Saturday, March 24, 2012
3 - Another Christian slain by Muslim extremists shows dangers of Middle East
Hundreds of young protesters in Yemen, including some Muslims, are showing their support for 29-year-old American teacher Joel Shrum, who was murdered this week because he was allegedly attempting to "proselytize" students - al-Qaeda has taken responsibility for his death.
CBN News reports that young Yemenis are saying that Shrum was gunned down in his car for no good reason. He had worked in the Islamic nation for the past two years, teaching poor people English and vocational skills. "Mr. Joel came all the way from the United States of America, having nothing but good intentions to help and teach the people of Taiz. And I believe he did nothing to be killed for," one young student said in English, in a video of the protest posted on YouTube.
I have reported consistently on the dangers that Christians face in the Middle East merely for attempting to live a Christian life. It's important that we are praying for the courageous people and their families who choose to live, and live for Christ, in this part of the world...the terrorists might call it "proselytizing", but I would call it obedience - following God's call and not being ashamed of the gospel.
2 - Thousands rally for religious freedom against backdrop of contraception mandate
Across America, in almost 200 cities and towns, thousands took to the streets to protest the Obama Administration's mandate that says that employers, through their insurance plans, must provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs. This includes a number of religious organizations, including colleges and hospitals.
LifeNews.com reports that Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler, the main organizer of the event, the Rally for Religious Freedom, said the rally “has exploded into what may well be the single largest nationwide pro-life event in history.” Schiedler was quoted by The Christian Post as saying: "For us working at the Pro-Life Action League, the HHS mandate which both attacks the sanctity of life by treating fertility like a medical condition and pregnancy like a disease requiring free mandated so-called preventive care, and freedom of religion which motivates us to move into the public square to work for a better America, activism was a natural response."
Representatives of a number of pro-life organizations spoke at events across the country and helped to mobilize people to attend and show solidarity against the mandate. Chicago and San Diego reported some 2000 people attending rallies in each of their cities, and Jeff White, the organizer of the Los Angeles rally that drew around 500 people, told The Christian Post: "A powerful movement has begun...I am sure that this is not the end of it. We are going to see more rallies that are a great way to educate the church and inform the politicians."
There is great enthusiasm by many advocates for life as they realize the importance of their voices being heard. One tool that has been used to unite and inform Christians about opportunities, including the Rally for Religious Freedom, is the Manhattan Declaration website - check it out at www.manhattandeclaration.org.
1 - Supreme Court refuses to take up case of college group appealing right to determine membership policies
In an action that disappointed some court watchers who had hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would provide some clarification of its decision in the CLS vs. Martinez case involving the Hastings law school in California, the high court refused to hear a case, ADX vs. Reed, out of the 9th Circuit where, according to WorldOnCampus.com, the appeals court had ruled that San Diego State University did not violate the constitutional rights of two Christian organizations when it denied them official recognition because they had clauses in their constitutions requiring leaders to sign a statement of faith. School administrators had told the groups they would have to ditch the requirement if they wanted to use school facilities and apply for student activity fee funding.
The Hastings case, again, according to WorldOnCampus.com, said that public colleges and universities had permission to adopt policies requiring all campus groups to be open to all students - as both members and leaders. But the Supreme Court did not rule on whether such a policy could be enforced selectively. The 9th Circuit determined it could - at San Diego State, ruling that their policies concerning Christian groups were acceptable.
This non-decision could further embolden public colleges and universities who have used CLS vs. Martinez as justification for their restrictions on Christian groups. And, even though it is common for fraternities and sororities to select their members based on gender and for political organizations to consider party affiliations in their membership requirements, it does seem that across the country, Christian organizations who wish to be recognized by their schools do not have the capability of selecting members and leaders based on their faith.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
3 - North Carolina university reverses position on Christian club
We've been following the saga involving the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a Christian club on its campus, the Make Up Your Own Mind club, which, even though it was founded as an explicitly Christian club on the campus, was viewed by university officials as a non-religious club and therefore required to allow anyone to be a member or even a leader, without making personal faith a factor.
This week, school officials reversed course, according to a report on the WORLD on Campus website. The school issued an apology and said it will recognize the club as a religious organization once the proper paperwork is filed. The Alliance Defense Fund is representing the club, and attorney Jeremy Tedesco said that legal action would not be halted until he sees the paperwork.
ADF attorneys and others are awaiting action by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning a similar case - in ADX v. Reed, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that San Diego State University could prevent religious groups from selecting leaders based on belief, even though other campus organizations are allowed to be selective about leaders and even attendees, in some cases. Sororities and fraternities, for example, are allowed to restrict membership by gender. And political organizations are allowed to restrict membership and leadership based on agreement with the party's platform or principles. And, in the Hastings vs. Martinez case, a ruling was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court that found that, in order for a Christian student group at one particular law school to be recognized, it could not deny anyone membership, even someone who did not hold to a particular set of beliefs and conduct consistent with the organization's purpose.
These types of cases are becoming more and more common, it seems, and I think that it's important to note that fraternities and sororities are generally gender-specific. And, political organizations generally only admit those of a particular philosophical belief. You do have to ask why some students are intent on forcing Christian clubs to admit them when their faith and philosophical perspective are quite different.
2 - Justice Department decides to defend a memorial, including a cross
The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday filed legal briefs to protect the Mt. Soledad War Memorial on a mountain outside San Diego, which includes a 29-foot tall cross. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the memorial was unconstitutional because it includes a commemorative cross, therefore representing a presumed "establishment" of religion. According to CNSNews.com, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did not argue that the cross belongs on the monument, but only that the appeals court had wrongly determined that the presence of the cross was inconsistent with the Establishment Clause.
“The decision below, if permitted to stand, calls for the government to tear down a memorial cross that has stood for 58 years as a tribute to fallen service members,” the government wrote.
Family Research Council, along with three U.S. Senators and 17 U.S. Representatives, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court, arguing that this case reveals the serious flaws in the "endorsement of religion" test that the Supreme Court adopted in 1989, and uses to determine whether memorials or pieces of art on government property violate the Constitution.
Despite the fact that this is a national veteran's memorial created by an act of Congress, the Justice Department had delayed and requested deadline extensions from the Supreme Court saying that they had not determined whether case was worth taking to the high court. This week, they reversed their position and filed the appeal.
1- Washington state voters given the go-ahead for referendum on gay marriage
After the Washington state Legislature approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, which was signed by the Governor, pro-family advocates quickly swung into action to establish a statewide vote before gay marriage is declared to be officially legal in the state. Preserve Marriage Washington, the coalition backing a statewide vote, Referendum 74, to overturn the law, must collect approximately 120,500 voter signatures by June 6th to put the issue on the ballot. Once that occurs, the legislation does not go into effect and voters will decide whether to approve or reject the legislation in November. A judge cleared the petition for circulation this past week.
The National Organization for Marriage is one of the organizations that is supporting this vote. In 31 states, citizens have voted to define marriage as one-man, one-woman. The Legislature in this state voted very narrowly to make marriage genderless, and to use the terms "husband" and "wife" interchangeable. There is great political pressure on legislators on the state level to pass these types of bills, but when the issue is taken to the people, at large, they have consistently in state after state, voted to affirm traditional marriage.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
3 - VA Governor signs ultrasound bill, 7 states now require ultrasound
This week, Virginia became the seventh state that has some sort of law on the books requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before having an abortion and taking the life of their pre-born child. The original bill had been amended to give the woman a choice between an external or internal ultrasound after so-called women's rights groups attempted to brand supporters of the bill as insensitive toward women. VA Governor Bob McDonnell is quoted as saying:
"As difficult as an abortion decision is, the information provided by ultrasounds, along with other information given by the doctor pursuant to current law and prevailing medical practice, can help the mother make a fully informed decision. I consider it important to embrace a culture of life in our Commonwealth, and to protect the life and liberty of all of our citizens."Other states, including Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, are anticipated to be considering ultrasound legislation this year. I believe ultrasound technology is being used by the Lord to demonstrate to abortion-minded or undecided women that there is actually a living child developing within them. Pregnancy centers who utilize this technology are quite effective in providing this vital information, saving the lives of unborn children; in states where this type of legislation is being implement, abortion centers will be required to provide this great source of knowledge.
2 - Cameron's comments on homosexuality, gay marriage, stir controversy
On my radio show and in this blog, I have repeatedly identified criticism of homosexuality and the gay lifestyle as some sort of "holy grail", regarding the expression of opinion. It seems that gay activists and their allies are free to criticize people of faith, and that is perfectly permissible, but if someone dares express his or her opinion about a Biblical view of homosexuality, that person, especially a high-profile one, is subject to all sorts of vile criticism. The latest example is former "Growing Pains" star Kirk Cameron, who has been featured in Christian-oriented films such as "Left Behind", "Fireproof", and the documentary movie that he will be releasing on March 27th, "Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure", tracing the Biblical roots upon which our nation was founded.
Kirk went on Piers Morgan's show on CNN over a week ago and described homosexuality as "unnatural", going on to say that "I think that it's detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization." When asked about gay marriage, he said that he believed marriage between a man and a woman was "ordained by God", and that no one should attempt to redefine it.
Well, as you've perhaps heard, Kirk was subjected to a verbal firestorm from those who disagreed with him, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and a few Hollywood-types, including former "Growing Pains" co-stars Alan Thicke and Tracey Gold.
One could say that Kirk "fought" back this past week, but I think it would be more accurate to say that he spoke the truth in love, pointing his right to express his opinion, which was consistent with Scripture, and calling for greater civility in the public debate of this and other issues. In a statement, he said:
“I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand-in-hand in America...I spoke as honestly as I could, but some people believe my responses were not loving toward those in the gay community. That is not true. I can assuredly say that it's my life's mission to love all people.
“I should be able to express moral views on social issues — especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach ‘tolerance’ that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I'm in the public square."
This verbal confrontation came against the backdrop of the controversy over Rush Limbaugh's choice of words as he commented on the Administration's mandatory free birth control; he has since apologized for those comments. There has also been great attention to the lack of apology by many on the American left who have called high-profile female conservative women offensive names. We as a culture, no matter where we might fall on the political or the faith spectrum, would do well to weigh our words, and as Kirk requested, to "debate these things with greater love and respect".
1 - Invisible Children video brings visibility of Ugandan warlord
It hit the Internet early Wednesday and drew a torrent of curiosity. As I write this on Sunday afternoon, the KONY2012 video is at 71-1/2 million hits on YouTube. It was produced by a California-based organization called, Invisible Children, which is devoted to calling attention to the atrocities committed by the Lord's Resistance Army, based in Uganda, and its founder, one Joseph Kony, who is sought out as an international criminal. According to USA Today:
The United Nations and the International Criminal Court say that Kony, backed by child soldiers, comforted by girl sex slaves and fed by a campaign of terror against Ugandan villagers, has abducted, mutilated and killed tens of thousands of children and adults.Children have been reportedly taken captive by the scores, and Invisible Children is attempting to bring awareness of the atrocities that have been committed, to hopefully bring Kony to justice, and to undertake the enormous mission of freeing the children who have been held in bondage and abused.
You can expect with an instant following this large, there would be plenty of scrutiny about this organization and its purposes. Some critics say that the attempts of Invisible Children will only serve to worsen the situation, while others are concern that the organization supports the Ugandan army, which is known for its alleged brutality. Apparently, there has been a small group of U.S. troops sent into the region to try to apprehend Kony. Christianity Today has some good analysis of some of the concerns.
And, then there are those that object to the evangelical faith of founder Jason Russell, as they attempt to portray Invisible Children as some stealth, sinister organization that really just wants to proselytize in Uganda. Citing Russell's appearance at Liberty University, where he discussed some of the approaches and strategy of evangelism, secular critics are trying to discredit this organization that has become suddenly popular. But, can't an organization, doing good, while motivated by the love of Christ, function in this type of environment - isn't that what we, as the church, should be doing, and should have been doing, for ages?
Yes, I think it's prudent to examine the methods and motives of Invisible Children, or any organization. They are not a religious organization, but apparently Jason's faith informs the work that he does - and I think that's a great lesson for us: we may not all be working in ministries, but we can be doing ministry, displaying the Lord's love in whatever setting to which we are called. And, bravo to Jason Russell, who is attempting to shine light into a very dark and confusing situation.
Sunday, March 04, 2012
3 - University says that a Christian club is not "religious"
We are hearing quite frequently about Christian organizations on college campuses that are being forced to comply with the rules of the institutions that state that a Christian club cannot be selective in its membership and/or leadership, to the extent that a person who does not hold to Christian beliefs can still be admitted into the group and cannot be denied a leadership position. This has led to conflicts with a variety of schools, including Vanderbilt University, which has said that a number of Christian groups must comply with its so-called "non-discrimination" rules and adopt an "all-comers" policy.
But, as the American Center for Law and Justice and host of other groups contend, this is a violation of their constitutional freedom of religion and freedom of association. As the ACLJ contends, if the university was truly interested in fairness, its fraternity and sorority system would cease to exist - seems those organizations have great latitude in selecting their members and leaders, but faith-based organizations apparently cannot enjoy the same latitude.
And, current students and alumni are challenging the university's policy. In fact, one of the leading voices, Vanderbilt professor Dr. Carol Swain, will be a guest on my radio show this Thursday. On her blog, she contends that the controversy would be easily resolved if a single sentence were placed in both the University’s written nondiscrimination policy and the affirmation form:
“A student organization whose primary purpose is religious will not be denied registration as a Registered Student Organization on the ground that it limits membership or leadership positions to students who share the religious beliefs of the organization.”
This is not an uncommon action that we find as colleges and universities, in the attempt to be politically correct and overly tolerant, stifle student groups' freedom of association and freedom to set their own policies.
Now, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the administration has taken a new approach to deny religious freedom - they basically have said that an explicitly Christian club, the Make Up Your Own Mind club, is not a religious club, therefore they must follow all the rules of other organizations. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys are representing the club in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
ADF Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco states that, “Saying that a Christian club isn’t religious is flatly absurd...especially when the university has granted its belief-based exception to numerous other clubs. The First Amendment forbids the government from determining what is and what is not ‘religious,’ yet the university is doing exactly this by telling a Christian group that it is not religious. The Constitution protects the right of all student groups to employ belief-based criteria in selecting their members and leaders.”
2 - New York churches given reprieve by Federal appeals court
We are continuing to follow the situation involving churches in New York City, who had been told they could no longer rent public school buildings for use on Sundays for worship activities. This is a policy that the city has been attempting to enact for years, and with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear the case of one particular church, Bronx Household of Faith, as it brought legal action against the city, now the city has sensed the green light to try to go ahead and force the churches to meet elsewhere.
Not so fast, said the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled this Wednesday that the churches could continue to meet in public school buildings at least until June. The appeals court upheld a lower court judge who had said the schools could continue to rent their facilities to the churches. Some churches have already made other arrangements, but there is some hope that the city will not be able to bar the churches from meeting in the school buildings.
A New York City pastor, Bill Devlin of Manhattan Bible Church, recently ended a 42-day water-only fast in order to focus on this issue and cry out to God on behalf of their freedom to assemble in these facilities.
1 - U.S. Senate turns back attempt to overturn contraceptive mandate
And, the beat goes on, as Congress has been attempting to turn back the mandate that a number of religious groups provide for free contraception and even abortion-inducing drugs through their insurance plans, even though doing so may violate their deeply held beliefs. The Senate took up legislation this week that would have opened debate on overriding the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services - 3 Democrats joined 45 Republicans to vote on proceeding on the bill, but 50 Democrats and 1 Republican voted to stop it, so by a 51-48 vote in the Senate, President Obama's policy was affirmed. A House committee held hearings this week on the mandate, and despite the contention that the key point of the debate was the Administration's refusal to accommodate the religious beliefs of organizations in its policies under the health care law, the debate has expanded into the moral issue of contraception itself.
Those that support the HHS mandate say that opponents of it are not concerned with women's health and so-called "reproductive rights". And, the talking points have now included that all mandate opponents oppose contraception, and it is true that many do, based on their interpretation of Scripture. But, the word "free" needs to be included in the communication of the issue - if a health insurer is to provide free contraception or "free" anything, then someone has to pay for it, in the form of higher premiums. It could even be that, in some cases, the government would be providing free contraception - in which case, it would be the taxpayers.
Nevertheless, in order to meet the requirement of free contraception, no matter the circumstances, someone has to pay the freight - and the question has been rightly posed that if a person will be engaging in promiscuous sex and attempting to avoid some of the consequences of that activity, such as pregnancy or STD's, should that behavior, which is deemed immoral by the Bible, be subsidized by others, who may not condone such behavior? So, in the attempt to stigmatize the opponents of the contraception mandate as being backward and unenlightened, they/we have been characterized as wanting to deny women their so-called reproductive freedom. It's an important consideration, that unfortunately has been hijacked by many using Rush Limbaugh's unfortunate choice of words toward a Georgetown Law School student who wanted her institution to change its policy to include - and there's that word again - "free" contraception. Just another symptom of the "anything goes" mentality that is so prevalent in our culture.
The issues remain, in order of importance: 1) religious freedom 2) the morality of "free" contraception, which provides a false promise of consequence-free immoral behavior, and 3) the ability of the government insert itself into the free market and to tell private businesses what they can and cannot cover in their health insurance plans.