Monday, November 05, 2012

The 3 - November 4, 2012

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, a look at a college campus which has seen two recent incidences of religious expression being affected negatively, reminding us that school campuses can become areas of concern regarding free speech.  Also, it was an active week concerning the mandate that organizations, including many religious entitites, provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.   And, the top story - Christian churches and ministries were once again on the front lines providing assistance to storm victims, this time in the Northeast.

3 - Religious expression at LSU under scrutiny 

As the frenzy at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge built to a fever pitch at the prospect of a near-upset victory by LSU over #1 Alabama, in the midst of that throng was a group called the "Painted Posse".   These are actually Christians who paint their bodies to show their dedication to the Golden Tigers, but they also paint a cross near their shoulder to express their devotion to Christ.

There was a picture of some of their number that had been circulated by the university after the LSU victory over South Carolina earlier this season - there was one small problem:  the crosses had been "photo-shopped" out.   According to Baptist Press, LSU spokesman Herb Vincent claimed they altered the photo from the Oct. 20 game because they didn't want to offend anyone.

"We don't want to imply we are making any religious or political statements, so we airbrushed it out," Vincent said. "It was just a straight sports communications message, no politics involved, no religion."

Following that incident, the Posse members reportedly asked themselves, "What would Jesus do?" They publicly forgave the university for the incident and are urging everyone to put the incident behind them - with one caveat.

The members offered a press release, which said, in part:
"We encourage anyone who would like to honor Jesus Christ to join us by wearing a cross on November 3rd. We strongly discourage the wearing of a cross as a way to protest the university or its recent decision. We desire that no further negative light would be shone upon the university that we love. We acknowledge the efforts of the LSU administration and look forward to serving the university as both fans and students."
I'm not sure how many Tiger or Tide fans may have shown support for the Posse during the game Saturday night.  But, the story has attracted national attention, and illustrates how sporting events can be platforms to express faith in Christ.

And, speaking of sports and faith, the Marbury High School cheerleaders greeted their football team in its game at Wetumpka Friday night with a bold Scripture banner for them to run through.   Based on Romans 1:16, which involves not being ashamed of the gospel, the banner was allowed by the Autauga County Superintendent, which apparently has no intention of responding to a challenge by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which had written a letter to the school district stating the banners are unconstitutional.

Back to LSU, now - there is a new religious freedom controversy brewing there.  CitizenLink reports that the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of a student prohibited from distributing pro-life literature beyond a 1,000 square-foot area on the LSU campus.

In October, a student who wanted to participate in the Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity by handing out pro-life materials was told by LSU officials  that she could do so only in the school’s “Free Speech Alley — the one  place on campus where students and organizations are permitted to distribute printed materials.

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Sharp argues that the idea of this "Free Speech Alley" restricts religious freedom, saying that colleges and universities should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas:
“By limiting the distribution of material and free speech to less than 1 percent of the campus, Louisiana State University is violating the constitutionally protected freedoms of students who should be free to express themselves on the sidewalks and open spaces at the university,” he explained.
A number of college campuses have become zones where free speech and freedom of religious expression become restricted, and Christian students who wish to express themselves are finding that there are administrators that want to limit their ability to share and express their faith, and to choose leaders and members of Christian organizations that adhere to their beliefs.   

2 - More court action on the HHS contraception mandate

It was an active week concerning the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that forces employers, including those with religious objections, to provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs through their health care plans. had quite an assortment of stories.

One plaintiff, the large craft store chain, Hobby Lobby, was in court this week before a Federal court in Oklahoma.  Also, on Thursday, Criswell College, a Christian university in Dallas, Texas, filed a challenge to the mandate, bringing the count up to 39 separate lawsuits involving more than 110 plaintiffs.

Also this week, Grote Industries, a secular business based in Indiana that makes lights for cars and trucks, which is owned by a Catholic family, filed suit against the mandate.   Christian book and Bible publisher Tyndale House had a court date that was postponed due to Superstorm Sandy.

And, there was a victory in one of the cases this week: Weingartz Supply Company, which is owned by a Catholic, became the second organization to receive a court-ordered preliminary injunction stopping the mandate. In July, a federal court ordered an injunction saying Hercules Industries, a Catholic-owned business in Denver, is exempt from it while its lawsuit proceeds.

Thomas More Law Center Lead Counsel Erin Mersino, said the judge’s opinion “is not only a victory for our clients, but for religious freedom.”

In his ruling, Federal District Court Judge Robert H. Cleland said the loss of First Amendment freedoms, even if for a short period of time, will injure the plaintiffs by infringing on their religious beliefs.

“The balance of harms tips strongly in Plaintiffs’ favor,” Cleland concluded.  He said, “A preliminary injunction is warranted,” as the case continues.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs on Sept. 27, called Cleland’s ruling an “important step” in defeating an unconstitutional mandate.

So, despite claims by the Administration that no one is forced to provide these objectionable drugs, business owners, school administrators, and now judges are recognizing that this mandate is an infringement on religious freedom.
1 - Churches, ministry organizations respond in the wake of Superstorm Sandy 

Superstorm Sandy, the convergence of a hurricane with a major winter storm, has caused widespread damage and the loss of dozens of lives along the Northeast coast.    And, as we commonly see in times of crisis, Christian organizations in the New York City area were already in position to help, and national and international ministries, such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the Salvation Army, Samaritan's Purse, the Billy Graham Rapid Reponse Team, and World Vision, were significantly involved in the relief effort, providing physical and spiritual assistance.

Emily Belz covered the situation in the Northeast for WORLD Magazine, and wrote about some of the relief efforts.   She cited Hope for New York, a nonprofit affiliate of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, as it helped to coordinate relief efforts between churches and nonprofit groups, posting needs on its website.  All Angels Church on the Upper West Side requested hygiene kits and blankets. New York City Relief asked for clothing and food. Other churches in Queens sent out foot patrols to check on their neighbors.

“This is the time for the church to respond and to serve our city as Christ has so well served us,” wrote Apostles Church NYC on its website Tuesday, enumerating ways for parishioners to help.

Churches planned relief efforts even as they bailed out their own buildings. In Queens Tuesday morning, members of Trinity Grace Church helped clean out the flooded church offices at Skyline City Church. World Vision reported that its storehouse in the Bronx flooded, damaging a “great deal of assets.”

The Bowery Mission, a Christian group that primarily serves the homeless in the city, opened its emergency shelter Monday to more than 150 needing a roof over their heads. The mission said on Tuesday that it had lost power and its food pantry was dwindling—but the mission had initially tripled its normal capacity.   And, people from other shelters began to flock to the Bowery.

So, in a time of need, the church and ministry organizations provided needed food and shelter, and will no doubt be major players in the cleanup efforts in areas where homes were damaged due to flooding and wind.   When the storms come, it's important that the church is prepared and engaged to display the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

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