Saturday, June 30, 2012

The 3 - June 30, 2012

On this edition of "The 3", the big story has to be the stunning Supreme Court decision on health care and its implications.  But, there are other notable stories affecting people of faith this week, including a court decision aiding New York City churches who wish to rent space for worship in public school buildings, and aid for residents of Colorado Springs, headquarters for a variety of ministry organizations, a city that is being ministered to in the wake of devastating wildfires.

3 - Court says that New York City churches can continue to meet in schools

It's been a 17-year battle between officials in New York City and churches there, who have been allowed to rent space in school buildings in order to hold their worship services on weekends.   The city had attempted to enforce a policy that would bar churches from renting space, Bronx Household of Faith filed suit, and late last year, a Federal appeals court said that the city's ban was constitutional - since the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, the city gave a deadline for churches to find other places to meet.

The Bronx church partnered with the Alliance Defense Fund and went back to court to seek to resume meeting in the buildings, and in February, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a preliminary order that allowed Bronx Household of Faith and other religious groups to conduct worship services in schools while the ADF lawsuit against the city proceeded.  On Friday of this week, the court made the preliminary order permanent.

Jordan Lorence of ADF said, "Churches that have been helping communities for years can continue to offer the hope that empty buildings can’t...The court’s order allows churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in empty school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups. ADF will continue to defend this constitutionally protected right if the city chooses to continue using taxpayer money to evict the very groups that are selflessly helping the city’s communities, including the public schools themselves.”   The city had contended that allowing the churches to meet in their buildings violates the Constitution, but, at least in this round, the court has dismissed the city's contention.   For now, churches have the access, but it would not be surprising to see further court action.

2 - Colorado ministries face peril from wildfires, ministries from across America get involved

Residents of the Colorado Springs area have been under the threat of a raging wildfire to the northwest of the city, where some 32,000 residents were evacuated as the result of a dramatic increase in the size and scope of the Waldo Canyon Fire, threatening the Air Force Academy and destroying thousands of homes.

A number of national and international ministries are headquartered in the Colorado Springs area, including Focus on the Family, whose facility is just across Interstate 25 from the Academy, the Navigators, whose building was threatened and evacuated, and Compassion International.    A number of families from these and other ministries faced evacuation and loss of property as the result of this disaster.

And, Christian ministries began to mobilize to bring relief to those affected by the fires.   Gleaning for the World, a ministry associated with Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, is working with church partner New Life Church in Colorado Springs, distributing water, food, personal care supplies and related items to more than 50,000 evacuees in the state.

And, Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team are also working to bring aid and spiritual comfort to those adversely affected by the fires.   Samaritan's Purse is actively recruiting volunteers to go to Colorado and New Mexico to aid in wildfire relief, as well as Minnesota and Florida to help in the aftermath of flooding.   To learn more, you can go to

And, The Christian Post has a report, including a quote from Brady Boyd, pastor of New Life Church, commenting on his church's willingness to help:
"What I love about our church is that I did not have to tell anyone, anything or organize [a response]. They responded without me even saying anything," he said. "They took people into their homes. They took food down to the food banks. There were people that were moving horses, livestock out of danger, they've volunteered all that.

"We don't wish for these kinds of tragedies, but in these kinds of times this is the church's finest hour. This is when the church can be the church. Our people from across the city are responding."

Continue to be in prayer for the residents of Colorado Springs and other areas that are suffering under these threats.   There will be those who have lost property and will have to take a number of steps to rebuild.   Others have suffered and are still suffering from the fear of being under such a threat.   And, pray for rain, which is a remedy for the dry conditions that have helped to facilitate these occurrences of wildfires throughout the West.

1 - U.S. Supreme Court rules health care law constitutional, individual mandate is a tax

After oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on the combination of cases challenging the national health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or "Obamacare", it was widely thought that the government's lawyers had failed to make the case that the individual mandate to purchase health care, which provides the funding mechanism for the health care act, was somehow constitutional under the Commerce Clause.  In other words, the government could not force you to buy anything simply because you are alive and breathing.   And, when the greatly anticipated ruling was handed down on Thursday, it was true, the Supreme Court had said the mandate could not be allowable under the Commerce Clause.   But, in the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, siding with the 4 liberal justices on the court, he stated that the individual mandate was a tax, and therefore falling under the power of Congress.  In his opinion, Roberts seemed to indicate that the role of the high court was to determine constitutionality, not whether or not a piece of legislation is good public policy.

And, Christians and Christian groups have long decried the Act as being poor public policy.   Not only does it expand the size and scope of government, it provides a mechanism to fund abortion using tax dollars, and could lead to the rationing of care at the expense of the most vulnerable in society.  Now according the Supreme Court, it represents a large tax increase, which adversely affects taxpaying individuals and families.

Here is the report from CitizenLink.

So, where does the law go from here?   The Obama Adminstration has indicated it will go full speed ahead to implement the massive health care structure.   However, a number of groups, including dozens of Catholic entities, have filed suit against the mandate that employers, including religious institutions, provide their employees with free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs under their health care plans.  This has perhaps become the largest religious liberty issues of our time.  

Steps are being taken in the House and Senate to repeal the law, a repeal that would be vetoed by current President Obama.  But if a new President, Mitt Romney is elected, then the road to repeal will be greatly enhanced.   Voters will have their say in November, and as Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, 

Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices. (from ABC News)
So, while many Christians and conservatives take issue with Roberts' position, his point here is well-taken:   the people have the opportunity to elect leaders who will govern consistent with our ideology.   That is why we must make a prayerful and an informed choice when we vote and see which candidates will reinforce our values.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The 3 - June 24, 2012

In this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, another attempt at removing the name of Jesus Christ from public prayers in a major U.S. city, a Supreme Court ruling dealing with broadcast indecency, and a major church denomination makes history at its annual meeting in New Orleans.

3 - Volunteer chaplains restricted in public prayers

There is quite a bit of confusion out there regarding the rights of officials to pray according to their own unique faith perspective.  Quite commonly, we hear about municipalities and other government entities that have issued restrictions on the content of  prayers used in accordance with public meetings.

And, the latest site of concern is Charlotte, North Carolina, where, according to the Christian Examiner, volunteer chaplains in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Police Department will no longer be able to use Jesus’ name in prayers at public events, such as police graduations, promotions, and memorials.

Major John Diggs, overseer of the chaplain program, told a local television station that the goal is to be more sensitive to all religions.

Terry Sartain, pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship and a police chaplain for seven years, said he got the news shortly before he was to give the invocation at a promotions ceremony last month. When he was told not to use Jesus in his prayer, he asked to be excused, according to the Charlotte Observer, which quoted him as saying, "I don’t want to jam my beliefs down anybody’s throat. But I won’t deny Jesus."

Based on past experience, I would say that this policy will receive its share of public comment.   In this case, the Constitutionally-guaranteed free expression of religion is being restricted, and officials who are trying not to offend some faith groups are running the risk of offending Christians.

2 - Supreme Court rules on indecency fines, but not law

As we await major rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court on health care and immigration in the coming week, the high court did issue a ruling on a case involving instances that have been on the radar of Christian groups and media monitoring organizations for some time now.    According to CitizenLink, the court ruled unanimously in a case originating with a 2003 episode of the long-cancelled ABC show “NYPD Blue,” which contained a seven-second segment of nudity, and vulgarities aired during live award shows on Fox in 2004.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined ABC $1.2 million and criticized Fox for the incidents; the networks complained that the broadcast standards were too vague before the incidents, and only clarified afterward.   The court sided with the networks, saying, "The Commission failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent. Therefore, the commission’s standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague, and the commission’s orders must be set aside.”

So, the length of the objectionable material was at issue here and the timing of the enforcement.   But, the Supreme Court did not adjust current law on indecency.    Patrick Trueman of Morality in Media is quoted as saying, “While the ruling is not what (we were) hoping for, it should be understood that the high court did not strike down the federal indecency law, nor did it uphold the decision of the U.S. court of Appeals finding that the FCC enforcement regulations of that law were unconstitutional."

A previous Supreme Court ruling dating from 1978 gave the FCC the power to police the networks, particularly between the hours of 6 and 10 p.m., when children are more likely to be watching TV.

“Broadcast decency rules have existed to protect children since the dawn of the broadcast medium,” Parents Television Council President Tim Winter said. “It is for their sake that there will still be decency rules and the TV networks will be required to abide by them.”

This ruling did not involve the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime case, or other instances.  The FCC now must review more than a million complaints about broadcast indecency and vulgarity that were lodged while the case was pending review.   For the time being, rules on what can be shown during prime-time television are intact, but there continues to be the threat that the FCC will either voluntarily or by a court mandate revise its policies, which could lead to a loosening of content regulations on prime-time broadcast TV, which will be of great concern to Christian parents.

1 - Southern Baptist messengers choose first African-American President, pass groundbreaking resolutions

The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention took place in New Orleans this week, and hometown pastor Fred Luter, who had served for the previous year as convention first vice-president, was elected as the first African-American President of the convention.   This is being hailed as a step forward in race relations for the denomination, which had been chided in the past because of its history.   According to the Christian Post:
It was less than 20 years ago when the Southern Baptist Convention officially apologized for condoning and perpetuating racism. The SBC was formed in 1845 out of a split with northern Baptists over the right to own slaves. Many in the denomination supported segregation. 
Baptist Press reports that since that apology in 1995, the Convention has seen the percentage of non-white churches grow, from 5 percent of the SBC in 1990 to 19 percent in 2010.  Last year, messengers approved a landmark report encouraging ethnic diversity in committee appointments.

Almost 7900 messengers attended the two-day convention in New Orleans, which featured a number of other notable developments (according to Baptist Press), including:

- the descriptor, "Great Commission Baptists", was authorized for voluntary use by churches, by a 53-46 margin.  The convention will still be known as the Southern Baptist Convention, but there was sentiment that the descriptor would help churches outside the South and ethnic churches who are trying to reach people who might view the name "Southern Baptist" negatively

- messengers overwhelmingly passed a resolution called, "On Cooperation and the Doctrine of Salvation," which said in part, "We affirm that The Baptist Faith and Message provides sufficient parameters for understanding the doctrine of salvation, so that Southern Baptists may joyfully and enthusiastically partner together in obedience to the Great Commission."   There is a theological difference among Southern Baptists that was highlighted from the podium from outgoing convention president Bryant Wright and Executive Committee President and former convention president Frank Page, who called for unity between those who embrace Calvinism and those who do not.  Page plans to convene a group of advisers to help maintain unity on the issue, and Wright, in his convention sermon, said:  "If we pride ourselves more on being a traditional Southern Baptist or more on being a Calvinist or a Reformed theologian, more than we are thankful that we are Christ-centered and biblically based ... then it is time to repent of theological idolatry."

- messengers strongly approved a resolution saying that homosexuality is not a civil rights issue, reaffirming opposition to same-sex marriage, and calling for Southern Baptists to "stand against any form of gay-bashing" and that messengers "express our love to those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who are engaged in the homosexual lifestyle."

- a resolution on the sinner's prayer said the prayer is "not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the Gospel." It further said that messengers "promote any and all biblical means of urging sinners to call on the name of the Lord in a prayer of repentance and faith."

- Tom Elliff, President of the International Mission Board, followed up on a challenge from the 2011 convention, when he called on Southern Baptist churches to claim responsibility for evangelizing all of the world's then-3,800 unreached, unengaged people groups.   He said 1,281 Southern Baptist churches and entities have indicated an interest in embracing such a group, and 474 have indicated a deeper level of commitment.

- Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, the "home missions" arm of the convention, highlighted the goal of a net increase of 5000 Southern Baptist churches in the next 10 years.

- more than 1100 decisions for Christ were made during the yearly evangelistic emphasis in advance of the convention, known as Crossover.

Going in to the convention, LifeWay Research had released the results of a membership and attendance survey for the denomination.   The Christian Post reports that the denomination has lost members for 5 straight years, and now has less than 16 million members, after an almost 1 percent drop from 2010 to 2011.  Primary worship attendance has also dropped by 0.65 percent to around 6.16 million.

There is some good news, though.  After reporting its lowest number of baptisms in decades in 2010, the SBC saw an increase in baptisms in 2011.   According to the report, baptisms increased by 7/10 of one percent.   And, there are 37 more churches this year, bringing the total to over 45,764.  

But, it's a tough neighborhood - there is a rise in secularism throughout the culture, and more choices for church consumers.   But, if the week in New Orleans is any indication, Southern Baptists, or "Great Commission Baptists", are strategizing to face the future and to remove barriers that would keep people from accepting and following Christ.

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.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The 3 - June 10, 2012

On this edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", we first of all take a look at a husband and wife in New Mexico whose photography business is being chastised because they did not want to photograph a gay wedding.  Then we move on to the Federal courts, where this week, there were more rulings by judges concerning the definition of marriage.   And, preserving religious liberties was the theme of rallies in over 150 cities across America, as people of faith gathered to stand in opposition to government's attempt to force people to violate their conscience regarding health care.

3 - New Mexico court says photographers wrong to refuse lesbian clients

A growing trend in the business sector was brought to light again this week in the case of a New Mexico photography studio that was asked to take pictures at a wedding - between two lesbians.   The couple politely refused, saying that same-sex marriage violated their moral beliefs.   The gay couple found another photographer, and you would think that would settle the matter.

Not so - just as in the case of a Kentucky t-shirt company that refused to print gay pride shirts, a complaint was filed with the state Human Rights Commission.   The commission determined that the photography studio, Elane Photography, had committed "sexual orientation discrimination", and ordered the owners to pay over $6,600. 

The photographers contacted the Alliance Defense Fund, and they appealed the commission's ruling.   In 2009, a trial judge sided with the Commission's decision, and this week, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the Commission's decision on the grounds of the state's Human Rights Act.   The owners now intend to appeal the case to the New Mexico Supreme Court--and beyond, if necessary.

Here's the story from the Family Research Council's website.

Jordan Lorance of the Alliance Defense Fund wrote an excellent op-ed piece that was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.   In it, he says:
We should encourage business owners to operate their businesses with ethics and higher principles so that they do not mindlessly dispense goods and services with no thought to the impact of their actions. The Constitution protects people's expression of their views, even when it comes in a commercial context...Business owners do not surrender their constitutionally protected rights at the marketplace gate.
This is a trend that is being seen not only regarding business owners' rights to choose who their customers will be, but in a variety of other areas, such as sports and entertainment, as well.   Just ask fighter Manny Pacquaio, or Ron Brown of the University of Nebraska, or actor Kirk Cameron.   Those who express their deeply held moral views publicly in opposition to gay marriage have been chastised and ridiculed.   But, while it is discouraging, we should continue to express Biblically-based viewpoints, aware of the consequences that could ensue, and reliant on the Lord to sustain us when we are criticized.

2 - More court decisions on the definition of marriage

This week, more court decisions were handed down concerning the definition of marriage.   The most notable was the decision by the entire 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not to review the ruling by a 3-judge panel of the appeals court, stating that Proposition 8, the amendment to the California constitution stating that marriage was defined in the state as one man and one woman, was unconstitutional.   This sets up a scenario that likely will lead to the case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In another development concerning marriage and its definition, a New York Federal district judge ruled in a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, striking down a component of the Federal law that defines marriage as one man and one woman.    According to the Christian Post:
U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones said the Defense of Marriage Act’s definitions “intrude upon the states’ business of regulating domestic relations” by re-examining the marriage definitions by the various states - six of which, plus the District of Columbia, recognize gay marriages.
“That incursion skirts important principles of federalism and therefore cannot be legitimate, in this court’s view,” Judge Jones said.
The ruling came in a case brought by a woman whose partner died in 2009, two years after they married in Canada.  Because of the federal law, the woman didn’t qualify for the unlimited marital deduction on her late spouse’s estate and was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate tax. 
The woman sued the government in 2010 and the judge ruled that the plaintiff was to be reimbursed for the money she paid in estate tax.

The issue here is apparently partner benefits, a topic also dealt with in a decision out of the 1st Circuit recently.   And, apparently courts are saying that in order to change the eligibility for benefits, the traditional definition of marriage should be changed.   DOMA is facing a host of challenges, and one of these cases, presumably the one dealt with by the 1st Circuit, could end up at the high court.   The defense of DOMA is being carried on by attorney Paul Clement on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives, as the result of the Obama Administration's refusal to defend traditional marriage.  

In other news concerning marriage, two more states, Maryland and Washington, are on their way to voting on the definition of marriage, as a result of petition drives to reverse action taken by the respective legislatures and governors of those states to redefine marriage.    Maryland marriage supporters met their first deadline last week, and Washington supporters have turned in the required number to get a referendum on the ballot there.

The national debate is continuing on this important issues, and it's important to reinforce the benefits of marriage, not only to the parties involved and members of the families, but to our communities and society at large.

1 - Thousands "Stand Up for Religious Freedom"

In March of this year, thousands took to the streets of a variety of American cities to stand against the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services that employers, including most religious institutions, provide free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees.   And, while Catholics have been most impacted because of the church's teaching on contraception, this is really an affront to people of faith of all denominations, because it is an attempt by government to force someone to take an action that violates their deeply held religious convictions.

I do believe this is a move indicative of somewhat of a "contraception culture" that is seemingly offering a license to engage in premarital sex without the consequences of a pregnancy.   So, in one sense, I think that contraception is an issue here.   And, the fact that drugs that cause abortion are being funded is another issue.

The widespread issue of religious liberty has gained the majority of attention here.   And, people are mobilizing - lawsuits have been filed by dozens of entities against this mandate on religious freedom grounds.   Plus, the first round of "Stand Up for Freedom" rallies in March has now led to another round this past week.   Indications were that over 150 cities were holding rallies, which also coincided, to a certain extent, with the expected U.S. Supreme Court decision on the national health care law.   The date also marked the 223rd anniversary of the passage of the Bill of Rights. 

LifeSite News offered a broad overview of the coast-to-coast rallies.

According to their piece:
Early media coverage showed hundreds of people attended each major rally, holding yellow balloons that say “Religious Liberty” and waving signs that read, “Stop the HHS Mandate.”
In the nation's capital, Michele Bachmann and Lila Rose expounded upon the Constitutional liberties enshrined in the First Amendment.
Jill Stanek spoke in Chicago. The San Francisco rally was emceed by Dana Cody of the Life Legal Defense Foundation. In Montana, a crowd gathered outside the officers of U.S. Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat who supports the mandate.
It's helpful to have a series of events continuing to keep this issue in the collective consciousness of people across the nation.   So often, we take part in "one-and-done"-type of events and lose momentum on important issues of faith - consistent prayer and action can be highly effective in demonstrating public opinion and influencing decisions.  

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The 3 - June 3, 2012

On this edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", the spotlight shines internationally first of all on a nation that is experiencing some transition, and the Christians there are quite concerned.   And, a court in the Northeast U.S. has ruled a Federal law defining marriage unconstitutional.   Plus, in the top slot, the U.S. House had a chance to ban a certain category of abortion, but failed to reach the number of votes necessary to pass the bill.

3 - Unsettling days for Egypt's Christians

The first round of voting in Egypt's election for President has concluded, and two candidates will be vying for the title later this month.   The two candidates are:  Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammed Morsi and independent candidate Ahmad Shafik, who was former president Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister.  His candidacy may have been damaged by the announcement on Saturday that Mubarak, who resigned under pressure last year, was sentenced to life in prison as a result of deaths of some of the protestors in that uprising, one of the series of "Arab Spring" instances.

According to Crosswalk's ASSIST News Service reports that many Islamists, fearing Shafik if he comes to power, are blaming Coptic Christians for voting for him and bringing him into the runoff.   Copts have been accused of being "traitors" and "anti-revolutionary" for voting to bring back the old regime.   Coptic human rights lawyer Athanasious Williams is quoted as saying that regardless of who wins the election, persecution of Christians will continue in Egypt -- the question is just how bad it will be.

The website also reports that Morsi has declared that he will "achieve the Islamic conquest of Egypt for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam, or else pay the jizya [Islamic tax required of non-Muslims]," according to the Gatestone Institute.  Morsi is quoted as saying that, "The second Muslim conqueror will be Muhammad Morsi, and history will record it."   When asked what he thought about many Coptic Christians voting for his opponent, Morsi reportedly said, "They need to know that conquest is coming, and Egypt will be Islamic, and that they must pay jizya or emigrate."

And, the Christian Examiner reports that an Egyptian judge has sentenced 12 Coptic Christians to life in prison for their alleged part in a riot that left two Muslims and one Christian dead in the village of Abu-Qurgas.  Eight Muslims charged with the same crimes in the same riot were acquitted.   That May 21st ruling has added to fears that justice will continue to elude the country's Christian minority.  A second, lesser-known ruling, however, may be a cause for hope.  In that ruling, an Egyptian court upheld a death sentence against a police officer who, in 2011, boarded a train, attacked a group of Christians and shot one dead.   Samia Sidhom, managing editor of Watani newspaper in Cairo, said the ruling went against "an unwritten rule" that judges cannot give the death penalty to a Muslim who kills a Christian.

Coptic Christians didn't have it so well when Hosni Mubarak was in power, and so voting for his surrogate would no doubt have been a difficult exercise.  But, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood majority in the Egyptian Parliament are likely to implement Sharia, or Islamic, Law, which would make life even more challenging for these brave believers.   We're reminded that living the Christian life in many Middle Eastern countries is an invitation to persecution, and that we need to be in prayer for the believers in that region.

2 - Appeals court rules Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional

On Thursday, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found a way, or created a way, to declare a portion of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.   By rejecting traditional arguments, the court in essence crafted a new path to grant the same benefits to same-sex partners that spouses in traditional marriage receive.   According to Liberty Counsel, the ruling dealt with Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as one man and one woman for purposes of federal law and federal benefits, specifically joint federal tax returns, Social Security survivor benefits, and federal employee health insurance and medical benefits.

The U.S. House of Representatives now has the responsibility to defend DOMA, as the result of the Obama Administration saying that it would no longer defend the act, that was passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.   The House, and its attorney Paul Clement, are likely to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Christian legal advocacy organizations were swift to weigh in on the ruling.    Mat Staver, the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel said: 
“This ruling makes no sense. A state cannot dictate the kind of benefits the federal government must provide...If a state recognizes polygamy, does that mean that the federal government must also recognize multiple spouses? Absolutely not! This decision is the proverbial tail wagging the dog.”
Alliance Defense Fund  Legal Counsel Dale Schowengerdt stated:
“Society should protect and strengthen marriage, not undermine it. The federal Defense of Marriage Act provides that type of protection, and we trust the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse the 1st Circuit’s erroneous decision.”
And, Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, commented:
"Liberal federal judges in Massachusetts and California have resorted to making up legal standards in order to justify redefining marriage...They realize the legal precedent doesn't allow them to redefine marriage, so they are making up new standards to justify imposing their values on the rest of the nation. It is clear that the US Supreme Court is going to have to resolve this issue once and for all."
There is seemingly growing opposition to the traditional, Biblical view of marriage, but the sociological research shows that marriage is an essential building block of a stable society, so the government should be interested in protecting it.   From a moral and spiritual standpoint, stable marriages contribute to the preservation of the family, the general happiness of the couples, and an environment best-suited for the raising of children.     

1 - House fails to get enough votes to ban sex-selection abortion

The U.S. House of Representatives had a unique opportunity this past week to outlaw an entire category of abortion - for the purpose of gender selection.    Even though a sizable majority of the House voted in favor of the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA), a 2/3-majority was necessary under the rules, and the vote fell short of passage, with a 246-168 margin.  The bill faced rejection in the Senate and a Presidential veto, but it does get lawmakers on record regarding their position on terminating a human life just because the unborn child is female.   Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio said, according to "Abortion is wrong at any level, but to condone someone wanting to end a life based solely on the sex of their child is horrendous. This is an assault on women. This is gendercide."

This bill came to a vote the same week that the pro-life invesigative media group Live Action released 2 undercover videos shot at a Planned Parenthood center in Austin, Texas, in which a Planned Parenthood employee counsels a woman to have an abortion because it would be born as a girl.   According to
The Planned Parenthood staffer suggests that the woman get on Medicaid in order to pay for an ultrasound to determine the gender of her baby, even though she plans to use the knowledge for an elective abortion. She also tells the woman to “just continue and try again” for the desired gender after aborting a girl, and adds, “Good luck, and I hope that you do get your boy.”

“The search-and-destroy targeting of baby girls through prenatal testing and abortion is a pandemic that is spreading across the globe,” notes Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action. “Research proves that sex-selective abortion has now come to America. The abortion industry, led by Planned Parenthood, is a willing participant.”
According to Live Action, there are thousands of missing girls in various nations around the world due to sex-selection abortions.   But, in the name of preserving a "woman's right to choose", a significant number of lawmakers have stood in solidarity with those who accept the termination of a life because she is female.   Opponents of the bill said that the supporters were carrying on a "war on women", but doesn't that ring hollow when you are discussing actually taking the lives of females?