On the latest edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", some important court cases are slotted in 2 of the 3 positions, including a graduation controversy in Texas that resulted in prayer being allowed, and a facilities controversy in New York that kept a church out of a public school building. And, Presidential candidates are attempting to seize on the evangelical vote.
3 - Texas graduation becomes time of celebration
A swirling storm of controversy centered around the Medina Valley High School in Castroville, Texas, where an agnostic student had filed suit against the school district to prevent any prayer in the school's graduation ceremony. A Federal district judge had ordered the school district to actively prevent any prayers (or even the word, "Amen") in the ceremony, even threatening incarceration for school officials who did not take part in this blatant restriction of religious liberties. The order, oddly enough, specifically allows a student to face Mecca or wear ceremonial Muslim clothing, but prevents prayer in the name of Jesus or any other name.
After the judge issued the order, an emergency appeal was filed by the valedictorian, Angela Hildenbrand, as well as the school district and the state Attorney General's office. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency order that basically allowed prayer to proceed at the ceremony.
And, according to The Christian Post, the event was likened to a revival meeting.
This is yet another instance where free expression of religious faith is being restricted because of a misinterpretation of the Constitution. There are those that would characterize any mention of religion or God as being an "establishment" of religion, but that is a definite overreach. When free speech is limited so as not to offend a person or group of people, it ends up offending the group or individual against whom the action is taken. This happens concerning Christians with too great of a rate of regularity, and it is important that judges and governmental officials take a sober view of the Bill of Rights so that the free exercise of religion is not denied.
2 - New York church cannot rent public school building, appeals court says
A 16-year-old court battle reached another milestone, as the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school system in New York City could prohibit churches from renting its facilities for worship services. The Bronx Household of Faith had sought to rent a public school building for its weekend worship services - after all, the school district had rented its facilities to other groups. The Court said that the district could effectively refuse to rent to a church.
CitizenLink had this report.
Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund indicated that the ruling would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here is another instance of a church being singled out for unequal treatment. The school district was apparently making its facilities available for a wide array of other groups, but because of the fear factor involving the uses of public facilities for church meetings, the district kept the churches out, and amazingly, the 2nd Circuit agreed - a ruling which could affect churches who want to use school facilities for their worship activities, which is a fairly common practice. Again, to keep from offending one group (or in this case, some unnamed group), the school district chose to offend Christians.
1 - Presidential hopefuls eye evangelical vote
The annual Faith and Freedom Coalition conference was held at the end of the week in the nation's capital, and the majority of Republican Presidential hopefuls addressed the gathering. Some of the candidates have already announced their intentions to seek the nation's highest office, others are in the process of establishing their candidacies.
Candidates who attempted to underscore their evangelical appeal included former Massachusetts governor and 2008 candidate Mitt Romney, considered by many to be a front-runner. While Romney attracted a significant amount of Christian support in his previous campaign, there are concerns over his Mormonism, which some view as a liability, as well as his high-profile perceived reversals on universal health care and abortion. Another Mormon candidate, who is seemingly the focus of attention in the mainstream media, is former Utah governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who declared his pro-life views at the conference. His support of civil unions, however, will no doubt be a liability for him. Apparently, Romney and Huntsman may bypass the evangelical-rich Iowa caucuses, which were won last year by former Arkansas governor and talk-show host Mike Huckabee, who is not seeking the Republican nomination this year.
Representative Michele Bachmann and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain apparently played well to the "values voters" who were represented in Washington, but their single-digit performances in polls may be obstacles too great to overcome. Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Senator, is in the process of getting into the race, and has also been a favorite of evangelicals, even though he might also be considered a second-tier candidate, who didn't win his latest bid for re-election to the Senate.
A couple of examples of coverage of the conference include this Huntsman-heavy piece in the Los Angeles Times. The Christian Post skewed toward Herman Cain in this article.
Others who spoke at the conference include former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is attempting to gain traction, and Representative Ron Paul, whose fiery brand of libertarianism has typically played well to this type of gathering - Paul, in fact, has performed well in the straw poll at the annual Values Voter Summit, held each fall.
Those not appearing include Sarah Palin, whose bus tour became a dominant news item, even though she intentionally did not attempt to accommodate much of the mainstream media. Also, Newt Gingrich, who has attempted to reach out to the faith community, did not appear, citing a scheduling conflict. While there will probably not be a candidate who will galvanize the evangelical vote, it is important for Christians to examine the candidates' stated views and (wherever possible) their voting records in order to ascertain how their principles coincide with our own.