Sunday, September 08, 2013

The 3 - September 8, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3" includes the actual passage of a new regulation in San Antonio that I reported on last week, that could limit freedom of religious expression in that city.   Also, that much-anticipated new organization designed as an alternative to the Boy Scouts had an official meeting this past weekend, including the announcement of its name.  And, while American leaders contemplate military action against Syria in the wake of an alleged chemical attack, Christians around the globe were being encouraged to pray for that nation this weekend.

3 - San Antonio council passed non-discrimination act; opponents say it stifles freedom of expression

In a follow-up story to one of last week's items from this blog, the San Antonio City Council, by an 8-3 margin, approved an ordinance that calls for the removal of city officials from office and businesses made liable if they demonstrate "a bias in word or deed" on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a report on the Baptist Press website.

For businesses that offer services to the general public, the ordinance makes such discrimination a Class C misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $500.

Last-minute amendments clarified that the measure does not require businesses to allow transgendered persons to use restrooms or locker rooms intended for people of the opposite sex -- a change that angered some of the ordinance's supporters.

One amendment stated that a "religious corporation, association, society or educational institution" may limit employment to members of the same religion.  Interestingly enough, another amendment added the phrase, "Nothing herein shall be construed as requiring any person or organization to support or advocate any particular lifestyle or religious view, or advance any particular message or idea."

Oh, really?  But, doesn't a demonstrated "bias in word or deed" actually require someone to adhere to a particular point of view?  Liberty Institute, in a press release, said that the ordinance is "one of the most dangerous constitutional violations Liberty Institute has ever seen" in limiting free speech and religious liberty.

Here is some language from the ordinance: it prohibits any "appointed official or member of a board or commission" from engaging "in discrimination or demonstrat[ing] a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group of persons, or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability, while acting in their official capacity while in such public position."

The Baptist Press report says that the ordinance labels "bias" against homosexuals as "malfeasance" and authorizes the city council to "remove the offending person from office."

Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford is quoted as saying that, "The ordinance is a cloudy and confusing collection of poorly thought out and conflicting statements that could have been more clearly and cleanly handled by simply including a broad religious liberty exemption to protect the free speech and religious liberty rights of both individuals and organizations that have religious objections to the requirements mandated by the ordinance."

He added that the ordinance "should alarm every American who values their religious freedom" and has ramifications that "could go far beyond San Antonio."

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, said that, "This ordinance will be used as a weapon against people of faith and family values just as other laws have been used in other states...This ordinance lacks transparency, lacks evidence of a real need and is plagued with major constitutional concerns. The question now is when will the first legal challenge begin and what will the cost be to taxpayers at the end of the litigation that will certainly come." Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already taken issue with the ordinance and former Texas Solicitor General, now U.S. Senator, Ted Cruz has also spoken out against it.

2 - Trail Life USA announced as alternative to Boy Scouts

This weekend in Nashville, over 1,200 people from 44 states gathered for a meeting at which Trail Life USA was unveiled.   Trail Life USA is a new group that is designed to be a Christian alternative for the Boy Scouts of America, focusing on adventure, character, and leadership for boys ages 5-17.

Warren Cole Smith, Vice-President of the WORLD News Group, reported on the event, which he says is the culmination of intense planning that began just over two months ago when a steering committee gathered in Louisville to discuss the feasibility of starting a new organization after the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) changed its membership policy in May to allow openly homosexual youth to participate in its program. Since then, the new group has created a constitution and bylaws, a logo, and other organizing documents and procedures.

According to Mark Hancock, vice chairman of the board and the convention’s host, said, “For this to happen in 68 days, that doesn’t happen by the power of men.”

In his opening address, John Stemberger, chairman of the board of directors for the new group, said,
“First of all, we’re not an anti-BSA organization...We’re not an anti-anything organization. We honor the legacy of the Boy Scouts of America and the contributions it has made to us and our families. The men and boys we have left behind are not our opponents. They are our brothers and our friends. I encourage you to interact with them with charity and good faith.” 

He did say that charity requires him to “continue to expose the real dangers and risks that the [BSA’s] new membership policy poses to boys. Real men value integrity above institutions.” 

He said Trail Life USA would be explicitly Christian, but would be open to boys of all religious faiths. 

Ranks would be transferable from the Boy Scouts, and Trail Life USA's top award would be the Freedom Award.

Stemberger said that, “Our vision will be to become the premier national character development organization for young men, which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens.”

1 - Syrian conflict has religious elements; people of faith called to pray 

Christians around the world have been praying over the weekend for peace in Syria and for the wellbeing of millions of refugees who have left their homes because of the fighting.   The ChristianToday website has an overview.

Pope Francis appealed to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to join him in a day of prayer and fasting for the country.   He stated, "From the bottom of my heart, I would like to express my closeness in prayer and solidarity with all the victims of this conflict, with all those who suffer, especially children, and I invite you to keep alive the hope of peace."  He encouraged the international community to be sensitive to the situation and to make every effort to help Syrians find a solution to the brutal civil war.

In a letter to Pope Francis, the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, spiritual leader of Sunni Islam, welcomed the appeal and said he would be joining in praying and fasting for peace in his country.

Orthodox leader, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I and the head of the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, have both backed the prayer call.

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Reverend Stephen Platten, encouraged Church of England parishes to join with others this past weekend in praying for peace in Syria.

A group of Arab Christian leaders was called together by Jordan's King Abdullah this past week.   American Christians who attended include reality show and "The Bible" miniseries producer Mark Burnett, his wife Roma Downey, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, and Dr. Tunnicliffe.   In a piece for the Washington Post, Roma Downey wrote: 
The consensus among the Arab Christian leaders in the region is that any military intervention by the United States will have a detrimental effect on the situation, and have unintended negative consequences particularly for Christians in Syria. Christians in Syria have already been threatened by some opposition leaders, indicating that a different regime in Syria will not welcome Christians. I was asked over and over: “Does the U.S. administration have a plan on how to protect Christians and perhaps other minority groups in the event of a regime change?
Syrian Christians are apparently quite concerned about how they will be treated if Bashir Assad is removed from power.  Several incidents, even within the last few days, are indicative of the tension in the country.  International Christian Concern cites a report from Al-Monitor, that said that jihadists from the Syrian armed opposition opened a new battle, this time in the historic town of Maaloula on the outskirts of Damascus.  Maaloula is one of the best-known Christian cities in the region or even the world and witnessed violent clashes on Wednesday between extremist militants and members of the Syrian regime army. Militants took control of large segments of that historical town.   Also, this week, ICC reports that a rebel group linked to Al-Qaeda took over a Christian village in the northeast section of the nation.   There is a convent in the village, and nuns report that some 100 people have travelled there to seek shelter in the midst of the rebel bombing.

The battles throughout Syria pit Muslim against Muslim and Muslims against Christians.   There is a significant religious component there and the makeup of the opposition is quite complex, with some strong Islamist elements.   There is a great need for prayer, as well as for humanitarian relief, as thousands have fled the nation.

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