Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 3 - April 24, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting recent developments impacting the Christian community, shines the spotlight on the state of Oklahoma, where voters will get to decide on whether or not a 10 Commandments monument will return to the capitol grounds.  Also, in Georgia, a public health official has lost his job because of content of sermons he preached in his capacity as an ordained minister.  And, the issue of restroom facilities for transgender individuals took center stage on a number of fronts this week.

3 - Oklahoma residents to vote on restoring 10 Commandments Monument

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has added its approval to a Senate Joint Resolution that would send an amendment to the state Constitution to the voters - that amendment could lead to restoring the 10 Commandments Monument to the grounds of the state capitol.

KFOR Television reports that the action by the House will allow voters the option of removing a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution, which was cited in a ruling that led to the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from state capitol grounds, according to a press release.   The state Supreme Court had ordered the monument's removal last June.

The resolution would remove a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”

House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman is quoted as saying, "Oklahomans overwhelmingly supported the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol, and they will now be given the opportunity to address the issue in our constitution which the Supreme Court cited in ordering the removal of the Ten Commandments monument.”

Rep. John Paul Jordan, who brought the resolution, said that, “The new interpretation of this provision can potentially make our state hostile to religion and have damaging impacts on our counties, cities and school districts,” adding, “This impact has already been felt in Johnston County, where the ACLU filed a lawsuit based solely on this section of the state constitution and forced the removal of their Ten Commandments monument."  The amendment could be on the ballot in November.

2 - GA health official fired because of sermon content at his church files lawsuit

Another public official in Georgia has lost his job because of his religious beliefs, that he expressed apart from this work.  Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired because of his views on sexuality, including the sinfulness of homosexuality, which he related in a book that he had written.  Now, according to the First Liberty Institute website, a District Health Director for the Georgia Department of Public Health has been terminated - this time, because of sermon content.  The site states:

Dr. Eric Walsh is an expert in public health with multiple advanced degrees. He has served as the director of the City of Pasadena’s Public Health Department, was appointed to President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs and also served as an associate pastor for his church. In May 2014, the State of Georgia’s Department of Public Health hired Dr. Walsh as a District Health Director. But soon after Dr. Walsh accepted the offer, state officials asked him to submit recordings of his sermons for their review. After inspecting his sermons, they fired him. First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia on behalf of Dr. Walsh because no one should be fired from his job for something he said in a sermon.

Walsh is an ordained Seventh-Day Adventist Minister. His sermon topics included following Christ, having compassion on the poor, health, marriage, sexuality, world religions, science, creationism, and more.

In September, First Liberty (then known as Liberty Institute), along with co-counsel, filed an official charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Dr. Walsh’s behalf. The complaint charged the State of Georgia Department of Public Health with religious discrimination and retaliation for firing Walsh over the content of his sermons. This week, First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the Department.


1 - Transgender bathroom developments: Federal court strikes down VA school policy, Target declares using bathroom of opposite gender is OK

This has been quite a week with respect to the LGBT agenda, especially the "T" component, which stands for "transgender."  While lesbians and gays want people to believe that they were born as homosexual, transgenders have the opposite approach to sexuality - they believe that they were not born with a particular gender; rather they were assigned a gender, which could be different than their "true" one.  Some embrace a concept that gender is fluid - it can fluctuate dependent on feelings.

So, the issue of which restroom to use in public becomes an issue.  The state of North Carolina believes restroom usage should be determined by biological gender, a commonsense approach that has brought criticism to the state.  Just this week, there were several reports I heard or read that involved people going into the bathroom of the opposite gender and committing acts that led to them being charged with crimes.  When you begin to mix genders in public restrooms, it opens the door to trouble.

Just this week, a Federal appeals court struck down a school district's restroom policy in the case of a transgender student - it ruled the district should allow the transgender individual, identifying as a girl, to use the boy's restroom facilities.   A large retailer, Target, reiterated its support of people using whichever restroom they choose.

In the Virginia case, the Christian Examiner reports that a policy preventing transgender student, Gavin Grimm, from using a boys restroom at his Virginia high school is discriminatory, according to a Federal appeals court, which overturns a prior decision to reject Grimm's discrimination claim. Grimm had filed a sex discrimination claim when barred from using the bathroom at the high school after the school received complaints and adopted a policy requiring students to use restrooms corresponding with their biological gender.  Grimm was born female but now identifies as a male.

The article points out that the ruling "may set a precedent for transgender-bathroom related lawsuits in other states, including North Carolina."

The Christian Examiner also ran an article from The Christian Post, which stated that retail chain Target announced this week that transgender people are free to use the bathrooms and fitting rooms in their stores that match the gender they identify with, not their sex.   Target stated on its corporate website:

"In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity."

The issue became a topic on the Presidential campaign trail, with Donald Trump voicing opposition to the North Carolina bathroom bill, which John Kasich had earlier indicated he would not have signed as a governor.  Ted Cruz fired back at Trump by sharing concern over grown men going into ladies' restrooms.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The 3 - April 17, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting recent news and information impacting the Christian community, shines the spotlight on a decision not to replicate the entrance to a pagan temple in 2 major cities.  Also, there's a tribute to POW's and MIA's that features the Bible; and some military facilities have removed the Bible from their displays.  And, there will be a language change in the citizenship test that more accurately reflects the expression of faith.

3 - Plans to build replica of entrance to Baal Temple in New York & London scrapped

In a recent Front Room blog post, I shared information about plans to erect replicas of the arched entrance to the Temple of Baal from Palmyra, Syria in New York and London.

ChristianHeadlines.com had reported this, along with other news sites, and that website now relates that those plans have been suddenly--and rather inexplicably--cancelled.

The story says Charisma News writer Michael Snyder suggests that the sudden change in plans is perhaps due to the large amount of negative feedback the plans received when they were reported on news sites.  Snyder also submits that the “prayers of God’s people” were likely a driving force in the new plan not to make a replica of the Temple of Baal arch either in New York or in London.

Snyder says that the British news outlet, the Telegraph, has confirmed that no arch will be built in New York City, while an arch that is a replica of the Arch of Triumph in ancient Rome will be built in London in place of the arch of the Temple of Baal.

In my earlier blog post, I had quoted a CBN News report that the reproduction of the entrance to the Temple would be erected as a tribute to the original structure, which was 2,000 years old and destroyed by ISIS last year in Palmyra, Syria.  The story said that the reproductions would be made using a 3-D printer, producing a life-size model of the temple's entrance.

Roger Michel, executive director for the Institute for Digital Archaeology, had said, "We hope it is viewed as a constructive response to what has happened there." The Institute had expressed hope to build around 1,000 versions of the arch around the world.

2 - Bibles taken out of "Missing Man" displays remembering POW's 

The Missing Man table is solemn reminder of those who were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action, and was established during the Vietnam era, according to a story by Todd Starnes at FoxNews.com, which says that the tables are typically displayed on military bases and VA clinics – and feature empty chairs for each of the five services, a red rose, an inverted glass, a yellow ribbon, salt sprinkled on a plate, a lemon slice, a candle – and a Bible. The official ceremony script says that, “The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God."

But Veterans' Administration officials in Youngstown and Akron, Ohio removed the Bible from displays at clinics in those locales, under pressure from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which, according to Starnes, believes the Bible’s presence on the Missing Man table represents a violation of the law."  The story points out that MRFF also reports that a VA clinic removed the Bible from a display in Houston, Texas.

And, in a separate incident, the Bible was also removed from a display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

A letter has been sent to Robert McDonald, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, urging him to reinstate the Bible to the Missing Man displays. It was signed by representatives of Family Research Council, First Liberty Institute, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, and others. The article on FoxNews.com offered these quotes from the letter:
“The removal of the Bible not only violates the integrity of these displays, but insults those returned POWs who gained daily strength from their faith in the prisons of our enemies,”
and...
“When a governmental agency such as the VA removes any part of the display, it is a grave insult to the nation’s veterans who often gather together to honor those who have not returned, while also interfering with the message being expressed.”
1 - Citizenship test will reflect wording change, back to "freedom of religion"

There has been an ongoing discussion about the difference between the concept of "freedom of worship" and "freedom of religion."  There are those who would say that "freedom of worship" implies the activity that takes place inside a church building or house of worship, whereas "freedom of religion" refers to religious practice in a broader sense, throughout society.

The ChristianExaminer.com website reports that back in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made a slight change in wording to the citizenship exam given to potential Americans, but that change had enormous political implications – it removed the phrase "freedom of religion" and replaced it with "freedom of worship," which the department deemed more inclusive.

The change in those testing materials was picked up by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, who, after he was elected to the Senate in 2014, asked why the language had been changed. A little over a week ago, the senator's office announced DHS had made the decision to revert to the phrase "freedom of religion" in its testing and education materials.

León Rodriguez, director of the DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote in a letter to Lankford, "We are in the process of revising our test study materials and Web content to reflect the change. Approximately 40 different internal and external Web-based and printed publications will be revised as a result of this decision."

Sen. Lankford is quoted in the Christian Examiner article as saying, "I applaud the Department of Homeland Security for listening to me and deciding to change their material to reflect our First Amendment right of freedom of religion," adding, "At first glance, it appears like a small matter, but it is actually an important distinction for the Constitution and the First Amendment. The 'freedom of religion' language reflects our right to live a life of faith at all times, while the 'freedom of worship' reflects a right simply confined to a particular space and location." He continued, "We live in a great nation that allows individuals to live out their faith, or have no faith at all. To protect freedom and diversity, we must carefully articulate this right throughout the federal government."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The 3 - April 10, 2016

It's time for another edition of The 3, highlighting 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community.  This week, the TN legislature passed a bill that would make the Bible the official state book.  Also, recently, the nation of Canada closed its religious freedom office.  And, this week, the governor of Mississippi signed a new religious freedom bill into law.

3 - Tennessee legislature recognizes Bible as state book

The Legislature in Tennessee has passed a bill that would make that state the first in the nation to name the Bible as its official state book.  The Christian Examiner reports that this past Monday, the state senate passed the bill by a 19-8 vote. Republican State Sen. Steve Southerland, who is an ordained minister, sponsored the bill. He was quoted in the article as saying that he wants to see the bill passed because of the Bible's "great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee as a record of the history of Tennessee families that predates some modern vital statistical records," according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Examiner quotes Republican Senator Kerry Roberts, who said: "The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture."

The ACLU of Tennessee and the state's attorney general oppose the measure, mostly on the grounds that the bill violates the First Amendment, according to the Christian Examiner article, which reports that the Tennessee ACLU Executive Director Hedy Weinberg told The Tennessean newspaper: "Lawmakers' thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions clearly violates both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, as our state attorney general has already pointed out."

Republican Governor Bill Haslam has voiced concerns over the bill - it is unclear whether or not he would sign it.

2 - Canada closes Office of Religious Freedom

Here is some news out of Canada that has gained more widespread attention this week.  The country's Office of Religious Freedom has been shut down, as of March 31st, according to a story on CBNNews.com.  Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had pushed for an office that had the goal of promoting international religious freedom, and it opened in February 2013.

The report says that Canadian conservatives had moved on March 21 to keep the office open, but liberals defeated the motion, 225 to 90. The new administration, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau says it will instead focus on worldwide issues of human rights.  Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said the decision to close the Office does not mean Canada is unsympathetic to religious freedom, according to WORLD News Service, quoted in the CBN piece, which quoted from Katrina Lantos Swett, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who told WORLD News Service, "We now have one less strong partner and one less voice for religious freedom," adding, "This is a very unfortunate message to send out to the rest of the world at this time."

Doug McKenzie, CEO for The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, told CBN News, "I'm very disappointed, and we believed in the Office very much," adding, "We were supportive of it to our constituents and asked people to pray for the Office." McKenzie also said, "We believe there couldn't be a worse time -- that there's a need right now for our nation, and I would say it's probably true of yours -- to be focused on things which are eternal and which take us beyond the temporal and beyond a lot of the tension which has been built up around religious ideologies that are taken to the extreme."

1 - Mississippi governor signs religious freedom legislation

This week, the Republican governor of the state of Mississippi signed the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.  The Baptist Press website had a story on the new legislation, including this from Governor Phil Bryant.  He said in a statement, "I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning," adding, "This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."  The Baptist Press article outlined some of the provisions of the bill - it:

-- Forbids state government from taking "any discriminatory action" against an individual who declines on religious grounds to provide photography, floral arrangements or other wedding services for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

-- Forbids state government discrimination against any person who establishes, on religious grounds, "sex-specific standards or policies" concerning access to restrooms or locker rooms.

-- Permits any person authorized to license or perform marriages to seek recusal from same-sex weddings on religious grounds. At the same time, the bill requires state representatives "to ensure that the performance or solemnization of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal."

-- Forbids state government discrimination against adoption agencies that decline, based on religious convictions, to allow same-sex couples to adopt.

-- Forbids state government discrimination against religious organizations that decline to solemnize same-sex marriages or make employment decisions based on religious beliefs concerning marriage.

The Baptist Press article quotes Roger Severino of The Heritage Foundation, who predicted Mississippi's law will spur other states to adopt similar religious liberty protections.

In a news release, he stated, "The Mississippi law prevents discrimination in a manner that is balanced and clear...which left little room for ideological opponents to make wild hypothetical accusations against the bill as they had done with Indiana's religious freedom proposal last year."

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The 3 - April 3, 2016

This week on my week-in-review feature, The 3, I call attention to a deadly incident in Pakistan, in which Islamic extremists targeted and killed Christians, and they ended up actually killing Muslims, as well.  Also, the bill passed by the North Carolina Legislature that set statewide standards for transgender individuals' use of public restrooms and struck down the city of Charlotte's outrageous action of a few weeks ago has continued to have its detractors, including the state's attorney general, who refuses to defend the bill.  And, religious freedom has been in the news this week, as Georgia's governor vetoed a mild religious freedom bill and Mississippi legislators passed a bill that extended protection to business owners.

3 - Islamic radicals target Christians in Easter Sunday massacre

Over 70 people lost their lives in an Easter Sunday bombing in a park in Lahore, Pakistan.  The Los Angeles Times reports that "Officials raised the death toll in the Sunday evening bombing to 72 people, including at least 25 children. The explosion occurred as the park was packed with families celebrating Easter, among them members of Lahore’s Christian minority, although the vast majority of casualties were Muslims. About 300 more were injured."

The newspaper reports that a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban militant federation claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it targeted Christians, who make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s population of 182 million.  The Times reported that officials said at least 14 Christians were among the dead.

Morning Star News reported that the dead included at least 45 Christians and 25 Muslims, including women and children, according to unofficial reports.

A spokesman for the militant organization, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said a suicide bomber deliberately targeted the Christian community. He is quoted as saying "We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter. He added that the attack had been carried out under an operation code-named Saut Ul Raad (Sound of Lightning), “which will continue throughout this year.”

“It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year,” Ehsan said, adding that “we had been waiting for this occasion … We want to convey to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab and we will reach you.”

Morning Star reported that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “condemned the Easter bombing in the strongest terms and assured justice to the mourning families,” and the country’s powerful army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, ordered intelligence and security services to “arrest the perpetrators of the attack.” However, Islamist extremist groups continued to mock the state’s declarations.

2 - North Carolina governor, lawmakers face corporate backlash for bathroom ordinance, Attorney General refuses to defend the new law

During the final full week of March, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.  It was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, according to a story at WND.com, which reported that the law bans local governments from passing “anti-discrimination” ordinances and requires transgender people to use the public restrooms that align with their biological gender.  The legislation overturns a Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to be free to choose the restroom that they wished.

The Legislature's bill immediately came under fire from LGBT activists, according to WND, and North Carolina’s Democrat attorney general, who is running against McCrory for governor, refused to defend the law against legal challenges from the ACLU and others.  Governor McCrory called the opposition to the new law a “vicious nationwide smear campaign” and rebuked Attorney General Roy Cooper for refusing to defend the law. In a five-minute YouTube video, the governor said that by getting professional sports leagues, the Hollywood film industry and corporate America to line up against the law the political left has been able to turn a common-sense privacy issue into an economic issue.

And, a Christian legal advocacy firm has announced that it would be willing to defend the law.  The article reports that Mat Staver, founder and chair of Liberty Counsel, sent a letter Thursday to North Carolina lawmakers stating that his organization will defend the new North Carolina law free of charge. The ACLU has already sued the state on behalf of two transgender people and a lesbian professor.

1 - Religious freedom bill passes Mississippi Legislature, Georgia governor vetoes religious freedom bill

States are continuing to strengthen religious liberty protections, and the latest is the state of Mississippi, whose Legislature on Friday, according to The Stream, passed a bill that would prohibit the government from punishing businesses, social workers, religious groups and public employees for denying services based on “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” The state's House of Representatives approved the Senate version of the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” by a vote of 69-45.

The report referred to stories from CNN and NBC News.  According to the NBC report, the government would not be permitted to prevent those of faith from, among other things: refusing to marry a same-sex couple, firing an employee whose "conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization," or blocking the adoption of a child because of religious beliefs.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a strong supporter of the bill, is quoted as saying, “In the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, many Mississippians including pastors, wanted protection to exercise their religious liberties,” adding. “This bill simply protects those individuals from government interference when practicing their religious beliefs.” The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the legislation.  But, he did tell WLBT recently he didn’t think the bill was discriminatory.

Meanwhile, the Georgia General Assembly passed a religious discrimination bill that provided protection for pastors and religious organizations from facing punishment for refusing to take part in certain activities that violate their beliefs, such as performing a same-sex wedding ceremony or lease their facilities for such a purpose, without any protection for small business owners who wished to opt out of certain activities.  Another piece published on The Stream, a commentary from Breakpoint, including these comments by John Stonestreet:

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB757, saying the bill “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of our people.” Deal, despite his insistence otherwise, was the latest governor to cave to the well-orchestrated pressure from the NFL, Disney, Salesforce and the LGBT lobby.

That would be disturbing enough if this were the same type of religious freedom bill that caused so much trouble in Arizona and Indiana. But as Ryan Anderson notes at the Daily Signal, this bill offered no protections for florists, photographers, bakers or other wedding-related professionals to live by their religious convictions. This bill would have only protected the freedoms of ministers from officiating same-sex ceremonies, for faith-based organizations from hiring employees whose views undermined their mission, and for protecting churches and their ministries from state government-level discrimination.

Stonestreet observed:

...The Indiana Religious Freedom Act firestorm a year ago showed us that “religious freedom,” an idea as American as baseball and apple pie, was no longer considered to be a cultural “good.” When many, many people in our country hear “religious freedom,” what they really hear is “license to discriminate.”

The Georgia governor’s words and actions this week prove just how far that redefining of religious freedom has gone. Apparently, not even pastors should be able to hold religious convictions that violate the new orthodoxies our culture has embraced.

You can hear my interview with Mike Griffin, Public Affairs Representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, on this legislation and the governor's veto, by clicking here.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The 3 - March 27, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, some good news out of China, it seems, as an attorney involved in defending churches who have had their crosses removed is reportedly out of prison.  Also, religious liberty concerns continue not only in Georgia, but also in North Carolina, where the Legislature struck down Charlotte's so-called "non-discrimination" ordinance and strengthened its laws regarding discrimination.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court was the site of another set of oral arguments related to Obamacare and its requirement for employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient coverage.

3 - China releases attorney who spoke against cross removals

A Chinese attorney who has defended some 100 churches that have been damaged as the result of a a campaign to demolish crosses in the Zhejiang province has been released from jail, according to a Christianity Today story which cited confirmation by the group China Aid.

Zhang Kai was arrested this past August and has written on social media that he has returned to his home in Inner Mongolia, which is an autonomous region of China.  He had been arrested just before a meeting with David Saperstein, who is the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom.

The terms of his release are unclear. He had been sentenced to six months of residential surveillance at a so-called “black jail,” where prisoners are held at a secret location. He had appeared on state television stating a "confession," that many believe was coerced.

2 - GA, NC face threats from gay-friendly corporate interests

The states of Georgia and North Carolina are facing threats from various corporate interests as the result of recently passed legislation that does not conform to the so-called gay agenda.  A bill in Georgia that passed the Legislature offering protection for pastors and certain non-profit organizations from having to perform services that they do not agree with on religious grounds has brought threats and criticism.  The bill has drawn fire from the NFL, as well as the following corporate interests, according to the HollywoodReporter.com: Disney, Netflix, and The Weinstein Company, who have all threatened to boycott Georgia if the bill is signed. Viacom, Time Warner, Fox, Sony, MGM, CBS, and Comcast/NBC Universal, as well as other studios have spoken out against the bill.

But, as a CBN.com article points out, the media has been responsible for incorrectly defining what it calls a "watered down" religious liberty bill.   It reports that, "The bill protects clergy, churches and religious schools but not wedding professionals." It states that Ryan Anderson, with the Heritage Foundation, said the bill would do little to actually further religious liberty rights in Georgia, citing a story on the Daily Signal website. The CBN.com article says that the NFL is warning the measure could hurt Georgia's chances to host an upcoming Super Bowl.

And the HollywoodReporter.com reports on the North Carolina legislation that was passed this week and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, which is, according to the website, is "designed to prevent cities, towns and counties from passing anti-discrimination rules beyond certain standards set by the state."

The bill requires that bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and colleges and in government buildings be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.  The legislation came on the heels of a so-called "non-discrimination" ordinance in Charlotte, about which Lt. Gov. Dan Forest told the website, "It stretched way beyond Charlotte’s legal authority, so we had a special session to deal with this after an outcry of tens of thousands of people across the state telling us to keep our women safe."

1 - U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in contraception mandate challenge

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, Zubik v. Burwell, which is more commonly known as the Little Sisters of the Poor case.  According to a report on the WORLD Magazine website...

... plaintiffs from seven total cases came together to hear arguments in their Supreme Court cases challenging Obamacare’s contraceptive and abortifacient mandate on behalf of religious nonprofit organizations. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the government has the potential to significantly weaken protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which is why even religious groups who don’t object to contraceptive and abortifacient drugs have filed on the nuns’ side. The nonprofit petitioners face millions of dollars in penalties if they do not comply with the mandate.

Emily Belz, who wrote the WORLD article, observed that, "the court seemed headed for a 4-4 tie, given Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong sympathy for the religious objectors." She continued: "A tie would be a sort of victory for the nonprofits because it would not set a national precedent against their conscience rights, but it would affirm the lower court rulings in which all the petitioners here lost."

One of the major issues is the so-called "accommodation" for religious organizations.  According to David French, writing at the National Review website, the "accommodation..."

"...requires the Sisters and other religious employers to comply with the mandate, but allows them to do so by filing a form or writing HHS to inform it “not only of [the employer’s] religious objection, but also of the ‘name and type’ of its plan and ‘the name and contact information for any of the plan’s third party administrators and health insurance issuers. In addition, “the employer also ‘must provide updated information’ to HHS ‘if there is a change in any of th[at] information.’”

Once the form is filed, HHS notifies the employer’s insurer that it is required to provide contraceptive coverage at no charge to the employee. In other words, the form (or letter) triggers the free coverage.

French continues:

HHS still requires the Sisters to participate in the process of providing contraceptives even if that process does not include payment. They’re required to facilitate the provision of abortifacients and other contraceptives by providing the government with ongoing access to updated insurance information. Other religious employers, such as churches, don’t have to participate in the process at all. They don’t file forms. They don’t notify the government. They simply provide health plans in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Belz writes for WORLD that:

The RFRA legal test of the mandate has three components: whether the mandate created a substantial burden on the petitioners’ religious exercise, then whether the government has a compelling interest (i.e., a good reason) for burdening them, then whether the current “accommodation” is the least restrictive means of accomplishing the government’s objective.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The 3 - March 20, 2016

In this edition of my week-in-review feature, The 3, a look at a tragedy involving four Bible translators who were recently murdered in the Middle East.  Also, the Georgia state legislature has approved a religious freedom bill.  And, the U.S. Secretary of State has designated atrocities committed by Islamic State as "genocide."

3 - 4 Bible translators lose their lives in Middle East

Some disturbing news out of the Middle East involves four Bible translators who were part of Wycliffe Associates. Christian Headlines reported this week that militants raided the translators' offices and that two of the translators were shot and killed, while another two died of wounds from being beaten. Those last two managed to protect and save the lead translator by lying on top of him while the militants beat them with their now-empty weapons.

The militants also destroyed translating equipment, including Print on Demand equipment, books, and translation materials. But, Wycliffe says the militants did not destroy the “computer hard drives containing translation work for eight language projects,” and thanked the Lord for that.

The story said that Wycliffe asked for prayer for the families of the slain translators, as well as these areas:

“Will you pray with me for the injured translators? Pray for others to step up and take on the translation task. Please ask the Lord to mend the hearts and wounds of the translation team who have gone through this horrible ordeal. Pray that God will strengthen their minds, their hearts, and their bodies to be able to continue the translation of the gospel for their people."

2 - States pass religious freedom protections

The Georgia Legislature has passed a religious freedom bill, which, while not as strong as some would have hoped, does provide a measure of protection for religious leaders from having to perform services that violate their deeply-held beliefs.  Liberty Counsel reported that the:

...“Free Exercise Protection Act” protects pastors and churches from being forced to perform or provide facilities for same-sex marriage. The bill also provides that faith-based organizations shall not be required to rent, lease, or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for an event which is considered objectionable. The bill further provides that faith-based organizations shall not be required to provide social, educational, or charitable services that violate sincerely held religious beliefs. Faith-based organizations include churches, religious schools, associations or conventions of churches, mission agencies, or integrated auxiliaries.

The bill now goes to the desk of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who had said he won't sign any bill that promotes discrimination. A spokesperson for the governor was asked Wednesday night if the governor would sign the bill in its current form, and the spokesperson said Deal review the legislation next month.  

The business community in Georgia, as well as the governor, has united against religious freedom legislation, including a version of the bill that would have protected businesses against ramifications for acting according to their religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, this past week, Liberty Counsel reported that Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed the “Pastor Protection Act,” into law on Thursday, March 10. This law protects clergy, churches, and religious organizations and their employees from civil action for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

1 - U.S. Secretary of State declares Islamic State activities as genocide

This past week, Secretary of State John Kerry was facing a deadline, imposed by Congress, to declare the activities of Islamic State against religious groups, including Christians, as "genocide." A WORLD Magazine report said that the State Department had issued a statement the day before the deadline that Kerry's decision would be delayed.

However, on Thursday, the day of the deadline, Kerry told reporters that he had completed his review and determined that Christians, Yazidis, and Shiite groups are victims of genocide and crimes against humanity by ISIS militants.

Kerry said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in territory under its control,” He went on outline a number of atrocities that he said the militants have committed against people and religious sites, as well as threats: “Daesh is genocidal by self-acclimation, by ideology, and by practice.”

The U.S. House of Representatives, in a 393-0 vote on Monday, had approved a resolution declaring the activities of Islamic State to be genocide.  Representatives Jeff Fortenberry, Republican from Nebraska and Ann Eshoo, Democrat of California, had introduced it last fall.  After Kerry's announcement, Fortenberry said, "The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority,” adding that he now hopes the genocide designation “will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The 3 - March 13, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there has been some activity this week concerning defining activities carried out by Islamic State as genocide.  Also, another state has approved a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.  And, religious freedom is getting an airing in statehouses, including Missouri and Georgia.

3 - New report calls on officials to label ISIS activity as "genocide"

A new report was introduced this week that provides evidence of activity carried out by Islamic State in the Middle East, co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic society, and In Defense of Christians, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Christianity in the Middle East. According to a report on The Stream website, Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, said: "The evidence contained in this report as well as the evidence relied upon by the European Parliament fully support—and I suggest to you compel—the conclusion that reasonable grounds exist to believe the crime of genocide has been committed against Christians in the region."

The 278-page report includes a legal brief, 44 Iraqi witness statements, and lists of crimes against Christians, Christians that were murdered, and churches that were attacked, as well as other supplementary materials. The story points out that over 200 House lawmakers have voiced their support of a declaration of genocide against ISIS for its treatment of Christians and other religious minorities through House Concurrent Resolution 75.

The resolution was introduced in September by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, and Democrat Representative Anna Eshoo of California, and defines targeted “atrocities” against Christians and other religious minorities as “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” and “genocide.” The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the resolution on March 2.

A letter was sent earlier this week to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry from an attorney on behalf of The Philos Project, the American Mesopotamian Organization, the Assyrian Aid Society of America and the Iraqi Christian Relief Council regarding "the genocide being perpetrated against Christians in Islamic State-controlled territory."  According to the Iraqi Christian Relief Council website, "Kerry and the State Department were asked to carefully consider this letter as they anticipate making an imminent decision regarding the question of whether Christians are, along with Yazidis, victims of genocide. This letter has also been sent to the appropriate offices at the White House."  In the Executive Summary of the letter, it states:

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”) prohibits the intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic or religious group by, inter alia, killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, or deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.

Publicly available information strongly suggests that ISIS is subjecting Assyrian and other Iraqi and Syrian Christians living in areas under the control of ISIS to genocidal conditions.

2 - South Dakota governor signs late-term abortion bill

Another state has passed legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks. LifeNews.com reports
that South Dakota has become the latest state to, "protect unborn babies from painful, late-term abortions."

On Thursday, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks and penalize doctors who do late-term abortions in non-emergency situations, according to a report in the Argus Leader referenced by the website.  Penalties for violations of the law include up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine, according to the report. The only exceptions would be in certain medical emergency cases, the report states.  It points out that the bill is modeled after the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which had become law in 12 states, now 13.

Live Action News referenced a recent Montgomery Advertiser story that reported that this past Wednesday, an Alabama Senate Committee voted 7-1 to approve a bill that would ban abortion after fetal heartbeat.

The bill would make it a felony for a doctor to abort a baby whose heartbeat had been detected. Exceptions are made for cases in which the mother’s life is in danger, cases of ectopic pregnancy, and cases of lethal anomaly in the fetus.

And, in Oklahoma, according to ChristianNews.net, a bill has introduced that would add killing an unborn child to existing murder statutes.  It reads, "No person shall perform or induce or attempt to perform or induce an abortion after conception,” adding, “A person commits murder in the first degree when that person performs an abortion as defined by Section 1-745.5 of Title 63 of the Oklahoma Statutes.”

The website says that the effort to pass such a bill is said to be the result of a petition signed by over 30,000 Oklahoma residents, calling for lawmakers to immediately present legislation that would completely end abortion in the state. It was to have been heard in the Senate Tuesday following its recent passage out of the Health and Human Services Committee, but was stalled by Republican leadership.


1 - States grapple with religious freedom bills (GA, MO)

This past week in Missouri, a resolution was passed by the state Senate March 9 and is now headed to the state's House of Representatives, according to a report on the Baptist Press website.

After a 39-hour filibuster of Senate Joint Resolution 39 (SJR 39), also called the Missouri Religious Freedom Amendment, SJR 39 was approved 23-9.  If resolution passes in the House, it goes to a referendum this fall, in which voters determine whether or not it will be added to the state constitution.  The resolution's legislative process does not require the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon.

Drafters of SJR 39 insist that the amendment "is a shield, not a sword" -- intended not to attack any group of people, but simply to provide religious liberty protections for people of any faith following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage last summer.  SJR 39 would protect the religious liberty of pastors, churches and other religious organizations as well as business people who use their creative abilities within the wedding industry.

In Georgia, there have been bills introduced to prevent people of faith from facing repercussions as the result of acting on their deeply held religious beliefs. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Senate Bill 129) and the Pastor Protection Act or First Amendment Defense Act (House Bill 757) are two pieces of legislation pending in the General Assembly. According to the Neighbor Newspapers website, The Atlanta City Council Monday by a 13-0 vote approved a resolution by members Mary Norwood and Alex Wan expressing its opposition to the bills.

According to a piece by Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Convention, writing on The Christian Index website in a piece dated March 4:

The most significant piece of legislation so far has been the Pastor Protection Act (HB 757) that passed out of the Senate with an amendment that will protect individuals (ex. counselors), churches, private schools, private colleges, adoption agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses from adverse government action because of their beliefs on marriage. This bill, having already passed from the House without this amendment, now has to be voted on again with the Senate’s amendment.

Griffin goes on to describe how important it is for the House to retain the amended language, rather than having the bill go to a conference committee.  He says:

The LGBT activists, the Chamber of Commerce, and media are promoting only pastors, churches, and faith-based nonprofits. They overwhelmingly asked the legislature and the governor to not protect the business community from public accommodation laws, which will force these businesses to promote, support, and participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Neighbor Newspapers reports that on March 2, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, a bipartisan grassroots campaign that is "dedicated to protecting GLBT Georgians from discrimination" delivered a petition with over 75,000 signatures "opposing any efforts to enshrine discrimination in Georgia law to Gov. Nathan Deal, who recently came out against the proposal as well."

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The 3 - March 6, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there are several broad topic areas that have a number of developments.  For instance, there is much from the Presidential race: Super Tuesday results, another GOP debate, and the departure of a high-profile candidate who had appeal to people of faith.  Another story involves Christians who are facing opposition for their devotion to deeply-held business principles.  But, our top story comes from the U.S. Supreme Court, where a major Texas abortion clinic case is in the spotlight.

3 - Carson exits Presidential race, announces next chapter

This was a key week in the Presidential race, especially related to Christians.  First of all, it was Super Tuesday, which featured contests in a dozen states.  And, the headlines revealed that Hillary Clinton on the Democrat side and Donald Trump in the Republican primaries were apparently the big winners.

And, there was a faith component at play in the Republican primary that bears watching.  According to David Brody of CBN News:

Winning in the South has always been important to the fortunes of a GOP presidential candidate so Trump’s victories in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Virginia are significant. But it’s even more noteworthy because he did it by securing the evangelical vote yet again, just like he did in South Carolina. Exit polls show that he’s doing it by appealing to middle class, blue-collar evangelicals who love their country and love God. In essence, many of them are former Reagan Democrats. They’re conservative but aren’t necessarily folks who always toe the GOP line. The fact that a billionaire like Trump can appeal to the, “regular guy” is an intangible that every candidate would love to have. Trump has it in spades.

Trump won 7 states and Ted Cruz won 3.  Brody writes:

Winning your home state of Texas, neighboring Oklahoma and remote Alaska doesn’t constitute a big night, especially considering you’re the “evangelical candidate” competing in evangelical-rich states. The exit polls showed that Cruz won the evangelical vote in Texas and Oklahoma. When he does that, he wins states, plain and simple. It happened in Iowa too.

There was also a GOP debate this week.  While much of the reporting focused on the cage match between Trump and Rubio, with some assistance from Cruz, there were some moments regarding the issue of gay marriage.  Former TX Solicitor General Cruz minced no words in declaring his opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling, responding to a question on gay adoption. According to The Christian Post, he said: "Well, listen, adoption is decided at the state level and I am a believer in the 10th Amendment in the Constitution, I would leave the question of marriage to the states, I would leave the question of adoption to the states...,"(quoted from the transcript on the Washington Post website.)  He continued, "That's the way it has been for two centuries of our nation's history until five unelected judges in an illegitimate and wrong decision decided to seize the authority over marriage and wrongfully tear down the marriage laws of all 50 states."

The Christian Post story said:

Cruz's position on gay adoption was part of the "social issues" segment of the two-hour long debate, which touched upon religious liberty and Second Amendment issues.

During that segment Kasich, who in a previous debate advocated for businesses being compelled to service gay weddings, appeared to sidestep from his position, arguing he would prefer for gay couples to simply not sue Christian busisness owners in the first place.

"If you go to a photographer to take pictures at your wedding, and he says, I'd rather not do it, find another photographer, don't sue them in court. You know what, the problem is in our country — in our country, we need to learn to respect each other and be a little bit more tolerant for one another," stated Kasich.

And, this past week, Dr. Ben Carson announced that he was putting his campaign on pause and pulled out of the Thursday night Detroit debate. On Friday, he was in Washington announcing his next endeavor.  The Stream reports that Carson announced he is the new national chairman of My Faith Votes, which is a nonpartisan organization focused on getting Christian voters to the polls. He also announced at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference being held this week) that he is officially ending his bid for the White House.

In a statement, the renowned neurosurgeon, who is respected by a number of Christians, said, "Christians in this country can easily determine the next president of the United States and all other national and local leaders, should they simply show up at the polls,” adding, “When we do vote, We The People will once again solidify our commitment to the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded.”

2 - Businesses who choose not to provide products for gay weddings advance; Texas couple facing opposition 

The case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, who were fined $135,000 for declining to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony, continues to advance, and it was announced recently that First Liberty Institute will be taking up their case.  Now, First Liberty (formerly Liberty Institute) has published a story about a bakery in Texas that is facing hostile treatment for their stance of gay marriage.

The Gospel Herald reports that the Kleins are scheduled to have their day in court before the Oregon Court of Appeals. Legal briefs are expected to be filed throughout the year, and oral argument will take place in late 2016.

The First Liberty website tells about David and Edie Delorme, owners of Kern’s Bake Shop in Longview, Texas. They are Christians, and in the past they have consistently refused to bake alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or risqué-themed cakes. When two men requested a cake for their same-sex wedding, Edie politely informed them that Kern’s Bake Shop did not make same-sex wedding cakes, and offered to provide a list of other bakeries in Longview that could fulfill the couple’s request.

Unfortunately, the incident soon appeared in a local newspaper, igniting a firestorm of hostility and even death threats toward the Delormes, their family, and their business from places as far away as New York and California.

The case of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington state who would not provide flowers for a gay marriage ceremony, is also moving forward. The Washington Supreme Court has agreed to hear her case, according to a story on The Washington Times website.

The article quotes Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kristen Waggoner, who said that Ms. Stutzman "and many others like her around the country have been willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages."  She added, "We hope the Washington Supreme Court will affirm the broad protections that both the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution afford to freedom of speech and conscience," Ms. Waggoner said.

1 - Supreme Court hears arguments on abortion clinic case

The U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments on a key Texas law requiring stricter standards for abortion clinics operating in the state and admitting privileges for abortion doctors at local hospitals. This case was being argued in the aftermath of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.  An article from Religion News Service on the ChristianHeadlines.com website described some of the proceedings before the high court.

According to the story:

“Would it be a) proper and b) helpful for this court to remand for further findings on clinic capacity?” Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Stephanie Toti, the lawyer representing Whole Woman’s Health and other Texas clinics.

While such a move might be viewed by many as punting on a major issue that’s taken years to work its way through lower courts, justices often are dissatisfied with trial records. Kennedy and Justice Stephen Breyer, perhaps the two most frequent swing votes, are the main advocates of do-overs. Chief Justice John Roberts often seeks the path of least resistance.

The article pointed out that the court’s four liberal justices challenged the purpose of the law. Kennedy noted a potential “capacity problem.” He noted that fewer Texas women are using medications to induce abortions, while more are getting surgical procedures. “This may not be medically wise,” Kennedy said.
 
Justice Samuel Alito said states should be able to set extremely high standards for abortion care as long as they don’t pose an undue burden, but Kennedy said that test needed to be “weighed against what the state’s interest is.”

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The 3 - February 28, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, there was news out of Charlotte, where the City Council approved an ordinance granting special status based on sexual orientation and gender identity.   Also, there is good news about the number of abortion clinics that have closed in the past 5 years, according to a report released this week.  And, religious broadcasters and media professionals met together in Nashville this past week at the NRB International Christian Media Convention.

3 - Following Jacksonville's rejection of LGBT ordinance, Charlotte city council approves similar law

After three hours of testimony by 140 citizens opposing a so-called "non-discrimination ordinance" in Charlotte, NC, and in light of over 21,000 area residents signing a petition against it, the City Council voted 7-4 for the proposed expansion of the city ordinance, according to ChristianNews.net.  The ordinance will now have additional provisions for homosexuals and those who identify as the opposite sex, according to the website.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts stated: “I’m pleased that Charlotte has sent a signal that we will treat people with dignity and respect, even when we disagree."

However, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory had already warned that state legislators will likely move to overturn the law.  From an e-mail the Sunday before the vote, he is quoted as saying: “[T]his action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate state legislative intervention which I would support as governor.”

House Speaker Tim Moore told the Charlotte Observer on Tuesday: “The Charlotte City Council has gone against all common sense and has created a major public safety issue by opening all bathrooms and changing rooms to the general public,” adding, “This ordinance is impossible to regulate as intended, and creates undue regulatory burdens on private businesses. I join my conservative colleagues and Gov. McCrory in exploring legislative intervention.”

The previous week, according to the Liberty Counsel website, the Jacksonville, Florida City Council voted to withdraw two bills which would have added the new categories of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" to Jacksonville’s longstanding nondiscrimination ordinance.

2 - New report shows abortion clinics closing at a relatively rapid rate

This week, a story was released on the Bloomberg website that shows that a significant number of abortion clinics have closed over the past five years.  Business Insider, reporting on the Bloomberg study, stated that 162 abortion providers have closed their doors and only 21 have opened. Furthermore, in this same period, states have passed more than 200 new abortion restrictions – more than the previous 10 years combined, according to a 2014 report from the Guttmacher Institute, which is described as a reproductive health research institute.

The article referred to the upcoming case before the U.S. Supreme Court, about which oral arguments are scheduled to be held this week, involving a Texas law that strengthened regulations for abortion providers.  The Business Insider story referred to such laws as "TRAP" laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws. The story asks the question, "So are TRAP laws responsible for the plunging number of abortions?" The response:

Not necessarily. Almost 40 of the 162 providers, or roughly 25 percent of all closed clinics, shut down due to business or financial reasons. In other words, the demand just wasn’t there.

The story quotes an Associated Press survey released last year, showing that the number of abortions performed has decreased by 12 percent nationwide since 2010.  The Business Insider story says: "This drastic decrease is easily explainable, say abortion rights activists: women are deterred from receiving an abortion if they have to pay too much or drive too far to a clinic. Thus, the more TRAP laws, the fewer abortions."  But the story adds: "...a closer examination of the data paints a more nuanced picture."

Could it be that solid information given to abortion-minded women and overall strong pro-life trends in the culture are contributing to a lessened "demand" for abortions?   So, it's not as much of a matter of access as it is a desire to terminate the life of a pre-born child.  Some interesting trends, indeed.

1 - Religious broadcasters convene in Nashville

This past week, thousands of representatives of Christian media organizations converged at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville for the National Religious Broadcasters International Christian Media Convention.  Faith Radio was well-represented at the event, which featured a number of different components.

Sessions. There were a number of general sessions, as well as smaller, topic-focused meetings designed to give information on a variety of concerns, ranging from broadcast regulations to public policy.  General sessions featured an impressive list of speakers, including Rick Warren, Roma Downey, H.B. Charles, Jr., and NRB President and CEO Jerry Johnson.

There were a variety of other special events, including dinners featuring the Green family of Hobby Lobby and Museum of the Bible, and the closing event with Anne Graham Lotz.  Two Presidential candidates, Dr. Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, responded to invitations issued to all candidates to be part of a Q&A session at NRB.

Summits.  Again this year, NRB featured a series of summits that were specific to various forms of media, including radio, television, and church media.  The convention opened with the Digital Media Summit, teaching Christians involved in media how to better use technology, including social media.

Conversations.  NRB is a wonderful gathering place, and Faith Radio and The Meeting House recorded conversations in the exhibit hall, where our broadcast center was set up, as well as in the NRB Media Center.  Interviews were held with the Benham Brothers, Dr. Tony Evans, Ken Ham, June Hunt, Dr. Satish Kumar (pastor of the largest church in India), Joni Eareckson Tada, and many more.

Networking.  The National Religious Broadcasters convention is a place to fellowship with like-minded believers and to learn about how God is at work through a variety of ministries.  Faith Radio sees a tremendous benefit in attending and relating content generated at the annual NRB event.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The 3 - February 21, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, another state legislature and governor has decided to strip taxpayer funds from the nation's largest abortion provider.  Also, over four thousand churches were anticipated to sing a reimagined hymn during Sunday services this weekend.  Plus, a funeral service for a Supreme Court justice took place amidst a debate about who his successor might be, his or her judicial philosophy, and whether or not a successor would have a chance at confirmation.

3 - Planned Parenthood funding in Wisconsin halted by governor

Wisconsin lawmakers had passed two measures aimed at reducing taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, and those two bills were signed into law by Governor Scott Walker this week.

According to WORLD, those two bills are:

AB 310, which mandates state funds designated for family planning and health services go only to centers that do not provide abortions, make referrals for abortions, or have affiliates that provide or make referrals for abortions.

SB 238 will cut another $4.5 million from Planned Parenthood’s bottom line by requiring billing for prescription drugs to be for the actual acquisition costs and dispensing fees.

WORLD says that the two measures are designed to eliminate a total of $8 million in taxpayer funds from going to Planned Parenthood.   The article states that governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah have signed bills over the past six months defunding Planned Parenthood in their states.

And, on Sunday, the Alliance Defending Freedom reported that Republican presidential contender Gov. John Kasich, governor of Ohio, has signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in that state.

As WORLD points out, though, unfortunately, when challenged in court, in most of those cases, Planned Parenthood has won and received at least temporary relief.

2 - Thousands of churches sing Gettys' evangelistic hymn

A remarkable worldwide event took place in churches around the world over the weekend, as over 4,600 churches had signed up, indicating that they were planning to sing the new hymn from Keith and Kristyn Getty, Facing a Task Unfinished.  That is according to the Gettys' Twitter feed,   One Tweet, from the partnering missions organization, OMF International, said that 100 countries were involved.

According to their Twitter feed, the Gettys were in Southern California singing the hymn, at Grace Community Church, where Dr. John MacArthur is the pastor.  The event was live-streamed.

Christianity Today provided a story about the hymn.  It reported that in 1920, missionary Frank Houghton travelled east with China Inland Mission, now OMF International.  Almost 10 years later, the missions agency issued a call for 200 missionaries to minister in China - the song aided the ministry in recruiting its 200 missionaires. OMF International asked the Gettys to update the hymn as part of the organization's 150th anniversary.

1 - Funeral held for Supreme Court Justice Scalia; ideological balance of the court at stake

The religious faith of Antonin Scalia was honored and emphasized at a Washington funeral service on Saturday at the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.   Religion News Service featured a story on the event.  It said that the former Supreme Court justice's body, laying in a casket covered by a white-and-gold pall, led a procession to the altar with his family during the opening hymn of “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”

His son, the Rev. Paul Scalia, was one of the speakers.  He is quoted as saying: “We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known by man for great controversy, and for great compassion," adding, "That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”

The report said:

...Scalia spoke of his father’s legacy — as a man of faith, if not the law — but also of his uncompromising temperament that became an essential part of his public image.

The story also related:

Justice Clarence Thomas, Scalia’s closest ally on the bench, and Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society, read the scripture passages at the liturgy.

A separate, more secular memorial service for family and friends will be held March 1 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the Scalia family said Saturday (Feb. 20).

Thousands of Scalia’s devoted fans — his expansive family, current and former Supreme Court justices, nearly 100 former law clerks and guests, including Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill — filled the romanesque-style church for the funeral Mass on a cloudy, breezy, warm winter day.

The article also reported that on Friday, more than 6,000 people paid their respects as Scalia’s body lay in repose at the Great Hall of the Supreme Court. President Obama paid his respects on Friday and was later seen carrying a binder with information about potential nominees for weekend reading.

No doubt the President will be submitting a Supreme Court nominee to Congress to replace Scalia. There had been initial indications that Republicans in the Senate would block any nominee.  The likelihood of a liberal jurist who would be ideologically aligned with the President receiving the nod by the Senate is not particularly strong, with Republicans holding the majority in the upper chamber. The addition of another liberal judge would create a solid majority of those with a liberal judicial philosophy, with five justices, as opposed to three conservatives and then justice Kennedy, long regarded as a swing vote.

Regarding Scalia's philosophy on the bench, the RNS story added:

His defense of originalism (that is, reading the Constitution literally, not expansively) and textualism (reading government statutes the same way) changed the way cases were debated and, in some cases at least, won or lost.

The 79-year-old justice also will be remembered as one of the most gifted writers in the court’s history and a fierce debater from the bench who changed the nature of oral arguments. His many lectures, speeches and interviews helped to educate and energize younger generations of conservative legal thinkers who will carry on his legacy.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The 3 - February 14, 2016

As I begin this edition of The 3, I do want to say a word about the death of U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who died in his sleep over the weekend.   There are two elements that I will be exploring here in the week to come:

1) the incredible legacy of this man, a man who held to conviction, shaped by his faith, and to the Constitution, which he held in high regard, and

2) what happens next - President Obama has already indicated that he would be appointing a nominee, and the Senate would be then charged with confirming that nomination.   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already says that the next President should make the selection.

Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel said this: “Our prayers are with the family of Justice Scalia..." He added:

“With the passing of Justice Scalia, the future of the High Court and the future of America is hanging in the balance. The Senate must not confirm any nominee to the Supreme Court from President Obama. The Senate must hold off any confirmation until the next President is seated. Unfortunately the presidential debates have been more theater and less substance about the real issues surrounding the Supreme Court. The election of the next President has now taken on even greater importance. The future of the Supreme Court and America now depends on the Senate blocking any nominee by President Obama and the people electing the right person to occupy the White House."

In this week's installment, there are new developments concerning the Wheaton College professor who said Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Also, a major Christian evangelist stepped in to play a key role in ending the standoff in Oregon.  And, the news emerged that a major Christian pastor in China has been arrested, presumably for speaking out on the removal of crosses from church buildings.

3 - Wheaton College, professor agree to separate, scholarship established in professor's name

The professor at Wheaton College in Illinois who had ignited a controversy over her contention that Christians and Muslims worship the same God has reached a settlement under which she would leave the university, according to a report on the ChristianHeadlines.com website from the WORLD News Service.  Leaders at the school this week announced at a news conference that an endowed scholarship, named for professor Larycia Hawkins, will be established for interns working on peace and conflict projects.

University president Phillip Ryken, noting that Wheaton and Hawkins are moving forward in "genuine" friendship, said: “We want to learn everything that we can from this situation,” adding, "We hope to become a better, stronger community with a shared understanding of academic freedom in the context of Christian convictions.”

On Feb. 6, the day that the agreement was announced, Ryken said he had asked the school’s board of trustees to conduct a review of the process for addressing faculty and personnel issues in the future, especially when it comes to possible violations of the school’s statement of faith.

2 - Franklin Graham plays role in ending Oregon standoff

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that, "Blessed are the peacemakers."  This week, Franklin Graham put that into practice in attempting to resolve the standoff at an Oregon federal wildlife refuge. Religion News Service reports that Mr. Graham played a role in the negotiations with the final four protestors who were challenging federal land-use policies.

On his Facebook page, Graham wrote:

This is a complicated controversy with the government that has roots going back many years. Praying that now their grievances will be heard and addressed through the right channels. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the law enforcement–FBI, State Police, Sheriff's Department, and other agencies for all they have done.

He also wrote on Facebook that:

I had been asked by the FBI to help in the negotiation process and had been talking with the hold-outs by phone every day for about a week, encouraging them to do the right thing. We continually pleaded with them to just listen and do what they were told. At the end of the day, I can’t tell you how thankful I was that Jeff Banta, Sean and Sandy Anderson, and David Fry did just that and came out safely. They did the right thing by surrendering and coming out with their hands up. We’ve seen too many unnecessary shootings in this country. I believe that some of these, though not all, could be avoided if people would only listen and obey law enforcement.

He had also posted that he had been on the phone with the protesters for several hours on Wednesday night and was able to have prayer with them.  They said that they would come out the following day, which did happen.

Also, this week, Franklin Graham was involved in 2 Decision America prayer meetings at state capitols in Georgia and South Carolina.  BillyGraham.org reports that almost 14,000 people came out to the two meetings.   Graham is planning to visit all 50 states, and he will be in Alabama on April 14.

1 - Chinese megachurch pastor faces charges, another Christian pastor released

The news emerged this week that the pastor of China's largest government-sanctioned church has been removed from his post.  The China Aid website posted a report from the Guardian, reporting that authorities in Zhejiang province arrested the Rev. Gu Yuese on February 6, according to government documents. He had been detained in late January, accused of embezzling funds. The pastor's supporters said that the government had arrested him on trumped-up charges and was punishing him for publicly opposing the removal of church crucifixes. Authorities have taken down hundreds of crosses in Zheijiang, a province on the east coast often described as China’s bible belt.

China Aid director Bob Fu was quoted in the piece, saying: "They want to send a message that if you show disloyalty to the party’s religious policy, this is what is going to happen." Fu claimed that the arrest was a violation of religious freedom and rule of law.

Worthy News reports that Chinese authorities have again resumed removing crosses from churches in Zhejiang province. The report says that:

According to ucanews, in addition to the more than 1,500 crosses removed from Protestant and Catholic churches in Zhejiang since the end of 2013, 13 more crosses were forcefully removed last week. To facilitate these removals, the Communist government has tried to stop congregations from even discussing its anti-cross campaign during Mass.
This refers to a time period during the first week of February.

There is some good news regarding a Chinese pastor.  Christianity Daily reported that a Chinese pastor who was arrested for protesting against removal of crosses in Zhejiang province has been released from 'black jail', according to China Aid. Pastor Huang Yizi had organized a prayer vigil against demolitions of crosses in China's eastern province. He was denied access to a lawyer, but was allowed to return home last week after about five months behind the bars.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The 3 - February 7, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, I relate news about more violence in Nigeria at the hands of terrorists there.  Also, the Iowa caucuses have come and gone, and the evangelical vote was key on the GOP side.  Plus, the President spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast this week, the day after he spoke at a mosque.

3 - Reports emerge of brutality toward children in Nigerian village

The brutality of the terrorist organization Boko Haram in Nigeria was on display just over a week ago, according to WORLD Magazine, which reported that even children were burned alive in an attack.  Boko Haram, in fact, had spent four days last week brutalizing villages across northern Nigeria. The article says that by last Sunday afternoon,  Nigerian workers had collected 86 bodies from Dalori village, which is around three miles from the city of Maiduguri.  Boko Haram terrorists had invaded the Muslim village on Saturday night, throwing firebombs into homes and gunning down fleeing victims.

These attacks came just three days after suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly entered the Christian village of Chibok, disguised as women carrying babies on their backs. The terrorists carried bombs and set off multiple explosions that killed 18 people in the village, from which terrorists kidnapped some 200 girls from a school there nearly two years ago.

WORLD reports that the Nigerian military has made Maiduguri its headquarters for fighting Boko Haram, but soldiers initially couldn’t thwart the assault on the nearby villages. The article points out that the attacks "underscored Boko Haram's ongoing vendetta against Muslims who don’t embrace the group’s deadly agenda."

2 - Evangelical vote is critical in Iowa caucuses

The Iowa caucuses are now history, and even though he was trailing Donald Trump in polls leading up to the event, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, with Trump in second and a surging Sen. Marco Rubio in third.

There were two pieces of data in the entrance polls that can illustrate what helped Cruz to win. According to a piece at the National Review website that cited the data, from Edison Research, caucus-goers were asked: What quality is most important to you in a candidate? Respondents had options — “Can win in November,” “Shares my values,” “Tells it like it is,” and “Can bring needed change.” 42 percent said, "Shares my values.” Ted Cruz won 38 percent of those voters, followed by Marco Rubio at 21 percent, Ben Carson at 15 percent, and Rand Paul at 7 percent.

With regard to evangelical turnout, the National Review piece stated that the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics survey before the caucuses projected that just 47 percent of GOP participants would be Evangelical. But, the entrance polls showed that 62 percent of Republican caucus-goers considered themselves Evangelical or born-again Christians, compared to just 38 percent who didn’t — that was a net increase of eight points from 2012. Among that group, Cruz won easily, earning 33 percent of the vote while Trump and Rubio took 21 percent apiece.

1 - President visits mosque; speaks at National Prayer Breakfast

Just a day after addressing Muslim-Americans at a controversial mosque in Baltimore, President Obama took the stage at the National Prayer Breakfast and offered a message about fear, saying, according to a report on the Christian Examiner website: "Like every president, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear, but my faith tells me that I need not fear death – that the acceptance of Christ promises everlasting life and the washing away of sins."

The President said that he has spent time over the past year reflecting on 2 Timothy 1:7.  That Scripture says that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.

The Christian Examiner points out that:

The president's address to the gathering this year took on a decidedly Christian tone compared to previous years, and especially to last year when he focused on the suffering caused by the Catholic Church during the Crusades. His mention of the centuries old crusades and failure to mention the rise of radical Islamism (ISIS and Al Qaeda) was widely criticized as both pandering to the Muslim community and patronizing to the Christian community.

The President also devoted a portion of his address to Christian persecution in the Middle East, saying that Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has now been released and is back home, had been imprisoned by Iran "for no other crime than holding God in his heart."

The day before the prayer breakfast, the President addressed the Islamic Society of Baltimore and, according to the article, called for greater acceptance and dialogue between Muslims and Christians. In that address, he said religious liberty guarantees Muslims the right to practice their faith, but he also called for the Muslim community to distance itself from Islamic extremism.

WorldNetDaily had reported that the mosque was affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America, which, according to the  report, was started by members of the international Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s. The Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is banned in many countries as an extremist organization.  Investigative Project on Terrorism founder and executive director Steve Emerson told WND his organization was told by FBI sources that Obama was presented the evidence against the Islamic Society of Baltimore.