3 - Administration releases HHS mandate exemption policy; Christian legal groups not impressed
Late last week, the Department of Health and Human Services, which has even stated in court that it was planning some sort of religious exemption to its mandate that employers provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans, issued a small change in its policy. Over 130 plaintiffs have filed over 40 lawsuits, and according to a CitizenLink report, the Obama Administration has won in only 4 cases where a temporary exemption has been applied for - those filing suit have won at least 10 temporary injunctions from the mandate.
Alliance Defending Freedom had two court victories last week - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a preliminary injunction on Wednesday that blocks enforcement of the Administration’s abortion pill mandate against family-run Grote Industries, an Indiana-based vehicle lighting manufacturer. And, on Friday, the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued a temporary injunction that blocks enforcement of the mandate against a Minnesota family-run business in Annex Medical vs. Sebelius.
On Friday, the "new" HHS proposal, according to CitizenLink, explains how “religious” employers like universities and hospitals can receive an accommodation from the mandate based on religious grounds. These employers could opt out of the mandate, which would mean their employees would receive separate contraceptive coverage with no co-pays, but supposedly at no cost to the religious organization.
This is essentially the same proposal that President Obama offered in a speech a year ago. It was highly criticized by opponents of the mandate as nothing more than an “accounting gimmick” to obscure genuine conscience violations.
And the proposal does nothing to protect Christian for-profit business owners.
“The president gave absolutely no relief from the mandate to families who want to earn a living in business and don’t want to violate their faith under a government order,” said Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). “Instead the government is picking and choosing who can exercise religion.”
In a press release, the Christian Medical Association's CEO, David Stevens, is quoted as saying: "This latest version of the contraceptives and sterilization mandate remains unacceptable. Since when does the government get to pick and choose which groups will get to enjoy First Amendment protections? Our founders intended the First Amendment to protect every American's freedom to act according to one's conscience. They didn't specify that only groups deemed religious will be afforded this protection; freedom of conscience applies equally to all Americans."
So, Administration officials are appearing that they are trying to try to appease some faith-based groups without actually backing down from their commitment to provide these objectionable drugs. And, with the court success so far, it appears that there continues to be momentum in favor of plaintiffs who are fighting for their rights of conscience.
2 - Boy Scouts consider changing policy to allow gay members and leaders
The Boy Scouts of America have been under intense pressure to remove a prohibition on gay membership, as well as homosexuals serving in leadership, a policy that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The BSA has now indicated the policy might change - this week, the BSA released a statement saying that, “Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.” The national board of the Boy Scouts will make a decision on this policy at a meeting in Dallas next week.
According to a report by Warren Smith of WORLD News Group, who has a longtime association with scouting:
The BSA celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. It has long excluded both homosexuals and atheists because the Scout Oath requires both “duty to God” and that a Scout keep himself “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The BSA’s position has made it a target of both atheist and pro-homosexual groups. In recent years, pro-homosexual groups have also brought pressure on corporations that support the Boy Scouts with matching gift programs and other financial support. In recent months, UPS, Intel, and Merck announced they would no longer support the organization.Christian leaders were swift to speak up about this proposed change, and the phone lines at Boy Scout national headquarters were jammed. The Family Research Council went as far as to publish the contact information for board members for the BSA. FRC said:
The BSA national leadership were not prepared for the thousands of Americans who were shocked to hear that an organization that could always be counted on for standing for what's right was about to cave-in to homosexual activists and corporations which have been threatening the organization's funding.According to Baptist Press, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, which serve a hosts for numerous Scout troops across the country, were likewise outspoken...
For generations, the BSA has shaped our nation's moral character by teaching young men to do their duty to God and country.
Executive Committee head Frank Page: "I believe this will be a death blow to Scouting.... I think this is a self-inflicted wound."
In a Jan. 30 column for Baptist Press, Page called for Southern Baptists to pray Sunday, Feb. 3, the established date for Scout Sunday, for the BSA board to defeat the recommendation.
"Focused prayer on Sunday; board meeting on Monday," Page wrote. "What a divine moment!"
Richard Land: "[W]ith the admission of homosexual Scout leaders, the BSA would place men, who by their own definition are sexually attracted to men, in close, supervisory proximity to teenage boys, which invites real human tragedies. We are not saying homosexuals are pedophiles," Land wrote. "However, how many parents would send their teenage daughters on camping trips with heterosexual male troop leaders? They would not -- not because they believe that such heterosexual men are pedophiles, but because they realize that under such close, supervisory care of men who by definition are attracted to women, human tragedies could, and inevitably would, occur."
So, as the national board opens up its annual meeting this week in Dallas, it could be a very pivotal moment for the Scouting movement, as they face the possibility of redefining their values in a manner that contradicts their moral viewpoint of the past 100 years because of cultural - and corporate - pressure.
1 - Faith on display at the Super Bowl
Before the 49ers and the Ravens squared off for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, there was already an established pattern of faith-related events and statements of Christian devotion by those involved in the game.
On Friday morning, the annual Athletes in Action Super Bowl Breakfast featured the Bart Starr Award being given to Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. Witten was named the award winner over fellow finalists Matt Hasselbeck and Justin Tuck. According to the Christian Post, Witten's SCORE Foundation has funded several building projects in Texas and his home state of Tennessee, and has launched a number of different outreach programs. One program, SCOREkeepers, combats the cycle of domestic violence by placing male mentors in Texas battered women's shelters so the children living in those shelters can have a positive male influence on their lives. Witten was also named the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner during the weekend.
Meanwhile, gospel music was another element of the Super Bowl festivities, as the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration on Friday night was a featured event. According to report at Examiner.com, it was held at the arena at the University of New Orleans, and musical artists included Donnie McClurkin, Pastor Marvin Winans, Myron Butler, and Lecrae. The popular NFL Players Choir, made up of current and former players, also performed. The celebration was hosted by "The View" co-host Sherri Shephred and Grammy winner Kirk Franklin.
Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens received The Lifetime of Inspiration Award for his faith-filled determination to overcome trials and tribulations on and off the field, as well as his remarkable football career. This is only the second time the award has been given. Tony Dungy, who was featured in FamilyLife's "Stepping Up Super Saturday" event for men at some 1000 churches across America, was the previous winner.
And, as the Christian Post reports, a Christian advocacy group against the commercial sex trade and human trafficking has launched a social media campaign to coincide with the millions of people who will be interacting online during this Sunday's Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Shared Hope International says that, in 2012, there were 12.2 million Super Bowl related posts on social networking websites during and after the game. "As a matter of fact, the halftime show alone garnered 862,000 comments," officials stated.
The organization said that these types of large numbers related to the game means there is "a chance for us together to get in the game and create awareness for the fight against human trafficking, through online advocacy."
Justin Holcomb of Mars Hill Church, writing in the Post, points out that The Super Bowl and other large sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup are increasingly being recognized as magnets for sex trafficking and sex trafficking and child prostitution. The 2010 Super Bowl saw an estimated 10,000 sex workers brought into Miami, while the 2011 event resulted in 133 prostitution-related arrests in Dallas.
Of course, there are the players themselves, from Ray Lewis on the Ravens, who has admitted the error of his past choices and affirmed his faith in the Lord, to Colin Kaepernick, who has Scripture incorporated into his multiple tattoos. And, I came across a blog called, "Prayers and Apples", which has a list of faith statements and perspectives from some of the players in the Super Bowl, compiled by writer, Jessica Walters.
Sports Spectrum offered an outreach tool called, "Power to Win 2013", featuring the stories of 3 Super Bowl Champions from the New York Giants: Chase Blackburn, Chris Canty, and Justin Tuck. The DVD was available for Super Bowl ministry events.
There is a strong faith element to major sporting events, and these different intersections of faith with sports can be platforms that God can use in order that He can be exalted and give His people opportunities to share truth.