Sunday, June 16, 2013

The 3 - June 16, 2013

This latest edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", includes 2 stories that would fall under the heading of religious liberty, and another involves a gathering this past week of representatives from a large Christian denomination. The 2 religious liberties stories include a new bill in Texas that attempts to uphold religious freedom during holiday seasons and a statement from the Administration in opposition to an amendment to the most recent defense bill that would provide for religious freedom guarantees for those in the military.

3 - Texas Governor signs bill allowing use of traditional holiday expressions

Texas Governor Rick Perry, showing concern for the religious expression rights of students and others throughout the state, signed a bill on Thursday which has been nicknamed the "Merry Christmas" bill, providing for the rights of students to say "Merry Christmas" or other traditional holiday expressions on school grounds.

He is quoted as saying that "religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion".

Traditional holiday symbols such as a menorah or nativity scene also are protected, as long as more than one religion and a secular symbol are also reflected.

The measure's sponsor, Houston Republican Rep. Dwayne Bohac, says it will provide schools cover from what he called "ridiculous" lawsuits. The bill had passed the Texas Senate and House back in May, with the full support of every Democrat and Republican in the Senate and a large majority in the House.

A group called Texas Values provided the main legal guidance and support for the legislation.

The website,, states that Texas school districts have seen long and costly court cases over Christmas expressions in Plano and Katy, and Fort Worth was recently involved in a controversy over Santa Claus at a public school.  Landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases have made it clear that such expressions and displays are permissible.

Jonathan Saenz, attorney and president of Texas Values, said, “We hope HB 308 will decrease the number of school districts being naughty and increase the ones being nice...It’s time to end the war on Christmas. This common sense legislation tracks Supreme Court precedent, providing a solid roadmap for public school officials to follow and should help school districts respect First Amendment rights and avoid costly litigation. We thank Gov. Perry for signing this bill into law,” concluded Saenz.

2 - Southern Baptist Convention meets in Houston, resolutions deal with Boy Scouts and other matters, speakers call for unity and revival
The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting concluded on Wednesday in Houston, with over 5,000 messengers gathering to hear reports and sermons, to engage in worship, and to vote on officers and a host of resolutions.  Baptist Press provided extensive coverage.

Dr. Fred Luter, Senior Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was re-elected President of the SBC - the convention president is generally re-elected following his first year.  Dr. Luter spoke on Tuesday and called on Southern Baptists to put aside division and work for the fulfillment of the Great Commission:

"Could it be...that the reason that lost friend, that lost relative, that lost co-worker, that lost neighbor, that lost classmate, have not yet turned from darkness to light is because they don't see us as the body of Christ getting along? Friend, how is it that we say we love God, whom we've never seen, yet don't speak to our brother and sister that we see every day?"

"Southern Baptists do many good things, and we should. But we must keep our focus on the most important thing: Jesus Christ and His Gospel."
He said that Southern Baptists must be a Christ-centered people who boast only in Jesus and who see the ministry of bringing the nations to Jesus as offerings of worship to the triune God.

"Paul knew that being Christ-centered would radically impact how we think, how we speak, how we act and how we live," Akin said.

Resolutions included a variety of areas, including a response to the Boy Scout decision to accept openly homosexual members. The Convention, not unexpectedly, did not call for local churches to completely sever  ties with the Boy Scouts, while acknowledging that some would do so.  The resolution did voice opposition to the Boy Scouts of America's decision.

The lengthy resolution stated that churches that choose to sever ties should not abandon their ministry to boys, but should consider expanding their Royal Ambassadors ministry, "a distinctively Southern Baptist missions organization to develop godly young men."

It urged churches and families that remain in the Boy Scouts "to seek to impact as many boys as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ, to work toward the reversal of this new membership policy, and to advocate against any future change in leadership and membership policy that normalizes sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard."

A resolution on mental health expressed support for "the wise use of medical interventions" and supported research and treatment "when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview" and called on Southern Baptists to "look for and create opportunities to love and minister to, and develop methods and resources to care for, those who struggle with mental health concerns and their families."

1 - Amendment proposed to preserve religious freedom in military; White House states opposition
This week, another chapter was added to the continued narrative about the religious expression rights of men and women in uniform. Family Research Council reports that the Obama administration issued a statement of administration policy saying it "strongly objects" to Louisiana Republican Congressman John Fleming's religious freedom amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Rep. Fleming's amendment was approved last week by the House Armed Services Committee in response to the growing and open hostility toward religious expression by service members.

CitizenLink quotes the administration's position statement: “By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale and mission accomplishment.”

FRC President Tony Perkins issued a statement, which included these words:

"...The administration's opposition to Rep. Fleming's religious freedom amendment reveals that this administration has gone beyond accommodating the anti-Christian activists who want to remove any vestige of Christianity from the military, to aiding them by blocking this bipartisan measure.

"This chilling suppression of religious freedom is driving faith underground in our military and will eventually drive it out. This not only deprives those who serve of the benefits that flow from religious participation, but it undermines the moral foundation of the world's most powerful military and the country they serve. This should concern everyone."

Representative Fleming told Fox News, “With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief...This administration is aggressively hostile towards religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.”

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a organization of chaplain endorsers, quotes Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Douglas Lee, USAR:  “The president’s objections to many other provisions of the 2014 NDAA--including Purple Heart awards for Americans wounded by in-U.S. terrorists--demonstrates his utter disdain for the views of elected representatives and endangers the free exercise of religion in the Armed Services...The chilling effect of his current objections on religious conscience are chilling in and of themselves.”

This statement from the White House is a more overt expression that some would interpret as reflecting policies and activities that have served to restrict the free expression of religion by people of faith, especially Christians, within the military.  We can hope that some dialogue will take place in order to clarify and solidify the rights of our service men and women to practice their religion, even outside the walls of a base or post chapel.

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