Sunday, November 19, 2017

The 3 - November 19, 2017

In this edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is new from Capitol Hill on tax reform, which includes some features for which Christian leaders have been advocating.  Also, an Air Force colonel has been disciplined for his refusal to recognize same-sex marriage.  And, a large museum devoted to the Bible has opened in the nation's capital.

3 - Tax reform passes House, includes free speech for pastors, adoption tax credits, fewer deductions

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of tax reform legislation.  The Family Research Council reported:
By a vote of 227-205, Republicans tried to give Americans something else to be grateful for next week: fuller wallets and freer speech. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (which included everything from a rollback of the Johnson Amendment to a boost in the child tax credit) survived, despite the unanimous opposition from Democrats and more than a dozen Republican "nays."
The Alliance Defending Freedom, on its website, commended lawmakers on providing for free speech rights for pastors.

Its site says that the bill "includes language from the Free Speech Fairness Act, which, if signed into law, would prevent the Internal Revenue Service from investigating and penalizing churches simply for what a pastor says from the pulpit..."  Legal Counsel Christina Holcomb is quoted as saying: “America’s pastors don’t need a federal tax agency to police their sermons, and so we commend those in the House who supported free speech fairness language in the amended tax bill."

But, there are concerns, most notably the reduction in opportunities for itemizing deductions.  The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability states on its website, as of November 13:
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill currently call for a near-doubling of the standard deduction, a change that studies show could reduce charitable giving to nonprofit organizations by billions each year.
That is according to an Indiana University study.  The ECFA website also says:
An important amendment has been proposed by Senators Wyden and Stabenow that would offset some of this impact by creating a “universal” charitable deduction (available to all taxpayers, regardless of whether they itemize) subject to some limitations. 
FRC is also concerned, stating: "Experts think charitable giving could take a substantial dip under the new structure of the standard deduction, which could reduce the services and benefits nonprofit organizations provide to communities."  The piece says that the percent of filers who itemize could drop from 30 to 5 percent.  FRC cites Rep. Mark Walker and Sen. James Lankford who are also supporting the universal deduction.  This indicates bi-partisan support for such a provision.

2 - Air Force colonel receives discipline for not supporting gay marriage

A highly regarded colonel in the U.S. Air Force has been suspended and has a recommendation has been issued that he not be promoted; this comes as the result of his opposition to same-sex marriage, according ToddStarnes.com.  The site's report said:
Col. Leland Bohannon, an experienced combat pilot, was suspended from command and orders were handed down recommending he not be promoted after he refused to publicly affirm the same-sex spouse of a retiring subordinate.

Bohannon, who was on the verge of being promoted to a one-star general, was punished after the subordinate filed a formal Equal Opportunity complaint which was later substantiated by investigators.
Starnes wrote:
Last May the colonel declined to sign a certificate of spouse appreciation for a retiring master sergeant’s same-sex spouse. Instead, he asked a higher ranking military leader to sign the customary document.
Mike Berry of First Liberty Institute said that Bohannon would likely retire as a colonel, not a general, and stated: "The military is no longer a place of diversity and inclusion if you are a person who holds to a traditional belief in marriage..."

Starnes reports that "at least eight U.S. senators" signed a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force urging her to intervene.  They wrote, "Col. Bohannon recognized the moral and legal dilemma this situation presented, and to his credit, sought to carve out a solution that would affirm the contribution made by the retiring officer’s same-sex partner while at the same time allowing the colonel to abide by his religious convictions..." 

1 - Museum of the Bible opens in Washington, DC

The eight-story, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC opened to the public on Saturday after dedication ceremonies on Friday, according to the Religion News Service website, which reported that:
With Scripture readings, a tribute to God and a sigh of relief, an international array of officials opened the Museum of the Bible in the nation’s capital.
“We want to just take a moment and stop and celebrate and rejoice that this dream is coming true,” said museum co-founder Steve Green, who exhaled audibly before speaking Friday (Nov. 17) to more than 400 people in the new museum’s World Stage Theater.
Green, whose family owns the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, stated: "This is a dream of millions all over the world that love this book, that use it as a guide for their life, and we just want to take some time and celebrate and dedicate this space to our God.”

Dignitaries from a variety of faith backgrounds attended the dedication.  The report said that HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Sen. James Lankford were in attendance, "where they were greeted by Navy Chief of Chaplains Margaret Kibben and Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of the Jewish Federations of North America and serenaded by Grammy-winning artist CeCe Winans singing 'Amazing Grace.'"

According to the report, the museum is located just two blocks from the National Mall, and the "museum joins august edifices celebrating the nation’s civic history as it displays floors on the impact, history and narrative of the Bible. Speakers from near and far applauded such a placement for such a museum."

In a Breakpoint commentary, Eric Metaxas said...
...here’s what physician, social reformer, and signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush said: “The Bible contains more truths than any other book in the world.”
Of course, many in our postmodern world don’t believe that and dismiss the Bible out of hand—but maybe that’s partly because they’ve never had the opportunity to engage with it. Museum of the Bible gives them that opportunity, not by cramming “religion” down someone’s throat, but by presenting the Bible as the best-selling, most debated, most influential book of all time. Back in the day, you weren’t considered educated if you didn’t know the Bible. It’s still true today, and Museum of the Bible will step in to fill that knowledge gap for Christians and non-Christians alike.
He went on to say, "The Bible is the most influential, beloved, and profound book in the world, and I’m grateful for a gleaming new museum fit to tell its world-changing story today."

On the National Religious Broadcasters website, you can see this quote from NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, who visited the facility a number of times during its construction: “Museum of the Bible is an awe-inspiring museum showcasing an even more awe-inspiring book – the world’s most widely-read and impactful book, in fact..." He added, "Like countless others, I am excited about its opening and strongly encourage all believers to plan their visit. The Bible will come to life in an exciting, new way.”

At the Meeting House, you can hear my conversations with Cary Summers, President of Museum of the Bible and Tony Zeiss, its Executive Director.  You can also connect to a 2015 conversation with Museum Chairman Steve Green.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The 3 - November 12, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, including a story out of a California university, where a victory for free speech has occurred.  Also, there is good news out of Congress, as lawmakers in both chambers have restored the tax credit for adoptive families.  And, one week after the tragic shooting in a Texas church, worshippers gathered at the site this weekend, and earlier in the week, Vice-President Pence attended a memorial service.

3 - Free speech upheld at Fresno State

There has been a recent victory in the battle over free speech at Fresno State University in California.  According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the conflict stemmed from an incident last April. Fresno State Students for Life had, according to the ADF website, "received permission to chalk positive, life-affirming messages on the sidewalks leading to the university’s library." On the morning of May 2, as the pro-lifers finished up in "chalking these messages," a professor named Gregory Thatcher "confronted them—falsely alleging they could not chalk messages near the library and could only express themselves in the so-called 'free speech area,' which the university had actually eliminated almost two years earlier.

After threatening to remove the messages, the professor gathered some students together to "erase and deface" the messages. The club president reminded Thatcher that Students for Life had the university's permission, and he "walked over to one of the pro-life messages and began erasing it himself, erroneously claiming that he was exercising his free speech rights and that 'college campuses are not free speech areas.'"

With ADF's assistance, SFL filed a lawsuit, and a Federal court has issued an order, agreed upon by those involved, that the professor will "pay $17,000 and undergo First Amendment training by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys" as part of the settlement. ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox stated, "Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that university professors model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that Dr. Thatcher and many other university officials across the country are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter...”

2 - Adoption tax credit back in tax reform package

Congress is considering action to reform the tax system in America.  This includes streamlining the number of tax brackets and eliminating some of the deductions that taxpayers can receive, in favor of increasing the standard deduction, a topic covered on the website of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. One such deduction that had originally been eliminated is what is known as the adoption tax credit, which provides relief for families who have adopted children and incurred the costs thereof.

This week, it was announced, according to the Family Policy Alliance website, that the credit had been placed back in the House and Senate versions. The site states, according to Autumn Leva, Director of Policy & Communication for the Alliance:
Earlier this week, we told you that the Adoption Tax Credit – which has helped vast numbers of children find “forever homes” – had been eliminated in the GOP tax-cut bill. We asked you to speak up to Congress, and you did! Your response through the Family Policy Alliance Action Center was part of a national outpouring that encouraged Rep. Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, to restore the Adoption Tax Credit. What’s more, the Senate legislation that was just introduced also includes the credit.
You can hear a conversation with Stuart Shepard, Executive Producer for Creative Communications for Family Policy Alliance, including information on this development, here.

One further tax reform note: the ECFA has expressed concern that the rise in the standard deduction, based on the House version, could reduce charitable giving.  Its site says:
In an effort to drastically simplify the tax code, one of the most significant proposed changes in the bill would be to double the standard deduction (plus eliminate or reduce several other current deductions) so that only an estimated 5% of Americans would continue to itemize their tax deductions. Studies have shown that, with so few Americans itemizing deductions, this could lead to a decrease in giving to nonprofits of over $13 billion each year.
For those reasons, ECFA and other nonprofits in the Charitable Giving Coalition have supported a “universal” deduction (above-the-line) so that all taxpayers would have an incentive to give and support the good work of nonprofits regardless of whether they itemize.
1 - Aftermath of Texas church shooting

On Sunday, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs held a service, as it did last Sunday when a gunman walked into the church's building and opened fire - 26 lives were lost that day.  This Sunday, the numbers in attendance were significantly higher than what had been the norm, as, according to USA Today:
..this time the congregation gathered in a tent large enough to accommodate nearly everyone in the community and many others from nearby.
The report said that more than 1,000 people showed up.  Pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter died in the shooting rampage, stated: "Do not allow the lives that were lost or changed, to be in vain..." The article said:
Then his voice cracked, and he had to pause. The congregation stood to applaud. He regained his voice: “I know everyone who gave their life that day. Some of them were my best friends – and my daughter.”
Pomeroy also said in the service, "I submit to you today that just because we are wounded, doesn’t mean we turn back. Just because we lose a round to Satan, does not mean (we) quit. We should never give up the fight. I believe this wound hurts. We can’t allow this act that happened last weekend to keep us from church."

A memorial service was held in the small community last Wednesday, as well.  Vice-President Mike Pence attended, according to a Religion News Service article on the website, ChristianHeadlines.com.  The story said:
The memorial service was held Wednesday (Nov. 8) on a high school football field in the neighboring town of Floresville, about 13 miles from the site of the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The service followed Christian tradition and was replete with Bible readings and prayers to Jesus.
The article stated, "Pence said he was inspired by the strong convictions of the people of Sutherland Springs and especially the victims of its historic church, and he expressed his solidarity with their faith."  The Vice-President is quoted as saying, "Faith is stronger than evil,” adding, "Faith is the antidote to fear and despair."

Monday, November 06, 2017

The 3 - November 5, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a development in the implementation of President Trump's reverting to previous military policy on transgender members: a judge has put part of it on hold.  Also, a California law that forced pro-life pregnancy center to make references for abortions has been struck down by a judge there. And, a prospective judge whose religious beliefs were questioned in a U.S. Senate committee meeting has received confirmation.

3 - Parts of President's policy on transgender individuals in military put on hold

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration reinstituted a ban, that had been removed by the Obama White House, on transgender individuals serving in the military.  Recently, one Federal judge put parts of that policy by the current Administration on hold.

According to Family Research Council, the decision rendered by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly "was amazingly presumptuous for an unelected district judge, who -- without the benefit of internal intelligence, the service chiefs' counsel, and Defense Department data -- is quite content telling the White House how to defend America."

Recent guest on The Meeting House, Travis Weber, an attorney for FRC, was quoted on the organization's website, stating: "This type of judicial activism gives the court a self-conferred 'veto' of any presidential decision concerning the military the court simply thinks is unlawful. That's not the way our constitutional order works." He added, "This kind of judicial presumption is doubly harmful when done in the military context..."

The FRC piece continues:
Kollar-Kotelly seems to think the military is just your run-of-the-mill office environment -- when in fact, it's a physically-demanding, life-threatening battleground. The goal isn't to advance "tolerance" or help people on the path to self-actualization. It's to fight and win wars. And that mission is severely compromised when activist courts try to force the military into accepting unstable recruits in the name of "fairness."
2 - Judge proclaims CA law forcing pro-life centers to provide abortion clinic information unconstitutional

A chilling law in California that attempted to force pregnancy resource centers, whose mission it is to save the lives of pre-born children, to let clients know they are eligible for free or low-cost abortions has been declared unconstitutional by a state court judge.

The American Center for Law and Justice said that the law, the Reproductive FACT Act...
...requires that licensed pregnancy centers inform their clients that might be eligible for a free or low-cost abortion—no matter the reason for their visit. The mandated notice not only forces pro-life centers to tell their clients about these state-funded services, the centers must also share with their clients a telephone number where they can obtain more information about the possibility of obtaining a free (taxpayer expense paid) abortion.
The ACLJ website stated that: "Judge Gloria Trask of Riverside County Superior Court ruled that the FACT Act violates the California Constitution’s guarantee of free speech."  The judge, in her ruling, wrote:
[The State] may enact law that support abortion access and tax its citizens to make abortion available. It can require informed consent for all medical procedures. But its ability to impress free citizens into State service in this political dispute cannot be absolute; it must be limited. . . .
The statute compels the clinic to speak words with which it profoundly disagrees when the State has numerous alternative methods of publishing its message.
1 - Senate approves judicial nominee who was asked religious questions

Remember the Federal court judicial nominee who was told by Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a hearing that "the dogma lives loudly within you?"  That was a critique of Amy Coney Barrett's religious beliefs, and CBN News reported about that hearing:
Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and a mother of seven. She has written about religion's place in public life and given lectures before Christian legal groups.
In September, Feinstein, D-Calif., told Barrett, "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."
According to CBN News, the U.S. Senate, after a number of senators had said their colleague had crossed a line, has approved Barrett's appointment to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The CBN article quoted Eric Metaxas, who is heard on the Colson Center's Breakpoint commentary:
"To me the idea that US senators are this ignorant about this incredibly, utterly central element in American freedom, I find frightening and it should be a wakeup call to everybody," Metaxas told CBN News. "When Sen. Feinstein did this recently, I thought, 'She actually thinks that what she's saying is okay. She thinks it's just politics.' It's not just politics. It's fundamentally unconstitutional."
Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, agrees with Metaxas, saying the senators should know better than to give a nominee a religious litmus test.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The 3 - October 29, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, providing information about three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a story where students at a Texas high school are standing in solidarity regarding the display of a Christian flag on the school's flagpole.  Also, the governor of North Carolina is attempting to re-write legislation in yet another chapter in the state's battle over transgender bathrooms.  Plus, the Vice-President has declared that the U.S. will attempt to use its funds to directly help Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, rather than using the United Nations as a middleman.

3 - Texas students, parents defend display of Christian flag at school

At LaPoyner High School in LaRue, Texas, the Christian flag had been flown, along with the American flag and the flag of the state of Texas.  And, despite a challenge to that Christian flag, according to ToddStarnes.com, it continues to be flown.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation had stepped in and filed a challenge, and a letter to Superintendent James Young stated: "The display of this patently religious symbol by the District confers government endorsement of Christianity, in violation of the Establishment Clause."

According to Starnes, Young had told local reporters that they were "reviewing" the letter, but no announcement has been made. And, as Todd reports:
Several youngsters purchased Christian flags and mounted the banners on their pickup trucks. It was quite a scene in the high school parking lot -- a convoy of trucks adorned with the Christian flag -- waving in the Texas breeze.

"They can try to take it, but we're going to fight for it," junior Jared Sanchez told Nexstar Broadcasting.
KLTV reported on a recent school board meeting, in which "community members shared their thoughts on the issue." A parent had sent a video along to the television station. One community member said: “The Freedom From Religion organization really has a distorted and inaccurate view of the separation of church and state in the First Amendment,” adding, “Matter fact I'd like to say that their viewpoint is probably void and alien to that of our founding fathers."

The KLTV website stated:
The superintendent also asked anyone who opposed the Christian flag to stand. No one did.
The board will give their proposed thoughts at next month’s meeting.
In the meantime, the flag will remain on school grounds.
2 - North Carolina governor orders bathroom restrictions loosened

For several years, a bill called HB2 was the law in North Carolina, providing for people, including transgender individuals, to use restroom facilities in government buildings corresponding to their biological gender.  Earlier this year, after economic pressure had been placed on the state, and former governor Pat McCrory had been defeated in his bid for re-election, lawmakers passed a so-called "compromise" that essentially waived the provisions of HB2 and placed a moratorium on any more local SOGI ("sexual orientation, gender identity") ordinances.  According to the NewsObserver.com website, that was to remain in effect until December of 2020.

Well, that bill has seemingly been blown out of the water by an executive order by new governor Roy Cooper, who, according to the Family Research Council website, has "unilaterally decided to change that policy with a decree that not only lets grown men back into girls’ restrooms, but forces local businesses to embrace his transgender agenda or lose their government partnerships. Ignore your conscience and public safety concerns, the governor has decided, or kiss your North Carolina contracts goodbye."

The FRC site states:
Cooper is going around the state’s policymakers and trying to unravel the state’s duly-enacted law. And if the governor thought he’d have the support of LGBT activists, he was mistaken. “It’s not nearly enough,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
As if his executive order weren’t outrageous, Cooper is also pursuing a deal on the side with North Carolina judges -- a “consent decree” that would officially zero out the compromise law he signed last spring.
The story says: "Tami Fitzgerald, who heads up the North Carolina Values Coalition, called the move 'a massive power grab, with sweeping changes that only the Legislative Branch has the authority to enact.'"

1 - U.S. to help persecuted Christians in Middle East

The United States has attempted to help persecuted religious minorities by sending its money to the United Nations, but since that has not worked well, it appears the U.S. will be helping persecuted Christians and other minorities in the Middle East directly, according to Vice-President Mike Pence, who spoke at the In Defense of Christians dinner recently.

The National Religious Broadcasters website says that:
While the U.S. has invested huge sums in UN relief programs, Pence described their poor record in aiding Christians and other vulnerable religious minorities in that region. He also noted the UN’s refusal in many instances to partner with “faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in these communities.” “My friends,” the Vice President said, “those days are over.”
Former Congressman Frank Wolf, described as "long a champion for international religious freedom and now a leader of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative," said in a release, published at ReligionNews.com, “This should impact humanitarian aid for those living as Internally Displaced Persons and refugees and stabilization assistance for the Christians and Yezidis returning to areas seized from them by ISIS.”

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The 3 - October 22, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a positive development involving legislation posing a threat to religious liberty; a bill vetoed by the governor.  Also, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving a Ten Commandments monument in New Mexico.  Plus, an appeals court has put on hold a lower court decision providing for an undocumented immigrant teenager to have an abortion, but the appeals court has directed the government to find a sponsor in order for the abortion to take place.

3 - CA Governor vetoes bill posing threat to religious liberty

There was good news about legislation affecting the family out of California, of all places.  According to the Family Policy Alliance website, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that, according to the site, "aimed to criminalize any contracts or employee codes of conduct related to abortion and sex outside of marriage."

That's based on a conversation with Jonathan Keller, president of California Family Council, who stated, "Every organization that promotes a pro-life message must be able to require its employees to practice what they preach,” adding, “The right to freely exercise one’s religion is enshrined in our Constitution, and has always protected every American’s ability to freely associate around shared beliefs and practices.”

Elissa Graves, litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, is quoted on that organization's website as saying: "The First Amendment doesn’t allow the state to order churches and other faith-based groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. They have the freedom to live according to their faith and to require those who work for them to do the same.” The site provides a brief description of the vetoed bill, saying it "would have prohibited churches, religious colleges, religious non-profit organizations, and pro-life pregnancy care centers from having faith-based codes of conduct with regard to abortion and sexual behavior..."

2 - U.S. Supreme Court decides not to hear Ten Commandments monument case

One of the areas of religious liberty that has caused contention in the courts is the display of the Ten Commandments on public property.  And, Baptist Press reports that the U.S. Supreme Court declined an opportunity to provide clarity in the matter.  It says that:
The court declined without explanation Monday (Oct. 16) to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling against a Ten Commandments monument outside the Bloomfield, N.M., City Hall. In lower courts, two Wiccans represented by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged the five-foot monument, complaining that it constitutes the government's establishment of religion.
The article points out that in 2005, there were two cases involving the Ten Commandments: a "granite monument on the lawn of the Texas state capitol in Austin" was ruled to be constitutional by a 5-4 decision. Conversely, the court ruled that "the posting of the Ten Commandments inside Kentucky courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties was unconstitutional."

Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl spoke with Baptist Press and stated: "The monuments went there originally because they were of a historical significance," adding, "And since Christianity did play such a big part in the formation and the development of the country, one of the monuments was the Ten Commandments."  Strahl also said, "...as far as the city is concerned, it wasn't a religious issue."

1 - Judge rules that undocumented teen can have abortion; appeals court puts ruling on hold

Last week, Liberty Counsel reported that:
An Obama-nominated federal judge ordered the U.S. government to pay for an undocumented illegal immigrant teenager’s abortion at taxpayer expense in Texas. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the government to transport the teenager to have the abortion — or allow her guardian to transport her — “promptly and without delay.”
The Justice Department appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The
Texas Tribune said that the appeals court "gave the federal government until Oct. 31 to find a sponsor to take custody of the teen and take her to an abortion clinic to have the procedure."

The article also states that the court "noted that the federal government assumed that" the teenager has the "constitutional right to obtain an abortion in the United States."

But, the Justice Department attorney, Catherine Dorsey, according to the Tribune, "went on to argue that what is actually blocking Doe's abortion is her status as a minor under federal custody and that the government is not required to facilitate her abortion."  She added, "What's happening here is the government refusing to facilitate the abortion and that is not an undue burden."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, expressing his "disappointment" for the decision, stated, "Unlawfully-present aliens with no substantial ties to the U.S. do not have a right to abortion on demand. Texas must not become a sanctuary state for abortions."

This is a decision that seems to have made no one happy - the ACLU, representing the teen, is opposed to the delay, and the Justice Department is arguing that the government should not be involved in this teen's abortion.

Liberty Counsel points out that:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has now implemented a new policy under President Trump which discourages abortions among undocumented minors residing in federally-funded shelters. The policy prevents pregnant, unaccompanied minors in shelters from seeking abortions and instead directs them to crisis pregnancy centers where they are encouraged to forgo the abortion.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The 3 - October 15, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, exploring recent events involving the Christian community, there is a story of court action involving a high-profile atheist group, which asked for one of its leaders to make an opening statement during the customary prayer time at the beginning of the day in the U.S. House - that was turned back by a Federal judge.  Also, the U.S. Attorney General has issued a memo that says that "gender," as defined in a section of Federal law, does not apply to transgenderism.  And, a U.S. Representative was banned from running a pro-life ad on Twitter, then the ad was allowed - 2 pro-life organizations are crying foul.

3 - Attempt to modify Congressional opening prayer to allow atheist turned back by judge

At the start of the legislative day, the U.S. House of Representatives has an opening prayer, and according to The Hill website, "Guest chaplains are allowed to give the opening prayer in the House if a member sponsors them, if they are ordained and if their prayer addresses a 'higher power.'"

That framework was challenged recently by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, whose co-president, Daniel Barker, had requested the opportunity to deliver an opening statement, a "non-prayer," if you will, prior to a session of the House.

Barker...
...claimed he had met all the requirements, but the chaplain denied his request because he was “ordained in a denomination in which he no longer practices” and “is not a religious clergyman.”
So, FFRF did what FFRF does - it filed a lawsuit against "House Chaplain Father Patrick Conroy, his staff and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in May 2016, challenging their refusal to let him give a nonreligious invocation on the floor."

D.C. Federal Circuit Judge, Rosemary Collyer, according to the story, "dismissed Barker’s claims that he had been discriminated against." The article goes on to say:
Collyer said “Congress has exclusive authority over its rules and the manner in which it conducts its affairs" and that the House Chaplain's "refusal to invite an avowed atheist to deliver the morning ‘prayer,’ in the guise of a non-religious public exhortation as a ‘guest chaplain'" was not a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution, as Barker had claimed.
2 - Attorney General: gender reference in Civil Rights Act not applicable to transgender people

There is a movement among some to try to redefine references to "gender" in Federal law as also including "sexual orientation and gender identity."  According to Liberty Counsel, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has modified the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which governs employment law, which had reflected that philosophy.  The Liberty Counsel website states:
The Attorney General officially withdrew a 2014 Obama-era policy protecting so-called “transgender” employees from discrimination under Title VII. The Attorney General stated that the Department of Justice will no longer interpret Title VII to mean that the law's protections extend to discrimination based on gender identity. Sessions said the change will apply to “all pending and future matters” relating to “transgender” workers, which means that it could have an immediate impact on open discrimination cases.
In a memo, Attorney General Sessions stated: "Title VII expressly prohibits discrimination ‘because of…sex’…and several other protected traits, but it does not refer to gender identity. “Sex is ordinarily defined to mean biologically male or female."

1 - Pro-life ad banned, restored by Twitter; others cry foul about ad policies

Recently, a leading contender for the U.S. Senate seat from Tennessee, to be vacated by Sen. Bob Corker, wanted to place a political ad on Twitter.  In it, according to the website for the Susan B. Anthony List, Rep. Marsha Blackburn wished to call attention to her action against Planned Parenthood and the "sale of baby body parts." Twitter refused the ad, but later reversed course.

The SBA List website points out that "Despite its reversal on Rep. Blackburn’s ad, Twitter continues to block all advertising from Live Action, as well as some advertising by SBA List."  Live Action and Susan B. Anthony List are both pro-life advocacy organizations.

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser is quoted on the site as saying, "We are encouraged that Twitter reconsidered its censorship of Rep. Blackburn’s pro-life ad. However, the root issue is far from resolved. It took pressure and a great deal of negative publicity for Twitter to reverse this one decision. Meanwhile pro-life groups like Live Action and SBA List are still subject to an apparent double standard when they simply tell the truth, horrific as it is, about Planned Parenthood’s baby parts trafficking."  Lila Rose, President of Live Action, was also quoted, expressing similar sentiment.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The 3 - October 8, 2017

This week on The 3, there is encouragement from the next generation of students; many brought their Bibles to school, very appropriate to radiate hope in light of the tragic Las Vegas shooting.  Also, lawmakers in the U.S. House took a step to prevent the taking of the lives of pre-born children at around 20 weeks of development.  And, two agencies of the Trump Administration announced new guidelines to protect religious freedom, including the releasing of religious organizations from the odious contraceptive mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services.

3 - Students bring Bibles to school

During this week when people were grieving the loss of around 60 people in the tragedy in Las Vegas, and churches and pastors were bringing hope and comfort, thousands of students were attempting to shine light - the light of God's truth - in the darkness.

Focus on the Family was anticipating that perhaps a half million students would be bringing their Bibles to school this past Thursday to celebrate "Bring Your Bible to School Day," which was initiated by Focus.  Its website states:
Many Christian students feel there’s an unspoken pressure to stay silent about their faith. Others report overt efforts to silence them from presenting their Bible-based viewpoints in class discussions or in assignments. Yet, the First Amendment recognizes the rights of students to talk about their faith and read their Bibles outside of classroom time.
Focus President Jim Daly stated, "Over the years we’ve heard from many kids and teens who want to meaningfully engage in conversations with peers to share their perspective on important issues,” adding, “The good news is – they can. The Constitution recognizes students’ rights to share their biblical viewpoints in a way that doesn’t disturb instruction time, and to exercise their faith at school. ‘Bring Your Bible to School Day’ celebrates these rights and gives Christian students a chance to share a bit about their faith, which is an important part of who they are.”

The CBN News website displayed "...just a few photos trending on social media of children bringing their Bibles to school."  The story stated that:
Spokesman Candi Cushman says bringing a Bible to school is an opportunity for students ranging from kindergarten to college to share their faith in Christ.
"We have some great stories from kids even as young as kindergarten taking their Bibles to school and just reading it out loud with their friends at recess," Cushman told CBN News.
"There are thousands of students joining them across the nation and groups like Focus on the Family are standing behind them and praying for them."
2 - House approves bill to protect unborn children; goes to Senate

The bill known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act has crossed a threshold to final passage and the promised signature of President Trump.  According to the Susan B. Anthony List website, the legislation "would protect unborn children from late-term abortion after five months, more than halfway through pregnancy, a point by which science shows they can feel pain. The bill passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday by a vote of 237 to 189."

Interestingly enough, the SBA List reports that:
Post-election polling data commissioned by the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) and made widely available today shows that large majorities of voters in 2018 Senate battleground states support legislation limiting abortion after five months, and a majority or plurality of those voters would be less likely to support a Senator who voted to allow late-term abortion.
SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser called for Senate passage of the bill, saying: “Voters agree: it’s inexplicable that the United States is one of only seven nations in the world to allow abortion after 20 weeks – five months, more than halfway through pregnancy – putting us in the company of China and North Korea,” adding, “Our nation does not belong in that disgraceful club. Twenty states have passed their own Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts and momentum has long been building for a national limit.”

1 - Two administration departments take action on religious freedom

It has become apparent that religious freedom is a priority of the Trump Administration. The President signed an order addressing protecting religious freedom back in May on the National Day of Prayer, directing Federal agencies to offer such protection.

On Friday, according to the Family Research Council, "The Department of Justice (DOJ) is directing federal agencies to respect religious freedom while the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is exempting religious entities from the oppressive Obama contraceptive mandate."

In a statement, FRC President Tony Perkins said, in part:
“President Trump and the Department of Justice are putting federal government agencies on notice: you will not only respect the freedom of every American to believe but live according to those beliefs. This is a freedom that has been a fundamental part of our society since the beginning of our nation."
On its website, Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris is quoted as saying:
The guidance that the Trump administration issued today helps protect that First Amendment freedom. As the memo states, ‘Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government,’ and ‘free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.’
Farris added, "...I commend the president for taking another step to honor his campaign promise to make religious liberty his ‘first priority’ by directing the Department of Justice to issue this guidance, which simply directs the federal government to adhere to its legal and constitutional obligation to respect existing religious freedom protections.”

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The 3 - October 1, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three recent news stories impacting or involving the Christian community, there's good news out of court - a positive ruling was handed down in favor of a group of cheerleaders who held up banners with Scripture on them for the football players to run through.  Also, the Church is facing difficulties in Puerto Rico, while Christian organizations attempt to bring relief to the island.  Plus, a church community is continuing to process a devastating event just over a week ago, when a gunman begin shooting attendees.

3 - Cheerleaders prevail in banner case

The year was 2012 - high school cheerleaders in Kountze, Texas, were told by the school district that they could no longer display banners containing Scripture for the school's football team to run through prior to the games.  According to the First Liberty website, a lawsuit was filed by that organization and a Texas attorney, and the cheerleaders were allowed by a judge to continue to display the Scripture banners through the end of that school year.

The website states that in 2013:
Hardin County District Court Judge Steven Thomas found that the Kountze Cheerleaders had the legal right to display their Bible verse banners at KISD sporting events. He determined that the banners were “constitutionally permissible” and rejected the school district’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit based on the claim that the banners were government speech.
An appeals court upheld the ruling, but the district maintained it still had the right the censor the banners, according to First Liberty.  The organization, along with volunteer attorneys, asked the state Supreme Court "to review the case and reaffirm the student’s rights to free religious expression, free from government censorship." The website says:
On January 29, 2016, in an 8-0 decision, the Texas Supreme Court decided in favor of the Kountze Cheerleaders, sending the case back to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in Beaumont, Texas. On September 28, 2017, the Court of Appeals issued its ruling in favor of the cheerleaders, again affirming their rights to religious freedom.
Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty, is quoted as saying, “This is another great victory for the free speech and religious liberty rights of all Texas students,” adding, "Hopefully this ruling will bring clarity and closure to this issue for all Texas students and schools.”

2 - Puerto Rico churches face devastation, challenges

While a number of Christian organizations are working to bring relief to the citizens of Puerto Rico, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria, the Church is suffering on that island, a U.S. Territory.  A Christianity Today article states that approximately 3,000 churches were "damaged or destoyed" by the hurricane, according to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Pew Research estimates that, "About half of Puerto Ricans go to church at least once a week," according to the Christianity Today story, which quotes evangelist and doctor Luis Paz, who says, “We don’t have buildings right now to have meetings,” adding, “We are outside, bringing hope to people, the ones that need the most. We have brothers and sisters who don’t have homes right now, but the church is open to them.”

The article says, "The NHCLC partnered with Convoy of Hope to call upon congregation in the United States to sponsor damaged churches in Puerto Rico as well as in Mexico, after its recent earthquake." Also, the North American Mission Board will facilitate "church partnerships with Southern Baptist congregations, in addition to sending care packages to pastors, Baptist Press reported."

Franklin Graham conducted a crusade in Puerto Rico earlier this year and one of the organizations he leads, Samaritan's Purse, "has connections with congregations that participate in its iconic Operation Christmas Child shoebox program, as well as pastors like Paz who took part in president Franklin Graham’s crusade there in February." Daniel Zeidan with Samaritan's Purse states, "We know churches are not relief agencies, but they have a role to play when there is suffering and loss,” adding, “They will be there after we leave. What the church does now will have an impact that will last a long time.”

1 - Church shooting produces pain, hero honored

Whenever there is violence on a church property, which people would, I would imagine, like to think of as a place of refuge, it does cause great concern. Religion News Service reports on the aftermath of the shooting at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ outside Nashville on Sunday, September 24, which resulted in the death of one of the church members, Melanie Crow, and injury to seven others, including minister Joey Spann.

Her funeral was Thursday, and the night before, parishoners gathered for the church's mid-week service, and the RNS article, from USA Today, stated:
Midweek service went on as it does every Wednesday at 7 p.m., though the church is still figuring out what to do with an auditorium in disarray and the cluster of reporters that continued to hover.
Scott Sager, vice president for church services at Lipscomb University, stated, “We want to claim the promise that if you’re for us, no one can be against us,” adding, "You, who did not spare your own son, but sent him into the world.”

And, there has been attention called to the usher whose bravery could have contributed to a number of lives being saved.  His name is Caleb Engle.  Chattanooga television station WDEF had this information on its website:
When a gunman entered the church, Engle confronted him.
During their struggle, the gun went off, hitting the shooter in the chest.
Even though he had been pistol whipped during the fight, Engle then went to his car to get his own gun to hold the suspect until police arrived.
“He’s the hero. He’s the person that stopped this madness,” said Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson.
The article included a statement by Engle, tweeted out by Sophie Neilsen-Kolding, who works for NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, in which Engle encouraged prayer for the victims and their families and the church community.  He encouraged prayer for healing.  He also asked for prayer for the shooter and his family and friends.  He stated:
I pray that through all of this that people will come to know Christ and I ask our nation to reflect on Romans 8:31:  "If God is for us, who can be against us?"
He also stated that he did not want to be "labeled a hero."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The 3 - September 24, 2017

In this installment of the weekly blog post, The 3, I take a look at a release of Christians who had been jailed...for praying for someone who had mental issues.  Also, a number of Memphis-area pastors have signed a letter calling for the moving of a statue of a Civil War general.  Plus, the U.N. Security Council has taken a positive step in opposition to the persecution - and execution - of Christians and members of other religious groups in Iraq.

3 - Christians in Nepal arrested for praying for mentally ill woman released amidst greater persecution of Christians in country

Four Christians in Nepal prayed for a woman described as "mentally troubled" in a ChristianHeadlines.com story - and they went to jail for it.  The woman's name is Seti Pariyar.

The article, citing Morning Star News, says that, according to the Federation of National Christian Nepal (FNCN), in December of last year, "they were convicted of witchcraft, violence and holding Seti Pariyar against her will, though the woman testified that she was not mistreated or captive and had been healed by the prayer."

The four had been sentenced to five years in prison and told to pay a fine. 

Earlier this month, the Higher Court, Surkhet reversed the prison sentence and set the prisoners free.

The article states:
Area church leaders believe the four Christians were set up.
“There is a risk that this type of well-designed plan can happen any time among the Christian community,” an earlier FNCN statement noted, concluding that the Christians were targeted for their faith.
“About the incident, the victims told us face-to-face that what they have done is for the benefit of the sick woman, as she was brought by her relatives for prayer for healing,” the FNCN statement noted.
A little background from the article:
The arrest and conviction of the four Christians came at a time when Nepal’s Hindu majority was increasingly influencing authorities to harass Christians. While Nepal has long outlawed evangelization, a new constitution in 2015 and the release of implementing laws last month reinforced existing prohibitions against evangelizing, and Hindu interests have used them to falsely accuse Christians.
2 - Memphis pastors support relocation of statues

The President of the Southern Baptist Convention has stepped forward to join other pastors in Memphis in advocating for the relocation of a statue of a Confederate Civil War general.  A Baptist Press article reports that Steve Gaines, Pastor of Bellevue Baptist, was one of 169 clergy members representing 95 congregations supporting the move of the statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest "from a public park 'to a more historically appropriate site.'"  "About a dozen" Southern Baptist pastors were part of the consortium.  Participants had signed on to a letter to the Tennessee Historical Commission, supporting the position of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

Gaines told Baptist Press he favors moving that statue, in Memphis Health Sciences Park, as well as a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, which is in Memphis Park.

According to the article:
Both monuments "are a source of offense to many citizens of Memphis due to Forrest's and Davis' support of the enslavement of African Americans," Gaines said in written comments. "Fair-minded Americans acknowledge that slavery was cruel and unchristian. Indeed, slavery stands as one of the darkest blights of our nation's history. Thus, these statutes should be relocated to less prominent, more appropriate settings."
The article also notes that former SBC president James Merritt, who had spoken in favor of a 2016 resolution "urging messengers to renounce display of the Confederate battle flag," told the SBC This Week podcast that "he supports the legal removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces," adding that, "Christians 'have the responsibility to do everything we can to break down any barrier that we possibly can to the Gospel...'"

As the article points out, that SBC resolution encouraged "fellow Christians to exercise sensitivity so that nothing brings division or hinders the unity of the Body of Christ to be a bold witness to the transforming power of Jesus."

1 - United Nations passes resolution calling for investigation of persecution of Christians, others in Iraq

Recently, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, "supporting Iraq in prosecuting members of ISIS/Daesh for crimes committed against religious minorities in the region. The terrorist organization has been perpetrating acts of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities."

This resolution, adopted unanimously by the Security Council, sets up "an investigative team," which will "work with the Iraqi government to collect, preserve, and store evidence of crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq." This will aid in the prosecution of terrorists who commit "genocide and other crimes against religious minorities." The website points out that, "For the first time, the Security Council did not shy away from using the term 'genocide.'"

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is quoted as saying, "It may have taken a long time to get here, but today’s resolution is a landmark. It is a major first step towards addressing the death, suffering, and injury of the victims of crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq—crimes that include genocide. These victims have been Yazidis, Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and many, many more."

ADF International U.N. Counsel Kelsey Zorzi stated, “It is incredibly encouraging to see the Security Council take such a significant step towards ensuring justice for countless victims and their families. We hope that the passage of this resolution reminds Christians in the Middle East that they have not been forgotten, that there is hope, that we will continue fighting for them, and that accountability is on its way.”

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.