On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, some new court action regarding the National Day of Prayer (ugh!), communication from a jailed Iranian pastor, and headline-grabbing activity concerning the redefinition of marriage.
3 - Colorado Appeals Court Finds Fault with Governors' National Day of Prayer Proclamations
The National Day of Prayer was celebrated recently, as I outlined for you last week. The Day had actually faced a legal challenge from the so-called Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been showing itself to be an organization that is intent on promoting an atheist worldview in the public square. Since last April, when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had dismissed a lawsuit that the Foundation had filed, the interest in the National Day of Prayer has reportedly surged, as the National Day of Prayer Task Force indicates an increase in the number of organized events reported on the Task Force website.
But, the Freedom from Religion Foundation has certainly not given up, and has been no doubt emboldened by a ruling out of Colorado this week. Proclamations issued by two Colorado governors between 2004 and 2009 were ruled unconstitutional on Thursday by the state's three-judge Court of Appeals. The appeals court has also requested a lower court decision on future proclamations and state prayer events.
Here is the story from CitizenLink.
The ruling overturned a 2010 state district court ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed by the FFRF. A similar lawsuit filed against the state of Arizona by the organization was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in December of last year, citing a lack of standing by the FFRF - the Foundation has now appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Fortunately, last year, the Obama Administration successfully defended the lawsuit against the National Day of Prayer, and Governor Brewer's administration apparently defended the Arizona challenge. It is unclear on whether or not Colorado's governor and attorney general will defend that suit.
Unfortunately, it seems the FFRF has unlimted resources to file lawsuits against traditional and constitutional expressions of religious faith and heritage. The Foundation has been active in challenging a variety of
types of religious activities regarding government entities, including schools. Just last week, in Sylvania, Alabama, officials voted to retain a Scriptural reference on the town limit signs in the face of a threat from the Foundation. And, when you consider that so many school systems and municipalities are strapped for funds, the playing field is definitely slanted in the direction of those who would remove public expressions of religion. But, prayer and vigilance, in addition to the skill of organizations such as the Alliance Defense Fund and others, can help to level that playing field and to preserve the rights of students, officials, and others to express themselves.
2 - Jailed Iranian Pastor Writes Letter to Supporters, His Attorney Jailed
Many believers in America and around the world are praying and expressing concern for jailed Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who reportedly still faces the death sentence for converting to Christianity. A letter has been released from the pastor, informing believers that he is in "perfect health in the flesh and spirit". He said in the letter that he has "surrendered myself to God's will". He acknowledged that churches and officials had asked for his release and that human rights groups worldwide had been standing with him. He concluded the letter by asking for prayer, "as the holy word has said".
Here is a report from Baptist Press, from the Christian Examiner website.
Pastor Youcef's case has been made more complicated by another recent development. His attorney, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has been convicted and could begin serving a nine-year sentence. Dadkhah said he was convicted of acting against national security and other charges. Jordan Sekulow of the American center for Law and Justice, which has been a powerful ally of Pastor Youcef, said, "This development only reinforces the fact that Iran has no regard for basic human rights". Dadkhah has said that no attorney would be willing to take Youcef's case out of fear of "being imprisoned or disbarred". He had represented 12 Christians in Iran in April alone who had been charged with several crimes, including apostasy - for leaving Islam.
This illustrates the pressure that many believers across the Middle East are facing regarding their Christian faith - but even in the midst of great darkness, God's light is shining throughout the region. Perhaps even this situation can bring an increased motivation for people of faith to intercede for Pastor Youcef, attorney
Dadkhah, and the people of that nation.
1 - NC Voters Affirm Traditional Marriage, President Reverts to Support of Gay Marriage
This week, there was a strange juxtaposition of ideas concerning the institution of marriage. God established that institution in the book of Genesis, it was affirmed by Jesus, and I believe that our system of laws, based on moral law, is based on the clear assumption that marriage, as recognized and endorsed by government, is the union of one man and one woman. However, there are those that want to redefine marriage to include the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman - gay marriage picked up an important endorsement this week as President Obama became the first sitting President to say that the institution of marriage should be extended to include gay couples. He and former President Clinton - yes, the one who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, providing a Federal definition of marriage - were active in opposing an amendment to the state Constitution in North Carolina, but, in the end, the people affirmed traditional marriage, putting that state in line with 29 others and in line with the Biblical definition.
So, gay marriage dominated the headlines. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has affirmed that his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, reportedly received his largest round of applause at the commencement at Liberty University over the weekend when he stated that belief. We now have another social issue that has risen to the forefront in the election of 2012 - and it's been introduced, in essence, again by the White House, who also injected the issue of free birth control to be provided for employees of religious institutions into the national debate. Now, it's same-sex marriage, strategically making the headlines, perhaps to deflect attention away from the economy, maybe to marginalize people of faith, who knows? - but it's an important issue, and I think it gives Christians an opportunity to decide how to respond - are we merely to speak out, stand up, and say no (which is important!)? Or is perhaps God calling us to do more - to reaffirm traditional marriage, to live out the truth in our own marriages, and to seek ways to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual tendencies, to point them to the grace and power of Jesus Christ, who can enable them to live above gender confusion and to experience a freedom like none other.