Sunday, May 20, 2012

The 3 - May 20, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3" focuses on a first-grade student's experience with being told she couldn't include a song in his school's talent show because it was "too religious".   Plus, the first religious institution has dropped health insurance because of a government mandate to provide drugs that it finds objectionable.  And, the top story is multi-faceted and includes responses to the nationwide debate over the definition of marriage.

3 - Idaho student allowed to perform Christian song, despite earlier ban by school 

Just in time for the annual debate about students' religious free speech rights centered around graduation, a hopeful outcome emerged for a much younger student, who wanted to perform sign language to Chris Tomlin's song, "We Fall Down", in the talent show at Lena Whitmore Elementary School in Moscow, Idaho.   This first-grade student was told that the content of the song was "too religious", but the school backed off after receiving a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund. 

Here's the story from the Alliance Defense Fund's media site.

ADF Litigation Counsel Matt Sharp is quoted as saying that, “Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas. Removing the voice of faith from schools sends a message to all students that religion is something to be ashamed of.”   He went on to say: “The school district is off to a good start in allowing this performance to occur, but it needs to revise its unconstitutional policy so that this doesn’t happen again.”

This makes for great headlines as we are now approaching graduation season, where routinely we find that students' free-speech rights are challenged.   ADF points out the Idaho case that if the presentation is the student's personal expression, then it can't be shut down under the First Amendment.

Regarding the inclusion of religious content in graduation speeches, Liberty Counsel has some helpful information.   In its "Friend or Foe" Graduation Prayer Campaign, the legal advocacy organization is intent on reminding officials that students don't lose their free speech rights when they step to the podium.

2 - Catholic university drops student health insurance 

It was just a matter of time before a religious institution made the announcement that it could not longer offer health insurance because of the government mandate that free contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization had to be covered by the insurance companies that are chose by religious organizations, and it has now occurred.   This mandate was the prime factor in the decision by the Catholic university, Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.   Here's the report from CitizenLink.

The University could have held on for another year under the Health and Human Services provision, but the decision was hurried up because of the economic implications.    Vice-President of Advancement Michael Hernon said, "We may have been able to be grandfathered for a year on our moral objections to the mandate...But the tripwire was the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that take effect later this year that will double, then triple — and more — our costs.”

Hernon said student health policies generally provide limited benefits with a maximum payout of $50,000 per incident.  Under ObamaCare, the school is required to increase the limit to $100,000 per incident this fall, to $500,000 for the 2013-14 academic year, and to begin offering unlimited policies to students in 2014-15.
The school also dropped its requirement for students to have health insurance because administrators don’t want them to buy something “immoral or too expensive,” Hernon said.

So while the health care law promises lower costs, employers are facing a strong economic impact in the other direction.   And, some companies would even rather pay a fine or a fee rather than the escalating premiums under the Act.  

This is, I would anticipate, the first of many religious entities who will no longer provide health insurance under the contraception mandate, which was implemented in a brazen attempt that disregarded the conscience rights of individuals and institutions. 

1 - Ramifications of gay marriage debate show up throughout the nation

The debate over same-sex marriage continues to proliferate across America, as the President continues to stand verbally behind his support for gay marriage and as his Administration continues to enact policies that support gay rights, even at the expense of the conscience rights of military chaplains and others.   A group of African-American pastors have taken issue with the President, as well.   Plus, there have been some recent developments on college campuses regarding the subject of homosexuality or gay marriage.

In a speech this week in New York City, according to CitizenLink, the President openly stated the position to which his officials have held already - that he would like to see the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as one man for one woman, repealed.  And CNS News reports that the Administration "strongly objects" to provisions in a proposed Defense Authorization Bill that prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

The bill apparently has a number of objectionable elements for the White House - it has passed a House committee, and will face debate on the House floor in the coming week. 

And, there is a report from The Christian Post on a group called the Coalition of African-American Pastors, which called on Mr. Obama to renounce his support of same-sex marriage, speaking strongly against the idea of characterizing gay rights as a civil rights issue.

Rev. Bill Owens, the coalition's organizer and a veteran of the civil rights movement who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, was quoted as saying, "The group of black clergy and civil rights leaders say it is time to turn the tide against the 'hijacking' of the civil rights movement..."  A 50-year-old can only read about the struggles and protests of the civil rights era, but some of us who are older have the battle scars to prove it. And the rights we fought so hard to acquire did not include same-sex marriage."  Two days later, the NAACP passed a resolution stating its support for gay marriage.

And, the same-sex marriage debate has yielded some effects on Christian college campuses.  At Biola University, according to the Christian Examiner, a small group of gay students announced its presence, in opposition to the school's official position.   University officials issued a statement clarifying the school's stance on human sexuality and assuring students struggling with same-sex attraction that they are welcome in the Biola community.

University President Barry Corey wrote in a letter to students, faculty and alumni, which started out by saying, "Biola sees this as an opportunity to live out what it means to be a learning community of grace and love...."

Biola students are required to sign a contract affirming their agreement with the university's belief that "sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife."  The new statement goes into more detail, looking at God's design for marriage, offering help for those struggling with issues of sexuality, and encouraging discussion on campus.

The statement also says the school is a safe place for those struggling with same sex issues: "We pledge to extend compassion and care, providing accountability and assistance as we support all members of our community — students, staff and faculty — in their desire to live consistently with Christian teaching."

So, the school is showing support for gay students without endorsing their lifestyle, apparently.   And, they are promoting dialogue.   Chris Grace, vice president of Student Development, said that students often come to him and other Biola faculty members about their struggles with same-sex attraction.  He said:
"They struggle in ways like everyone else because of brokenness...When we recognize students who come to us, our hope is to walk alongside them... to help them grow closer to what God intended in their lives." 

So, here is a school that has not capitulated to the gay agenda, but is inviting dialogue and encouraging those struggling with same-sex attraction to feel comfortable in seeking help.   

Another Christian school, in Rome, Georgia, Shorter University, is requiring a "personal lifestyle statement" for its faculty members.  It includes the pledge to “...reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.”  The statement also says they will not engage in illegal drug use or drink alcohol in restaurants, stadiums and other public locations. 

Well, over 50 faculty members have either resigned or cited disagreement with either the lifestyle statement or the school's faith statement.   President Donald Dowless is quoted by Religion News Service as saying that there are “strong feelings on both sides” about the new employment rules but the board decided to “reclaim our Christian roots” even if the consequence was a loss of faculty and staff.

“Our University was at a crossroads to either take steps to regain an authentic Christian identity in policy and practice or we would become a Christian University in name only,” he said.  

So, here is a school that is attempting to reaffirm behavior that is consistent with Biblical truth - and half of its faculty has either resigned or is in disagreement.   Sometimes you do have to evaluate your position on issues to make sure that you are lining up, and Shorter is using this moment in its history to run a "plumb line" and reset its standards.    

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