In this edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", I explore a ruling from a California court concerning the free speech rights of individuals reading the Bible in public. Also from California, the Governor signed a bill allowing students to use the bathrooms of an opposite gender, if they identify with that gender. And, the top story concerning Christians is from the nation of Egypt, where attacks on Christian ministries, including churches, escalated in the past week.
3 - Christians arrested outside DMV for quoting Bible declared "not guilty"
A significant ruling was issued by a judge in Murietta, California recently involving two men who were arrested for reading the Bible aloud outside of a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office, who were found not guilty in a state superior court.
According to ChristianNews.Net, Riverside County Judge Timothy Freer agreed with attorneys for Pastor Brett Coronado and Mark Mackey that the prosecution failed to prove that the men had violated the law with their evangelistic activities.
The incident occurred in February 2011 when Coronado and Mackey, along with their friend Edward Florez, Jr., went to the DMV in Hemet early one morning to evangelize those who were waiting for the facility to open. As they stood in the publicly-owned parking lot, approximately 40 feet from the entrance, Mackey began to read out loud from the Bible.
2 - California governor signs cross-gender student bathroom bill
Another disturbing law emerging from California was signed by Governor Jerry Brown this week. CitizenLink reports that the bill would allow students to choose to use a school’s boys or girls bathroom and locker rooms based on whichever gender they believe they are. Students will also be allowed to participate in sex-segregated activities, including sports teams. It applies to public school students in elementary, middle and high school.
Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute, a pro-family group in Sacramento, is quoted as saying that, “This law takes away students’ privacy rights, puts our children at risk, and limits the authority of local school districts...AB 1266 does not require proof for students who claim to have gender identity issues — school administrators will have to take the child on his or her word when they want to use the facilities of the opposite sex.”
Brad Dacus, President of Pacific Justice Institute, said the firm will not shy away from standing up for those affected by the policy.
“We at Pacific Justice Institute stand ready and willing to defend anyone who will be victimized as a result of this new law,” he said. “That includes someone whose privacy rights are violated in the bathroom, in the locker room, in the showers, or someone who is prevented from playing on a sports team because someone from the opposite gender took their place.”
England stated that the legislation is “...about furthering the radical lesbian, bisexual, and transgender agenda...The homosexual activists are forcing San Francisco values on all California public schools at the expense of our most vulnerable — our children.”
1 - Christians, churches among those targeted in Egyptian violence
In Egypt, Christians make up about one-tenth of the population of 80 million people, and they feared heightened persecution since the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed Morsi came to power last year. Last Wednesday was a tragic day in the life the Coptic Christian church in Egypt, on a day when a number of churches and Christian ministries were attacked. For the week, perhaps over 600 people or more total lost their lives.
A comprehensive USA Today piece gave a unique look at the plight of believers in the nation. It quoted the the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic activist group, saying that churches, houses, monasteries, orphanages, schools and businesses belonging to Copts were attacked in nine provinces, "causing panic, losses and destruction for no reason and no crimes they committed except being Christians."
As if sensing trouble, just two days before Wednesday's violence, Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II called on all Egyptians to prevent bloodshed, writing on his official Twitter account, "With all compassion I urge everyone to conserve Egyptian blood and ask of every Egyptian to commit to self-restraint and avoid recklessness and assault on any person or property."
It was reported that many Christians participated in massive protests against Morsi at the end of June, and Tawadros sat with a row of officials behind Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi when the army chief gave his speech that overthrew Morsi.
In a 15-minute audio recording posted online earlier this month, al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri accused Coptic Christians, the military and secular-minded elites of conspiring against Morsi because he is an Islamist.
Human rights groups in the nation accused Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists of inciting violence. Ishak Ibrahim, officer for freedom of religion and belief at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said in a report that, "Copts are paying the price of the inflammatory rhetoric against them coming from some Islamist leaders and supporters of the former president, who accuse Coptic spiritual leaders of conspiring to foment army intervention to remove Dr. Morsi."
In an attempt to help people worldwide understand the dynamics and the desperation of the situation in Egypt, the Founder and CEO of SAT-7 International, providing satellite television programming to the Middle East, Terry Ascott, released a statement on behalf of a number of ministry leaders. He decried the current situation and said about the Muslim Brotherhood,
The Muslim Brotherhood have been, and remain very effective in portraying themselves as the victims to the media, pointing to how Morsi had been “democratically” elected and that the army “coup” was a major setback to the country’s democratic progress. They have known what buttons to push with the Western press and this seems to be the version that most of the World is hearing – but it is not a version of truth that resonates with the vast majority of Egyptians.
And, while the loss of life these past few days has been most regrettable it has not only been Muslim Brotherhood supporters that have died, and there has been scant reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to destabilise Egypt, its calls for violence against the government and its supporters; and there has been a total lack of reporting concerning weapons that the Brotherhood had in the camps and used against the army as it sought to dismantle the sit-ins.He closed by asking for prayer concerning a number of elements in the country. As Christians in the West, we would do well to intercede for this violent, tragic situation.