Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 3 - June 17, 2012

This edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", includes a type of military Bible that is no longer allowed to be sold on military facilities, an important vote on religious liberties in North Dakota that only received just over one-third of the total number of ballots, and a statement by scores of religious leaders, making a decision to speak out on illegal immigration.

3 - Department of Defense pulls "military Bibles" from store shelves

We have been tracking some of the ways that the U.S. Military has taken steps, in some instances, to remove vestiges of religion from its facilities, under intense pressure from one particular organization.  And, this week, the announcement came that a popular series of military-themed Bibles, which originally contained the insignias of each branch of the service, has been removed from the store shelves.  The Bibles, which have been manufactured by B&H Publishing, now contain a generic insignia, rather than the official branch logo.

According to CitizenLink, the U.S. Department of Defense granted permission for the publishers to use the insignia on the Soldier’s Bible, Sailor’s Bible, Marine’s Bible and Airman’s Bible in 2003, but revoked it last year after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation threatened to sue the government, claiming the insignia amounted to an unconstitutional government “endorsement” of religion.

The Christian Examiner had this story.

While the foundation is claiming victory, Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, is crying foul.  He has pointed out that military personnel dating back to General George Washington have taken counsel and been encouraged by biblical texts.

"Why should these Bibles be removed because of the demands of a small activist group," he asked. "The MFRR must cease and desist their reckless assault on religious liberty."

The Department of Defense claims that trademarks are the issue, not religion.  But it has certainly been seen as religious in nature.  And, taken together with other activities that have been curtailed at military facilities, a narrative is building with regard to a military member's lack of freedom of religious expression in some instances.  The Bibles have been, and continue to be, quite popular, and apparently will continue to be sold with the generic insignia.

2 - Religious freedom amendment goes down in North Dakota

Citizens across America are concerned that their constitutional rights to practice their religion are declining.   While the establishment of religion has been a principal concern for a number of years, there are those that would want religion practices to go on behind closed doors, rather than in public, and that represents a threat to the Constitutionally-guaranteed free expression of religion.

So, states are taking steps to guarantee that their religious rights do not continue to erode.   Voters in North Dakota went to the polls in the past week to consider an amendment strengthening religious freedom rights.  And, while the chances of passage looked good for a season, groups such as Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, Emily’s List and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State spent nearly $2 on each of North Dakota’s 684,000 residents, asking them to vote against Measure 3.

The measure failed by a 64 to 36 percent margin.

Here's the story from CitizenLink.

Voters in other states have also taken up the issue.  In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court reduced the level of protection historically afforded religious protection.  Since then, Congress, with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and 16 states have passed measures restoring a higher standard.   Next up, it's Missouri, where family advocates there will be championing an amendment in August, and perhaps this type of opposition will be seen there, as well.  

Freedom of religion is a basic constitutional right, and we continue to recognize that this nation was founded in accordance with Judeo-Christian principles, as men of faith took a strong stand against tyranny and expressed their dependence on Almighty God.    To continue to allow our freedom of religion to erode sets up a scenario where religious oppression, which was a chief reason for our founders declaring independence, becomes more and more widespread and problematic.   It does make sense that the more tyrannical and overreaching that government becomes, the less tolerant it is of the religious freedom of its citizens.  The reasoning is that if more people become dependent on government, they are likely to be less dependent on God. 

1 - Evangelical leaders sign immigration reform document

The topic of immigration reform has been a rather contentious one, as states such as Arizona and Alabama have passed strong legislation designed to enforce the nation's immigration laws.   And, recently, you have heard discussion of a DREAM act being considered by Congress, which would provide certain benefits for children of illegal immigrants.   This week, the President issued an Executive Order providing similar assurances.

This is an issue that the church can definitely be out front on, and, under the auspices of the National Association of Evangelicals, over 100 faith leaders have issued a document attempting to balance the rule of law with a possible path to citizenship.    These leaders, across the doctrinal and political spectrum, issued the Evangelical Immigration Table document, which says:

As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:
  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.
Numerous heads of denominations, as well as Christian ministries, signed on to the document, which is not designed to grant amnesty, but does call for a way that illegal immigrants can either become legal residents or citizens.  

The list is impressive, and gives Christians a chance to demonstrate compassion for illegal immigrants and their families, while still underscoring the importance of the rule of law and secure borders.    Baptist Press had this report.

Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as other leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table have been promoting comprehensive reform for several years.   Land, quoted in Baptist Press, said:  "'s time for the politicians to understand that the country has changed on this issue, and they believe it's well past time for the government to get its act together and to pass immigration reform that is in line with these principles...And we as evangelicals are here to say to both parties, 'Get with it.'."   He cited a Pew Forum survey that showed 70 percent of Americans said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backs comprehensive reform.

According to the article, the statement marks a significant expansion of evangelical endorsers in a cooperative effort.  Notably, Focus on the Family took a stance on the issue for the first time when its president, Jim Daly, signed the statement. The coalition includes evangelicals from both the left and right.

Evangelical left leader Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners, pointed to the agreement between his organization and more conservative groups such as the SBC, Focus on the Family and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).   "That doesn't happen very often," Wallis told reporters. "An effort for immigration reform of this size and this diverse has never been attempted in the evangelical community."

Scriptural principles can be applied to so many areas of public policy, and this statement on immigration reform shows how Christians can provide truth and wisdom to what has been a contentious issue.

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