 - September 17, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, there is some news from Europe that reinforces the rights of churches to set employment policies.  Also, a Michigan farm gets to go back to a local farmers' market after being removed because one of the owners shared a Facebook post supporting traditional marriage, in accordance with his faith beliefs. And, the work of faith-based groups in the aftermath of disasters is a critical component in relief and recovery, although three Texas churches have sued the government because they claim they are not receiving the aid they need.

3 - Favorable European ruling for churches' right to govern internal affairs

There was a major ruling by a European court recently that, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, "affirmed the freedom of churches to regulate their own affairs as a basic right deserving protection in all 47 of the Council of Europe’s member states."

This came from the European Court of Human Rights.  Here's the backstory from ADF:
In 2009, Mr. Karoly Nagy filed an application with the ECHR complaining that Hungary’s courts refused to weigh in on a matter of internal church discipline. The dispute dates back to 2005, when an ecclesiastical court removed Nagy from his pastoral post following church disciplinary proceedings that had been brought against him. A second ecclesiastical court upheld this decision and dismissed Nagy’s appeal. The case went to the Hungarian Supreme Court, which refused to accept jurisdiction because ecclesiastical law was applicable in the case.
The Court's Grand Chamber issued the ruling, which "upheld the right of churches to 'ecclesiastical courts and the discipline of ministers,'" according to the site, which related that ADF International was "the only organization to file an expert brief in the case...." The organization contended that, based on international law, "churches and other religious organizations should be able to manage their internal affairs without government interference."

ADF International Deputy Director Paul Coleman stated, “This decision is welcome because it reinforces the rights and freedoms of religious believers in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe to manage their own affairs without unwarranted external interference.”

2 - Michigan farmer who believes in natural marriage allowed to return to market

Back in the United States, Alliance Defending Freedom was involved in a case of Michigan farmers, one of whom had posted his support for traditional marriage on his Facebook page.  They had been participating in the East Lansing Farmer's Market and they were disallowed from being a part of it.

The Daily Signal reports that the owners of Country Mill Farms, Steve and Bridgett Tennes "may resume selling their goods there as early as Sunday while their case proceeds," based on a ruling by a Federal judge on Friday.

The website reported last Friday that:
In May, the Tenneses filed a federal lawsuit against East Lansing over the decision to ban them from selling produce at the city’s farmers market, even though their farm is 22 miles outside the city in a different jurisdiction.
The city countered by filing a motion to dismiss, and the parties were in court this past week. Country Mill Farms had "sought an injunction allowing the Tenneses to return to the market while the case proceeds."

The site reported that the decision by the judge to "grant the Tenneses the temporary injunction is good news for the family, although their legal fight is far from over."  It pointed out that the judge "has yet to rule on the merits of their case."

1 - Group of Texas churches files lawsuit against FEMA 

Even amidst reports about the good working relationship with FEMA and faith-based organizations, there's a story from Baptist Press that can cause concern with respect to the church, state, and disaster relief.

The article states that "Three small churches damaged in Hurricane Harvey's unprecedented Texas deluge are jointly suing a U.S. government agency for access to public recovery funds."

These churches in Texas - Rockport First Assembly of God in Rockport, as well as Harvest Family Church and Hi-Way Tabernacle in the Houston area - are being represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which contended that "FEMA summarily bars churches from seeking emergency aid because churches primarily use their buildings for religious purposes," according to the Baptist Press article, citing a press release from Becket.

The churches claim that the Trinity Lutheran case from the U.S. Supreme Court, "affirming a church's right to participate in generally available programs on equal footing with secular organizations," supports their case.

As the BP article points out:
President Donald Trump supported the Texas churches' case in a Sept. 8 tweet. "Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others)," the president tweeted.
This report was published on September 13th, three days after a USA Today piece which described how faith-based organizations, such as Samaritan's Purse, Convoy of Hope, and other faith-related groups, worked hand-in-hand with FEMA.

Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries for Samaritan’s Purse, is quoted as saying, “FEMA – they have been a big blessing to us, they're an assistance to us," adding, "For Hurricane Irma, the majority of our equipment has already been dispatched to Texas ... so our office in Canada is bringing their equipment across the border and FEMA was instrumental in helping us clear that with customs and getting all the paperwork done."  The story says that Convoy of Hope, in "major disasters," will set up feeding stations, sometimes at FEMA’s request and even using government-provided food and equipment.

Rev. Jamie Johnson, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, stated, "FEMA can not do what it does so well without the cooperation of faith-based non-profit organizaitons [sic] and churches," adding, "It's a beautiful relationship between government and the private sector and it is something to behold."

So, perhaps there is a new understanding between FEMA and faith-based groups, including churches, that can provide an acceptable outcome or even a resolution of the lawsuit, so that churches in distress and people whom they help can get the relief they need.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The 3 - September 10, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a positive ruling from a Federal appeals court in favor of commissioners in Michigan who have been offering prayers ahead of their meetings.  Also, you have pro-life groups that are calling on Congress to act...now...to defund Planned Parenthood.  And, a nominee to a Federal appeals court faced questioning about her religion in a committee hearing; a Christian legal advocacy group also received negative comments from a senator.

3 - Federal appeals court says prayers are OK before public meetings

Commissioners in Jackson County, Michigan have been opening Commission meetings in prayer - themselves, and that practice had been challenged in court.  This Wednesday, the full (en banc) 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of the commissioners, according to the First Liberty Institute website.  First Liberty represents those officials.

The website states that:
The Jackson County Commissioners offer invocations on a rotating basis and are free to act according to their own consciences by delivering either an invocation or offering a moment of silence.
The piece goes on to say that a "private citizen had objected to the invocations and filed a lawsuit." According to the site:
A federal district court ruled in favor of the commissioners. The plaintiff appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and a three-judge panel of the court ruled against the commissioners. First Liberty and its volunteer attorney firm appealed to the full court of 15 judges, who reversed the three-judge panel with this week’s ruling.
Ken Klukowski, Senior Counsel at First Liberty, is quoted as saying: “Today’s decision further solidifies what the U.S. Supreme Court has now twice said: Invocations before government meetings are constitutional and an important part of our nation’s history and heritage..."

In this case, a Federal appeals court came down in a different manner from another circuit.  First Liberty points out that a case from the 4th Circuit has "taken a different direction than Jackson County." That case, involving commissioners in Rowan County, North Carolina, who are also represented by First Liberty, was heard en banc in March, and the full panel ruled 10-5 against the commissioners. The difference could mean a Supreme Court showdown is setting up.

2 - Pro-life groups call on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood

A number of pro-life groups have sent a letter to members of Congress, encouraging them to act soon to cease using taxpayer money to fund Planned Parenthood.  The Family Policy Alliance website quotes from the letter:
“This Republican Pro-life Congress made a promise to American voters to stop taxpayer funding for the largest abortion chain in the nation, Planned Parenthood,” the letter explains. “It is now well past time to deliver on that promise.”
Paul Weber, President and CEO of the Alliance, stated that, "Defunding Planned Parenthood is one of the biggest actions Congress can take to show that they’re not out of touch with our families in America. He said, ”As the letter makes clear, this isn’t a piece of pork barrel legislation that doesn’t matter. Ending taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood means ending the taxpayer-funded gravy train that subsidizes the killing of 900 pre-born children every single day.”

Other groups signing on to the letter include: the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America LAC, Students for Life of America, March for Life Education and Defense Fund, Live Action, and Americans United for Life.

1 - Judicial nominee criticized for religious beliefs in Senate hearing

In the original Star Wars film, Darth Vader says this about Luke Skywalker: "The force is strong with this one."  Well, that sounds very similar to what California Senator Dianne Feinstein said to President Trump's nominee for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Amy Comey Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame, in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committe this week.  According to the Washington Examiner, she stated: "...the dogma lives loudly within you..."

What does that even mean?  Well, consider the context. Feinstein is quoted in the article as saying: "When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for
years in this country..."

Like abortion, perhaps? Oh, yes. She said: "You are controversial because many of us that have lived our lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems."

The Family Research Council website said:
Sounds like the dogma lives within Feinstein too -- not just her anti-religious dogma, but one that honors abortion-at-any-price. To her credit, Barrett replied (like Neil Gorsuch before her) that her beliefs would never supersede the law. "It's never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge's personal convictions on the law. I would never impose my own personal convictions on the law."
The Examiner stated:
Barrett repeatedly said her Catholic faith would not have any impact upon her judgment — "beginning to end, in every case, my obligation as a judge would be to apply the rule of law" — but Durbin would have none of it.
And, in the same hearing, Senator Al Franken, chastised Barrett for speaking to (gasp!) the Alliance Defending Freedom.  The Examiner story said:
The conservative Christian advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom came under fire from Democratic Sen. Al Franken this week, as ADF's lawyers are preparing to argue a blockbuster religious liberty controversy before the Supreme Court. ADF will represent a Colorado baker whose refusal to design and make a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage is one of the coming term's highest profile cases, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
During Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week on Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Franken said Barrett's decision to speak to ADF was irresponsible. The Minnesota Democrat said ADF is "a group that fights against equal treatment of LGBT people" whose "real purpose is to advance an extreme version or vision of society."
Kristen Waggoner, an ADF attorney on the Masterpiece case, called Franken's remarks "shameful" and said the American people "should expect more from our senators."
By the way, the Department of Justice has also come out in support of Jack Phillips, the baker in the Masterpiece case.  Fox News reports that the "The Justice Department on Thursday filed a brief supporting the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple on faith-based grounds, in the latest religious freedom case to be considered before the nation's highest court."

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief:  “When Phillips designs and creates a custom wedding cake for a specific couple and a specific wedding, he plays an active role in enabling that ritual, and he associates himself with the celebratory message conveyed,” adding, “Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights.”

Saturday, September 02, 2017

The 3 - September 3, 2017

Life, prayer, and sexuality are principal topics in the Labor Day weekend edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community. Another Planned Parenthood facility in Pennsylvania has closed its doors.  Also, government leaders are encouraging prayer in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  And, church leaders have signed on to a new document reaffirming central, time-honored truths about sexuality.

3 - Another Planned Parenthood clinic closes in Pennsylvania

What appears to be the sixth Planned Parenthood facility to close in the state of Pennsylvania since last fall did so recently, according to LifeNews.com.  The website reports on this latest closing:
The Planned Parenthood in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania reduced its hours earlier this summer, and then announced plans to close completely several weeks ago, WBRE reports. On Wednesday, the facility closed permanently. The facility in the Poconos did not perform abortions but it did recommend and refer for them.
According to the article, Pennsylvania Family Institute reports that 12 Planned Parenthood facilities have closed in the Keystone State since 2013. The organization states, “That’s a 50% drop of Planned Parenthood Keystone’s facilities in under five years (18 facilities in 2013, now down to just nine)..."

The LifeNews.com article reports that:
Across the country, the abortion chain has closed approximately 20 facilities so far this year.
While abortion supporters blame the closings on pro-life advocates’ efforts to defund the abortion business of millions of tax dollars, Planned Parenthood’s own annual reports point to a bigger reason.
While receiving huge amounts of taxpayer funding under pro-abortion President Barack Obama, Planned Parenthood lost about half a million patients and performed fewer actual health services, such as pap smears and breast exams. The group’s abortion numbers, however, remained steady and its political involvement increased.
The story contends that: "It’s more clear than ever that Americans do not need or want Planned Parenthood for health care."

2 - President, Texas Governor proclaim Day of Prayer after Harvey

In the aftermath of the devastation brought about by Hurricane Harvey, Texas Governor Greg Abbott had proclaimed Sunday, September 3, a “Day of Prayer," according to a report on the Family Policy Alliance website, which quotes from the proclamation:
“It is right and fitting,” he wrote in the proclamation, “that the people of Texas should join with their fellow residents and with others from across the country and around the world to seek God’s wisdom for ourselves and our leaders and ask for His merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.”
Then, the day after the governor's proclamation, the White House issued a national proclamation for a National Day of Prayer for the Victims of Hurricane Harvey and for our National Response and Recovery Efforts. As seen on the White House YouTube Channel, the President was surrounded by a number of faith leaders. He signed the proclamation, which included these words, as published on WhiteHouse.gov.
When we look across Texas and Louisiana, we see the American spirit of service embodied by countless men and women. Brave first responders have rescued those stranded in drowning cars and rising water. Families have given food and shelter to those in need. Houses of worship have organized efforts to clean up communities and repair damaged homes. Individuals of every background are striving for the same goal -- to aid and comfort people facing devastating losses. As Americans, we know that no challenge is too great for us to overcome.
As response and recovery efforts continue, and as Americans provide much needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are reminded of Scripture's promise that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Melania and I are grateful to everyone devoting time, effort, and resources to the ongoing response, recovery, and rebuilding efforts. We invite all Americans to join us as we continue to pray for those who have lost family members or friends, and for those who are suffering in this time of crisis.

It is encouraging to see our leaders recognize the importance of prayer, and this is especially important in times of disaster and crisis.  The faith community has the opportunity during these difficult times to minister with the love of Christ.

1 - Church leaders release, sign Nashville Statement reaffirming Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality

In this age in which God's standards with respect to marriage, gender, and sexuality are being compromised, even within the Church, it is important for Christian leaders to reaffirm the central truths of the Scriptures in these matters. Over 100 such leaders signed on to the Nashville Statement, which, according to the National Religious Broadcasters website, is "expressing evangelical convictions about human sexuality." The article says that, "The statement, with 14 affirmations and denials, addresses issues of human sexuality “in the hope of serving Christ’s church...”

NRB President and CEO Jerry Johnson was one of the signatories and commented: “In order to be truly for the world, when the world is going in the wrong way, you must be against the world,” adding, “Athanasius knew this when he positioned himself contra mundi. For the good of our world, we must position ourselves, with The Nashville Statement, against the sexual heresy that is the spirit of our age.”

At least 15 NRB members and a number of Faith Radio programmers signed on to the statement, including James Dobson, Steve Gaines, John MacArthur, James MacDonald, Tony Perkins, Dennis Rainey, and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

People are invited to sign on at NashvilleStatement.com.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood oversaw the composition of the statement. President Denny Burk, at the CBMW website stated:
Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.
And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. One of the main reasons for The Nashville Statement is to expose this contradiction.
He shared these statements in a section responding to Article 10, which says in part:
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
Burk also points out: "...we are not merely reasserting what the Bible says about the moral status of homosexuality. We are also saying that the gospel of Jesus of Christ offers hope for those laboring under the power of this particular temptation."

You can hear a discussion of the Nashville Statement with Stuart Shepard of the Family Policy Alliance (whose President, Paul Weber, was an original signatory) from The Meeting House on Faith Radio as part of the conversation found here.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The 3 - August 27, 2017

This week's edition of The 3 includes another flashpoint in the furtherance of the transgender agenda, this time concerning a charter school in California.  Also, a Washington state football coach who had been praying at the 50-yard line after games was dealt a blow in court.  And, a wonderful harvest of souls occurred in an evangelistic crusade originating from Southern California.

3 - Student reprimanded for referring to fellow student using incorrect pronoun

A charter school in California is struggling with transgenderism, and very young students are caught in the crossfire, according to a Washington Times report.  Recently, a first-grader was sent to the principal's office for referring to a fellow student, who has changed his gender identity, by his "former" name.

Karen England of the Capitol Resource Institute is quoted in the article:
“There was a little girl who had been in class with the little boy all last year,” Ms. England said. “They’re in different classes now, but she saw him on the playground yesterday and called him by his name. The little girl was told ‘you can’t do that, his name is this name,’ and ‘you need to call him a “her.”’ Then she was called to the principal’s office.”

Ms. England said she has been in touch with the girl’s parents and described them as “outraged.” She said they met with school officials to discuss the matter Wednesday.
The school is Rocklin Academy Gateway and, at the end of the last school year, a "a kindergarten teacher read her class a pair of books advocating transgender ideology, and a male kindergartener was reintroduced to the class as a girl."  The school apparently is standing behind the use of these books. The Times stated, "The controversy at Rocklin is just the latest example of the transgender movement’s increasing emphasis on spreading its ideology through early education."

2 - Coach who was fired for praying at 50-yard-line loses in court

Since 2008, Joe Kennedy, a coach in the Bremerton, Washington school district, including his role as assistant coach for the high school varsity team, would walk to midfield after a football game and offer a prayer to God.  In the fall of 2015, after seven years of the practice, Kennedy was told he could no longer take part in that activity.  The First Liberty website has the story.

He was later suspended, and First Liberty, on the coach's behalf, filed a lawsuit last year against the school district. Just this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against Coach Kennedy. The First Liberty website stated, "The court argued that Coach Kennedy’s prayers were not protected by the Constitution because, according to the Ninth Circuit, Coach Kennedy was praying as a public employee rather than in his private, personal capacity."

In a press release, First Liberty President and CEO Kelly Shackelford is quoted as saying, “Banning all coaches from praying individually in public just because they can be seen is wrong,” adding, “This is not the America contemplated by our Constitution.” Deputy General Counsel Mike Berry said, “According to the Ninth Circuit, it is unconstitutional for a coach to make a sign of the cross or bow his head in prayer when a player gets hurt...” He added, “We are deeply disappointed by the decision and will consider all options available to Coach Kennedy as we continue to review the opinion.”

1 - Thousands come to Christ at Harvest Crusade, evangelist prepares for theatrical event

Greg Laurie has become one of America's most prolific evangelists.  Just a few months ago, the Harvest America event in Phoenix was simulcast nationwide, and Laurie announced his partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention.

He has been conducting Harvest Crusades in Southern California for a number of years, and according to a press release from the Harvest ministry:
During a week when the nation struggled to make sense of the hatred and violence perpetrated by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, more than 92,000 people gathered at Angel Stadium of Anaheim this past weekend, Aug. 18 – 20, to hear a message of hope and unity in Christ presented by Pastor Greg Laurie at his annual Southern California Harvest Crusade outreach. Another 46,972 attended the Crusade via a live internet broadcast.
The article went on to say that: "By the end of the three-night outreach, 10,071 people made decisions of faith, including those in attendance at Angel Stadium and those viewing the live SoCal Harvest program online."

The release said that, "his Friday night talk titled 'A Second Chance for America' gave mention to current events."  It quoted from the Los Angeles Times, which stated, “Laurie began his evening – the highlight of the event – by addressing the racial and political division that’s troubled the nation this week."  The article also says, "He spoke about the tensions of the 1960s and his own troubled past, doing drugs and being 'filled with hate.'" Also, from the Times:
“When you become a Christian, those barriers come down,” he said. “Racial barriers come down, prejudice comes down.”
He is also quoted as saying:
“Our country is divided. For a follower of Jesus Christ, there is no place for racism, bigotry or prejudice of any kind. I see these people carrying crosses, wearing swastikas, talking about white supremacy. There is no superior race. We are all part of the human race.”
Laurie will be featured in a one-night theatrical release in September of the documentary, Steve McQueen: American Icon, based on his book about the famous actor's conversion to Christianity late in his life.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The 3 - August 20, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, the Johnson Amendment, which limits free speech rights for pastors, has become a debated issue, with thousands of clergy now exhibiting support for it staying in place.  Also, the U.S. State Department has issued its annual report on international religious freedom.  And, Iceland has eradicated the lives of almost all its babies who were discovered in prenatal screenings to have Down Syndrome, prompting strong reaction by leading evangelicals.

3 - Clergy encourage Congress to continue to keep pastors from endorsing candidates

Over the last few months, there has been enhanced emphasis on the Johnson Amendment, which limits the ability of pastors to speak politically, including the endorsement of candidates.  According to a Religion News Service article, President Trump stated in a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in February that he would “totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear.” In a Rose Garden ceremony in May, the President "signed an executive order that asked the IRS not to enforce the amendment."

And, further movement occurred last month, when the House Appropriations Committee voted to keep language in a spending bill that would defund IRS efforts to enforce the amendment.

Now, clergy in favor of keeping the Amendment in place and limiting the free exercise of religion by pastors have signed on to a petition.  The article says that over 4,000 "leaders" signed it, and states:
The letter signed by a wide range of clergy and lay members — from Methodists to Muslims to those who hold metaphysical beliefs — was spearheaded by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
Their contention is that “Changing the law would threaten the integrity and independence of houses of worship.”  To me, in an attempt to prevent what they see as partisanship, they are embracing a form of partisanship themselves, in an attempt to silence the prophetic voice of pastors declaring God's truth on policy issues.

2 - State Department issues religious freedom report

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently announced the State Department's annual report on international religious freedom, and ISIS tops the list as a key threat, according to a Christianity Today story.

The Secretary wrote: "ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death,” adding, “The protection of these groups—and others who are targets of violent extremism—remains a human rights priority for the Trump administration."

The article states: "The annual report reviews the state of religious freedom in 199 countries. CT has highlighted six places where Christians continue to face significant barriers to worshiping freely: Iraq, Indonesia, India, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia."  The article points out deadly terror in Iraq, fears of radicalization in Indonesia, Hindu nationalism in India, government restrictions in Russia, an imprisoned pastor in Turkey, and non-Muslim penalties in Saudi Arabia.


1 - Report on Down Syndrome in Iceland generates strong response in faith community

In a shocking report broadcast by CBS News, Iceland has announced that it has eliminated almost all children with Down Syndrome.  CBN News summarized the CBS report, saying that the network said that it was "due to widespread use of prenatal screening."

CBN states, "Even though most people born with Down syndrome live long, healthy lives, most pregnant women in Iceland choose to abort these babies." The website also says that, "Denmark has aborted 98 percent and the U.S. has aborted at least 67 percent" of babies with Down Syndrome.

The article quotes Joni Eareckson Tada, who said in a statement that, "Over 25 years ago when I served on the National Council on Disability, we responded vehemently against a report from the National Institutes on Health which listed abortion as a 'disability prevention strategy.' All 15 bi-partisan council members strongly advised the NIH to remove any reference which used abortion as a tactic in eliminating disability."  She issued this reminder that, "Each individual, no matter how significantly impaired, is an image-bearer of our Creator God."

Penny Young Nance of Concerned Women for America responded by saying, "This is not a medical advancement. This is eugenics and barbarianism at best."  James Dobson of Family Talk stated, "I have rarely seen a story that so closely resembles Nazi-era eugenics as a recent report about Iceland 'eradicating' nearly 100 percent of Down syndrome births through abortion."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The 3 - August 13, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, highlights the plight of a Wyoming judge who lost her role as a magistrate due to her views on marriage; she is now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Also, a program that was supposed to cut teen pregnancy that funded some Planned Parenthood affiliates will be coming to an end sooner than expected.  And, a Canadian pastor who had been imprisoned in North Korea has been released.

3 - WY judge punished for marriage views appeals to U.S. Supreme Court

Ruth Neely is a municipal judge in Pinedale, Wyoming, and has served in that role for over 22 years. She also had been a part-time circuit court magistrate in Sublette County for approximately 15 years. She was removed from that position, because she had stated she would not "solemnize" or perform, same-sex wedding ceremonies, according to a piece on the Alliance Defending Freedom website.  In that role as a magistrate, she had the authority to solemnize marriages but, according to ADF, "had discretion to decline wedding requests for nearly any reason."

Nevertheless, in March of 2015, before the Obergefell decision, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics "filed a complaint against Neely, alleging judicial misconduct and seeking her removal from both judicial positions simply because she voiced her religious conflict with performing same-sex weddings."  She did eventually lose her magistrate position, and this action has disturbing implications for other magistrates in the state.

The ADF release states:
In March, the Wyoming Supreme Court publicly censured Neely, forced her to stop solemnizing marriages, and drove her from her magistrate judge position for stating, in response to a reporter’s questions, that her religious beliefs about marriage do not permit her to officiate same-sex weddings. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Neely are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision and declare that a judge cannot be punished for expressing her beliefs about marriage.
ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman actually used language from the Obergefell decision in this quote: “No one should be punished simply for expressing a belief about marriage that is ‘based on decent and honorable religious…premises’ and is held ‘in good faith by reasonable and sincere people...’” He went on to say that the Wyoming high court's action, "unconstitutionally targets religion for disfavored treatment, and that’s why we’re asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case.”

2 - Government funding source for Planned Parenthood terminated

The Federal government has operated a program called the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program since 2010, which, according to a story on the LifeNews.com website, referencing a report on The Hill site, was intended to "teach vulnerable populations of students about preventing pregnancy."

The Life News article states:
Participants in the program recently learned that their grant funding will end next year, two years sooner than expected, according to the report. Trump’s administration notified the 81 grant recipients that funding for the program is being cut by about $200 million and their grants will end on June 30, 2018, the report states.
And, the piece points out that "Among the groups receiving grants to teach sex education are several Planned Parenthood affiliates."

The article also says, "Democrats and abortion activists are upset by the cuts, and are sending letters to HHS Secretary Tom Price in protest. Many speculate that the cuts could mean Trump’s administration will support abstinence-based programs instead."

There is a reference to the article at The Hill pointing out that:
Valerie Huber, a prominent national abstinence education advocate, was recently named chief of staff to the assistant secretary for health, which oversees the office that manages the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program.
That article had pointed out that it was unclear how much Huber had played a role in these funding cuts, but she had stated in an op-ed for the same website that "The healthiest message for youth is one that gives youth the skills and information to avoid the risks of teen sex, not merely reduce them..."

1 - North Korea releases Canadian pastor

In the midst of all the activity surrounding North Korea, there was some good news coming out of the so-called "Hermit Kingdom," according to ChristianNews.net.

62-year-old Hyeon Soo Lim, pastor of Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, was released from prison by North Korea.  The story states that:
According to reports, a delegation led by Canadian National Security Adviser Daniel Jean recently traveled to North Korea in an attempt to secure Lim’s release. On Wednesday, he was set free on “sick bail...” 
Pastor Hyeon had "traveled to the country two years ago to build an orphanage, nursery and nursing home. He had visited the nation over 100 times in the past 20 years."  But, as the article states...
...while carrying out his mission, he was taken into custody in February 2015 and accused of committing hostile acts against the North Korean regime. In December of that year, Lim was put on trial and sentenced to indefinite hard labor.
Suzanne Scholte, chair of North Korea Freedom Coalition, is quoted as saying: “Lim was imprisoned simply because he served the one true God and wanted Him to be known to the North Korean people.”  She related these comments to International Christian Concern. She also said:
“While Pastor Lim’s treatment is a reminder of the atrocious and evil nature of the DPRK regime, it should also be a reminder of how vigilant that regime works to keep their population literally and spiritually ‘in the dark’ as the Christian faith is seen as a direct attack on Kim Jong Un, whom they are brainwashed to worship as their god..."

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The 3 - August 6, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is information about a court victory for a photographer who did not wish to use her creative talents to promote activities that violate her beliefs.  Also, after some concern was expressed, Secretary of State Tillerson has reportedly called the actions of ISIS toward Christians and other religious minorities "genocide."  And, there is encouraging news about a Bible study in the White House that some Cabinet officials attend, as well as news of access to the White House for evangelical leaders.

3 - WI photographer wins accommodation in court case

There is an encouraging development out of Madison, Wisconsin, regarding a new local ordinance which, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, combined with a state law, would "force commissioned creative professionals to promote messages that violate their beliefs."

The ADF website also says that under these laws, "...Amy Lawson and her company, Amy Lynn Photography Studio, are required to create photographs and blog posts promoting pro-abortion groups and same-sex marriages if she creates content that promotes pro-life organizations or that celebrates the marriage of one man and one woman."

This was unacceptable to Amy, and a court agreed with her contention.  Dane County Circuit Court announced at a hearing Tuesday in the case "that it will issue an order declaring that Amy Lawson and her business are not subject to city and state laws that would otherwise control her artistic freedom because she does not have a physical storefront..."

Jonathan Scruggs of ADF says, "The court’s announcement has important implications for everyone in Wisconsin who values artistic freedom. It means that government officials must allow creative professionals without storefronts anywhere in the city and state the freedom to make their own decisions about which ideas they will use their artistic expression to promote. "

2 - International religious freedom developments: new ambassador, State Department affirms genocide by ISIS

In the wake of the appointment of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who has long been known for his commitment to uphold Christian values, to the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, which is under the authority of the State Department, the department has announced its commitment to continue to label the activities of ISIS toward Christians and other persecuted groups as "genocide."

According to a CBN News report:
Late last week, reports surfaced that some lawyers at the State Department had ordered that all genocide references describing the Islamic State's mass extermination of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities be removed from official government documents.
That caused an uproar from human rights advocates and some Trump supporters who thought the president was a friend of persecuted Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East.
Shortly afterwards, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to maintaining the genocide determination.
1 - White House Bible study attracts attention, Administration holds "listening sessions" with evangelicals

Now, on the heels of the meeting last month featuring a number of Christian leaders who chatted with President Trump and prayed for him, there are reports of a weekly Bible study that is being held in the White House.  USA Today reported on the study:
CBN News reported that once a week, about a dozen members of the Cabinet gather to study scripture. Among those who regularly attend: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"It's the best Bible study that I've ever taught in my life," Ralph Drollinger of Capitol ministries told CBN News. "They are so teachable, they're so noble, they're so learned."According to Capitol Ministries' website, the sponsors of the White House ministry includes the regular attendees, as well as Vice President Pence, House and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The USA Today story also mentions that, "Pence plans to join the study as his scheduled permits. Additionally, President Trump is invited to the weekly studies and receives Drollinger's teachings."

The Christian Post also reports that the White House has recently held "listening sessions" with some 100 evangelical leaders.  Johnnie Moore, who operates a public relations company, is quoted as saying that "the listening sessions included quick briefings on various issues from officials in White House's legislative and judicial affairs departments."  He said that, "It's a listening session. It's not about these leaders coming so they can be lectured to," adding, "It's about actually making an opportunity to come to the White House as citizens and faith leaders and talking about what was on their mind."

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The 3 - July 30, 2017

In this edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news from the U.K. that infant Charlie Gard has passed away, the result of a rare medical condition.  Also, health care reform in the U.S. Senate was turned back again.  Plus, the President made an announcement about transgender individuals no longer being allowed to serve in the military.

3 - Charlie Gard removed from life support, passes away

Charlie Gard, the 11-month-old British child with a debilitating condition, who was prevented from being released from a London hospital, passed away early Friday morning. The parents' attorney had announced earlier in the week that nothing more could be done to improve Charlie's condition. A Baptist Press article stated: "Charlie died in hospice care a week short of his first birthday, Aug. 4, after being removed from a ventilator." Charlie's parents wanted to remove him from the hospital in order to receive treatment elsewhere, but, as the story related:
The Great Ormond Street Hospital, where Charlie was a patient, refused to permit the therapy and received the backing of British courts and the European Court of Human Rights for removal of his life support.
The story said, "Pro-life advocates grieved the infant's death after the legal battle that came at the intersection of the sanctity of human life, medical ethics and parental rights."

Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, is quoted in the article: "We are so thankful for his life, which though too brief, has made a lasting impact on the world and drawn together people from all walks of life and political persuasions, uniting them around the dignity and value of every human being."

2 - Health care reform fails, Planned Parenthood funding continues

In a dramatic early-morning vote, the U.S. Senate early Friday turned back another effort to revise the Affordable Care Act, in what was called the "skinny repeal."  It would have, among other things, removed the individual mandate to buy health insurance and would have defunded Planned Parenthood for a year.  Susan B. Anthony List was disappointed that this legislation, containing pro-life provisions, was defeated.  On its website, you can read, regarding the priorities of preventing taxpayer funding of abortion:
We had to fight for the inclusion of these priorities, and then fight for their retention. But we were successful. And last night would have brought us one step closer to the finish line. One step closer to protecting unborn children from a taxpayer-funded death and defunding abortion giant Planned Parenthood of $400 million. Instead, we’ve been dramatically set back.
This piece, written by SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, stated:
Obamacare is likely to continue its downward spiral, likely forcing Congress to act. Already last night, there are hints this will be attempted in a bi-partisan fashion. We will fight for and demand that Hyde Amendment protections are included in any reforms.
1 - President reinstates ban on transgenders serving in military

This week, President Trump made the announcement that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve in the military.  The Defense Department is expected to work out the details, but there are evangelical leaders who believe this is a step in the right direction, reversing a policy that just went into effect just over a year ago.

According to a Religion News Service article, during an impromptu gathering of religious leaders with the President, the subject was discussed. The article states that a spokesman for the group, Johnnie Moore, "said the policy on transgender people serving in the military had not been on the agenda for the meeting. It was one of many topics that came up throughout the day, including health care, taxes, religious liberty and judicial appointments." He is quoted as saying, "We briefly discussed this issue..."

RNS also reports that "the evangelicals followed up with a signed letter asking the president to reverse the Obama era policy allowing transgender people to serve in the military, Moore added." The article linked to a tweet by David Brody of CBN News.  The letter was written by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who was at the meeting, which grew out of a meeting at another building close to the White House.

USA Today reported on President Trump's announcement on Twitter:
In a series of morning tweets, Trump said that, after consulting "with my generals and military experts," the U.S. government "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."
The U.S. military, he said, "must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."
Trump's decision was made Tuesday, and he informed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis later in the day, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Wednesday. The policy allowing transgender troops to serve was "expensive and disruptive" and affected military readiness, she said.
Fox News reports that:
In a memo to service chiefs and commanders, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. declared no changes to the policy until "the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance" -- which has not yet happened.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The 3 - July 23, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is good news, but guardedly so, out of China about a Christian activist who was recently released from prison.  Also, a Federal appeals court has found the prayer practice of a group of North Carolina county commissioners unconstitutional.  Plus, even the revision of that state's privacy law isn't enough for some who are pursuing the gay agenda; and Texas legislators are considering a privacy bill of their own.

3 - China releases Christian activist

A Christian activist in China who has been in prison for four years has been released, but his supporters are concerned he will continue to live under the watchful eye of the Chinese government. The Christian Post website reported that: "A leading lawyer and activist, Xu Zhiyong, who is a Christian, was released by the Chinese authorities Saturday as he completed a four-year prison sentence."

Xu was convicted in 2013 of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order." The Post report said:
Xu had refused to defend himself in court, as he said the trial had been rigged. Foreign diplomats and journalists were not allowed to attend his trial.
 At the end of his trial, Xu gave a speech, in which he also talked about his Christian faith.
"Freedom, justice, and love, these are our core values and what guides us in action," he said in the speech. "You may find my ideas too far-out, too unrealistic, but I believe in the power of faith, and in the power of the truth, compassion and beauty that exists in the depths of the human soul, just as I believe human civilization is advancing mightily like a tide."
Xu is 44 years old, and the article says that those who support him "fear that the authorities will keep him under close watch or effective house arrest, even as some social media posts said security guards and plain-clothed officers barred people from visiting him at his home after his release."

Bob Fu of China Aid had told The Christian Post that "the top leadership is increasingly worried about the rapid growth of Christian faith and their public presence, and their social influence. It is a political fear for the Communist Party, as the number of Christians in the country far outnumber the members of the Party."

2 - Federal appeals court rules against county's prayer policy

It wasn't too long ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer prior to town meetings in Greece, New York were constitutional.  However, the area of prayer before public meetings has come into question again, and a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may mean that the issue will be back before the high court.

According to the WORLD website, the appeals court declared that the Rowan County, NC board of commissioners was engaging in a prayer practice that was “unconstitutionally coercive.” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in the majority opinion, which included nine other judges: “The prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion..." Five judges dissented. Earlier, a three-judge panel from the 4th Circuit had, according to WORLD, ruled "in favor of the county, as long as the commissioners didn’t pressure audience members to participate." But, the plaintiffs had requested a hearing in front of the entire court.

The distinction between this case and the Greece case? The WORLD report said: "The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled in favor of clergy-led public prayer at government meetings, but the Rowan County case raises the issue of prayer offered by public servants. Only the commissioners in Rowan County lead pre-meeting prayers."

1 - Private matters: Challenges to revised privacy law in NC, Texas Legislature deals with privacy bill

The bill in North Carolina that provided for individuals in government buildings to use the restroom facilities corresponding to their biological gender instead of their so-called "gender identity," was revised earlier this year, presumably to get major sports events coming back to the state.  But, while the rewrite was devastating in the arena of privacy, apparently, it didn't go far enough in satisfying the proponents of the LGBT agenda in the state.

The Charlotte Observer reported:
The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights law firm, filed documents in federal court on Friday seeking to amend a lawsuit filed last year against HB2 to center its claims on the law adopted in March to replace it.
The documents contend the law replacing HB2 “discriminates against transgender individuals with respect to one of life’s most basic and essential bodily functions – using the restroom – and, until December 2020, blocks local governments from protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people against discrimination in employment and public accommodations.”
The revised bill contained a moratorium on local "nondiscrimination" ordinances through the year 2020.

Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers have been considering a privacy bill of their own. Family Policy Alliance reports that:
Earlier this year, the Texas Senate passed the Texas Privacy Act that guarded Texans’ privacy in areas such as showers, locker rooms and restrooms. But Speaker Joe Straus blocked the bill from even receiving a vote in the Texas House.
The legislature is in special session, and this bill is back under consideration.  As FPA states, "With Texas only holding legislative sessions in odd-numbered years, it’s paramount that this commonsense legislation is passed now."  The website has an action center for citizens to voice their point of view on this important matter.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The 3 - July 16, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes good news about replacing a Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas.  Also, the rights of churches to select their own leaders was upheld by a Federal appeals court.  Plus, the U.S. House decided to commit billions to gender reassignment surgery for members of our Armed Forces.

3 - Movie company to help restore Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas

Last month, a man drove a vehicle into a 6-foot Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol less than 24 hours after it was installed, according to a story on the ArkansasOnline.com website, which reported that the man apparently live-streamed the act on Facebook.

But an identical monument will be installed on the Capitol grounds, according to Senator James Rapert, who had sponsored the original legislation authorizing the monument, The Hill website reported.  The site said that $55,000 in private donations had been raised, according to the senator. 

That includes $25,000 from Pure Flix, which is a Christian film production company.
ChristianHeadlines.com reported on the company's donation.  The exterior of the Arkansas State Capitol was used as the courthouse housing the courtroom where pivotal scenes took place in the film, God's Not Dead 2, which was a Pure Flix production.

2 - Church's ability to select its own leaders upheld in Federal appeals court

An important decision came out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in the case of Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York, which, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, upheld "the freedom of a church to decide who will serve as its religious leaders."

Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus stated:
“The First Amendment plainly protects a church’s freedom to decide who serves as its religious leaders, as the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged only five years ago. The 2nd Circuit correctly recognized that this freedom extends to choosing a religious school’s principal—a position that is perhaps a school’s most important. Governmental inference here would have amounted to nothing less than state control of a religious school—something the First Amendment clearly forbids. ADF was honored to file a friend-of-the-court brief in this case on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America, which supports the foundational constitutional freedom that the Second Circuit upheld.”
The Catholic News Agency, giving some background on the case, stated that the school, St. Anthony's in Nanuet, NY...
...had decided in 2011 not to renew the contract of its then-principal Joanne Fratello because of her alleged “insubordination” shown to the pastor of St. Anthony’s parish.
Fratello later alleged that the contract decision was a case of sex-based discrimination, and she filed a lawsuit against the school and the archdiocese. She said that she had been hired in a lay capacity, and thus the archdiocese would not be exempt from a discrimination lawsuit under the “ministerial exception.”
The “ministerial exception” forbids the government from intervening in the employment of a minister by a church, as part of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
This exception was at the heart of the Hosanna-Tabor ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the appeals court found that the exception did apply, which was the position that the archdiocese had taken.

ADF has been in the news recently because of an ABC News story calling it a "anti-LGBT hate group." FoxNews.com stated that this label was applied to the organization after Attorney General Session spoke to it.

Kerri Kupec of ADF is quoted as saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth," and said that the network is "encouraging this lack of civil discourse." ADF has accused ABC of "journalistic malpractice" and has "asked for an apology and retraction of the story."


1 - U.S. House votes to fund sex change surgery for members of the military

Here is some alarming news out the U.S. House of Representatives, which took a vote on a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act.  In a 214-209 vote, our elected lawmakers voted to spend $3.7 billion dollars on gender reassignment surgery for members of the military, according to Family Research Council.

These are the people's representatives, right?  Well, consider this from FRC:
According to the latest Rasmussen polling, only 23 percent of the country agrees with them that opening the doors to the gender-confused is good for the military. Add in the sky-high costs of treatments and lost deployment time, and that number would probably look generous by comparison. Like most service chiefs, Americans don't understand how anyone could justify spending billions on a radical medical procedure when the same amount could buy a Navy destroyer, 22 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Planes, 3,700 tomahawk missiles, or 116 Chinook helicopters.
And there's more on the "transgenders in the military" front:  The Washington Free Beacon reports that even though Defense Secretary Mattis has delayed a proposed policy to integrate transgender soldiers into the military, "hour-long mandatory training" is being conducted on dealing with transgender issues.  The story states:
The Army is still moving forward with its transgender training, which is conducted in the morning in place of physical training, the Federalist reported.
The guidelines reveal that soldiers only need to get a diagnosis from a medical doctor and change their gender in a database before showering with the opposite sex.
The Army's tips for an "inclusive environment" include no gossip.
"Social interactions and developing friendships with peers are what contribute to a positive work environment," the training states. "Maintain an inclusive environment and do not gossip. In accordance with good order and discipline, do not ask a colleague or subordinate for their personal information unless it is mission related."

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The 3 - July 9, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, there is a story about a public university in Oklahoma that attempted to remove religious symbols from its chapel, only to backtrack after there was opposition to the move.  Also, a major, Christian-owned craft store chain that is launching a new Bible museum in the fall, has settled with the government over artifacts that could have been removed illegally from the Middle East.  And, the gripping story of little Charlie Gard continues, as the hospital that was so adamant in keeping Charlie there, only to lose his life, is now perhaps reconsidering it decision to not allow Charlie's parents to seek treatment elsewhere.

3 - State university in OK backtracks on removal of religious symbols

A public university in Oklahoma, East Central University, has apologized for its attempt to remove religious symbols from the campus chapel recently.  According to a story on the Faithwire website:
East Central University officials have received massive backlash for their decision to remove various Christian symbols and icons from the campus chapel last month following legal threats from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a statement posted on East Central’s website, President Katricia Pierson noted that the university is “immediately withdrawing” all efforts to remove religious items, such as Latin crosses and Bibles, from the chapel.
Faithwire states that "Pierson claimed the initial decision to remove Christian items from the chapel was intended to 'show support for all cultures and religious beliefs' and honor 'different perspectives.'"

So the symbols were removed and now have apparently been restored, according to another Faithwire story, which says that the university will form a special “committee of students, faculty, and community members who represent a diversity of viewpoints to study the issue.”

State Attorney General Mike Hunter has apparently studied the issue. The Faithwire report quotes from a Campus Reform story, that stated the AG sent a letter to the school's Board of Regents, in which he said he would "defend the religious freedom of Oklahomans from misleading tactics such as the ones employed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State..."

2 - Hobby Lobby reaches settlement on Middle East artifacts

Later this year, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC will open.  It is being built by the Green family, who own the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores.

There was a particularly concerning aspect related to this new museum: it has been under Federal investigation related to the obtaining of certain artifacts.  According to Christianity Today, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, who is also chairman of the museum, "has surrendered thousands of cuneiform tablets and seals bought by Hobby Lobby, after federal prosecutors determined the material came from war-torn Iraq and not Turkey or Israel as customs forms had claimed."

The story also states that, "His company also paid a $3 million fine in a settlement, federal officials announced yesterday in district court."

The CT article also says:
According to prosecutors, Hobby Lobby did not adequately check out the purported owner: a dealer based in the United Arab Emirates who sent the materials to its Oklahoma City offices labeled erroneously as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).” Several were intercepted by federal customs officials, who began investigating the company in 2015 over what was initially believed to be a few hundred questionable artifacts.
The story does say that, "The Museum of the Bible, slated to open in Washington, DC, in November, stated that none of the artifacts identified in the settlement belonged to its collection."

1 - Pro-life organizations, Pope Francis, and President Trump stand together for Charlie Gard

The story of 11-month-old Charlie Gard has captured worldwide attention, including from high-profile officials and pro-life leaders.  Charlie has a rare condition, and the British hospital where he is currently staying had decided that it was time to terminate life support.  The hospital had received two favorable court rulings - one British, one European - and even though the parents desired for him to leave that hospital and seek treatment elsewhere, the hospital was unmoved.

Enter Pope Francis and President Trump.  According to Family Research Council:
In a statement on the crisis, the Pope said the parents' rights to treat their son "until the end" should be respected. "To defend human life, above all when it is wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all." The White House also stepped in the gap, contacting the family to see what can be done. As Donald Trump tweeted, "If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so." Even 37 members of the European Parliament have demanded the hospital step back. This decision, they write, "infringes [on] Europe's most fundamental values, particularly the right to life, the right to human dignity, and personal integrity."
FRC was one of a number of pro-life organizations that issued a joint statement in the past week.  It was stated in it, according to the FRC website, "In past situations of similar circumstances, the patient or their family has always had the option of finding alternative care and that's exactly what Charlie's parents have done. This is their child and they want to use money they have raised from private donors around the world to provide him access to a treatment option that has had some success with a related condition."

It looks as if the hospital is willing to take a second look. BBC reports that: "Great Ormond Street Hospital has applied for a fresh hearing in the case of Charlie Gard following claims of  'new evidence relating to potential treatment for his condition.'"  The story continued:
It comes after seven medical experts suggested unpublished data showed therapy could improve the 11-month-old's brain condition.
Previously, the High Court said it was unlikely a US doctor offering to treat Charlie would be able to cure him.
GOSH said it would "explore" the data.
Charlie's case will be heard by Mr Justice Francis on Monday at 14:00 BST, according to a High Court listing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The 3 - June 25, 2017

In this latest edition of The 3, highlighting three relevant stories to the Christian community, there is activity from various courts.  In a Federal district court down south, a judge ordered the removal of a cross from a Pensacola park, enforcing a law he apparently doesn't agree with.  Also, there is new hope for the videographers that have been exposing Planned Parenthood's trafficking in body parts for aborted babies; a court ordered the majority of charges against them dropped.  Plus, a Federal appeals court has paved the way for a Mississippi religious freedom bill to go into effect.

3 - Federal judge says cross must come down, advocates for new religious establishment standard

A Federal court judge has ruled that a cross that has stood in various forms in Bayview Park in Pensacola for the last 75 years must be taken down within the next 30 days, according to a report on the Faithwire website.  The article says:
The decision to remove the 34-foot cross inside Bayview Park came after Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that its presence on public property is unconstitutional, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
“The Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property,” the judge proclaimed, noting that he was well aware of the broad local support for keeping the cross in place. “The law is the law.”
The American Humanist Association and Freedom From Religion Foundation teamed up to take action against the cross.

But, the judge's ruling contained an interesting twist.  He said, "The law is the law," but indicated he'd like to see the law changed.  The Pensacola News Journal stated:
In his ruling, Vinson cited several legal scholars who have criticized the current state of federal case law on the Constitution's Establishment Clause.
"Count me among those who hope the Supreme Court will one day revisit and reconsider its Establishment Clause jurisprudence, but my duty is to enforce the law as it now stands," Vinson said.
The News Journal reported that the city is weighing its future options, including whether or not to appeal the ruling.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted out that he hoped the city would appeal.

2 - California court strikes down most charges against videographers exposing Planned Parenthood

The work of videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have exposed the activity of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, in selling the body parts of aborted babies.  And, the California Attorney General had brought 15 felony charges against the pair for what a piece on the National Review website says, "...recording what he deemed to be confidential communications."

On Wednesday, June 21, the San Francisco Superior Court "tossed out" 14 of the 15 charges brought against Daleiden and Merritt, of the Center for Medical Progress, by AG Xavier Bacerra.  The 15th charge, "conspiring to invade privacy," was brought against Merritt alone.  The National Review piece quotes from Life News"The court ruled that counts 1-14 were legally insufficient. The state has the opportunity to amend if it can plead a more legally sufficient and specific complaint."

The National Review article says:
Aside from being a victory for the freedom of the press, this decision is another big win for the CMP journalists — who were cleared of criminal charges last year in Texas, as well — vindicating them against the frequent claim from pro-abortion activists that they engaged in illegal activity and duplicitous editing of footage to falsely incriminate Planned Parenthood.
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, which is defending Merritt, stated:
Sandra Merritt did nothing wrong. The complaint by the California Attorney General is unprecedented and frankly will threaten every journalist who provides valuable information to the public. This final count will also fall,
This is the same attorney general that recently announced that state employees would not longer travel to the states of Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Texas due to laws that he says discriminate against LGBT individuals, according to the website, Kentucky.com.  These laws are designed to protect the religious freedom of people of faith.

1 - Federal appeals court upholds new Mississippi religious freedom law

Last year, Mississippi lawmakers passed HB 1523, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, which, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, "protects citizens, public servants, businesses, and religious institutions from government reprisal for operating publicly according to their belief that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman." Governor Phil Bryant had signed the bill in April of last year, but a federal court had blocked it from going into effect.

The ADF website related this news recently:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled unanimously on Thursday that those who filed suit to stop a state law protecting Mississippians against government discrimination haven’t shown they have been or will be harmed by the law.
That means the injunction that was blocking the law has been removed.  ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said that the court "did the right thing:"
“The sole purpose of this law is to ensure that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union. Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this one.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The 3 - June 18, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance in the Christian community, I highlight another graduation controversy, this one involving a Pennsylvania high school senior whose message including faith statements was rejected by school officials.  Also, a pro-life Congressman suffered the most severe wounds in the recent shooting at a Congressional baseball practice, an event that led members of Congress from both parties to pray together.  And, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Phoenix this past week; a look at some major developments is coming up.

3 - Graduation controversy in PA

That series of weeks toward the end of a student's term in school can bring so much joy and anticipation of the future, but we have seen throughout the years that sometimes graduates have felt the heavy hand of school officials telling students what they can and cannot say, especially when it comes to religious statements.

There was a situation in Beaver, PA, involving senior Moriah Bridges, who wanted to offer thanks to God for her graduating class during her school's graduating ceremony, according to a piece by Todd Starnes on the Fox News website.

Moriah had submitted her planned remarks to the school district, which, according to Starnes, "notified the teenager that her prepared remarks were unlawful, unconstitutional, and therefore, impermissible."

Principal Steven Wellendorf, in a letter to the student, wrote: “The selected students may still address their class and indicate the things that they wish/hop for their class, but they may not do it in the style of a prayer and most certainly may not recite a prayer that excludes other religions (by ending ‘in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” or “in the matchless name of Jesus...'"

Moriah is quoted as saying: "I was shocked that the school said my personal remarks broke the law and I was saddened that I could not draw upon my Christian identity to express my best wishes for my classmates on what should’ve been the happiest day of high school..."

Starnes spoke with Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, who said: "In short, school officials – in violation of the First Amendment – forced Moriah to censor her personal remarks during the closing exercise of her commencement ceremony merely because of the religious viewpoint of her remarks,” adding, "Because of Dr. Rowe’s instructions, Moriah was muzzled and restrained by school officials on the penultimate day of her high school career."  Dr. Carrie Rowe is the district's superintendent.

And, Starnes a "long-standing policy" of the U.S. Department of Education on free speech rights of students.  The policy reads: "Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, however, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content..."

2 - Members of Congress pray after shooting

There was a spiritual reaction to the tragic incident in Alexandria, Virginia, in which U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was critically injured.  According to a TIME Magazine story, Speaker Paul Ryan said, "We do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber," adding, "For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family."

The story stated:
Republican Rep. Martha McSally said Republican and Democratic House members joined hands and prayed after learning of the shooting. "Holding hands and praying together, I haven’t seen a moment like that since I’ve been here," she said. "So perhaps this can serve, even though it was intended for evil, it can serve as a wake up call for all of us to think about how we’re vilifying and engaging with people who disagree with us."
Faithwire reported that: "Doctors say he was at 'immediate risk of death' when he made it to the hospital shortly after getting shot while practicing for a charity softball game..." The article quoted from CBS News, including this from Dr. Jack Sava, director of trauma at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, who said, in a briefing on the congressman’s condition, "When he arrived, he was in critical condition with an imminent risk of death...He will certainly be in the hospital for a considerable period of time, presumably weeks."  Sava stated that Scalise's condition had stabilized and that "an excellent recovery is a good possibility."  According to the report from CBS:
A single bullet traveled across Scalise’s pelvis when he was shot Wednesday, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs and causing severe bleeding, Sava said. He was transported in shock to the medical center.
LifeNews.com reported that:
Congressman Scalise is a prominent pro-life Advocate in Congress with a longstanding record fighting abortion.
He led the effort calling on the Obama Administration to reverse its unconstitutional mandate forcing religious organizations to include drugs that can cause abortion and birth control in the health care plans of their employees.
The website also notes that Scalise, "has also strongly supported efforts to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion business."  He had told LifeNews: “The right to life is our most precious gift from God, and it is offensive and unacceptable that a single cent of taxpayer dollars would be sent to an organization that systematically aborts infants and sells their body parts. House Republicans will continue to promote a culture that respects life at every stage."

1 - Southern Baptists commit to evangelism, show disdain for "alt-right"

The latest Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting occurred in Phoenix, as some 5,000 registered messengers gathered to conduct business and fellowship together.  According to
Baptist Press:
Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying "alt-right white supremacy" were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix.
The "alt-right" resolution received the most attention - it was submitted to the Resolutions Committee and initially not allowed to go to the convention floor.  Then, it was brought up to the full convention twice and failed to garner the two-thirds required majority.   Finally, the Resolutions Committee asked the full convention to allow the resolution to progress to the floor, and that was granted. The Baptist Press report said that,
A resolution on "the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy" decried "every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and pledged to pray "both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived."
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist in Memphis was re-elected to another term, and he "recommended creation of the evangelism task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching." The committee will be chaired by legendary Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  There will be 19-members, including Patterson, Gaines, and such Southern Baptist notables as J.D. Greear, Jeff Iorg, and James Merritt.

The article also says that, "The annual Crossover evangelism emphasis and the tandem Harvest America crusade yielded 3,549 professions of faith."