Sunday, June 30, 2013

The 3 - June 30, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3" features a positive ruling in an ongoing case of one large retailer owned by a Christian family that continues to fight for its right to conscience in the case of the government's contraception mandate.   Also, thousands of Christian retailers, communicators, and others involved in the manufacturing, marketing, and sales of Christian products gathered this week in mid-America.   And, the big news of the week came from the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued rulings in 2 high-profile cases concerning the issue of gay marriage.

3 - Hobby Lobby receives relief in appeals court

A federal court has ordered the government not to enforce the Department of Health and Human Services contraception and abortion-drug mandate against Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of craft stores.  According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby, the ruling comes just one day after a dramatic 168-page opinion from the "en banc" or entirety of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, recognizing that business owners have religious liberty rights.   After that ruling from the 10th Circuit, a trial court gave Hobby Lobby a temporary restraining order against the mandate, and further proceedings are scheduled for July 19 in Oklahoma City.

Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Becket Fund, is quoted as saying that, “Hobby Lobby and the Green family faced the terrible choice of violating their faith or paying massive fines starting this Monday morning...We are delighted that both the 10th Circuit and the district court have spared them from this unjust burden on their religious freedom.”

In its landmark opinion this week, the 10th Circuit majority found that “no one” – not even the government – “disputes the sincerity of Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs.” The court ruled that denying them the protection of federal law just because they are a profit-making business “would conflict with the Supreme Court’s free exercise precedent.”

There are now 60 separate lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate.

2 - Christian retailers and communicators gather in nation's heartland

This past week, I had the opportunity to gather with Christian communicators and others connected with the Christian retail sector at the International Christian Retail Show at the America's Center in St. Louis.   Faith Radio and The Meeting House had a display area/communication center just outside the exhibit hall, where I recorded dozens of interviews.  Content from the show can be found on The Meeting House website at   Click on the "Meeting House On-Demand" tab to access audio marked, ICRS.   Pictures can be located at the Meeting House Facebook page.

Publishers Weekly featured a story on the show, which reminds us that the changing face of retailing in general, and specifically Christian retailing, presents some challenges touching various parts of the industry.   Total attendance was reported at 3,700, which was down significantly from last year's almost 5,000 in Orlando, and way, way down from the 15,000 that attended the show at its peak in 1999.   Professional attendance was down 15% and international attendance was off 21%.   But, the good news going in to the
show was that total sales in the Christian sector were up 8.5% in 2012 vs. 2011.

CBA president Curtis Riskey, three years into his tenure as association head, has introduced a number of innovations in an effort to revitalize the show, and there were more this year. The new Author’s Alley provided tabletop display space for very small publishers and, primarily, self-publishers. An Author’s Bootcamp gave advice and education about marketing, promotion, distribution, and sales. And a new merchandising area, Lifestyle Stories, offered display ideas targeting three kinds of customers.  Said Riskey, “We’re working into new arenas and trying to find new markets. This show is still the apex of our industry.”

Six films were screened at ICRS, among them The Redemption of Henry Myers from Echolight Studios, which announced that former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum would assume the reins as CEO of the fledgling company.  Riskey noted that “in a video culture” sales of DVDs of family-friendly films related to Christian properties have increased 27% over the past three years.  Said CBA board president George Thomsen, “You have an improvement in production quality, and people have always liked a redemptive story.”

And, the Christian Retailing's Best awards were handed out on Tuesday of the show, following the recognition of excellence in Christian fiction at the Christy Awards on Monday night.   Also, another fiction honor, the Carol Awards, announced their 2013 nominees.   There was plenty of activity to go around, and those involved in communicating truth through Christian products had the opportunity to be informed, to network, and to strategize to help meet the challenges of a fluid retail culture.

1 - U.S. Supreme Court issues decisions on marriage-related cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two much-anticipated decisions on Wednesday concerning the definition of marriage.   In one case involving the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the court ruled 5-4 that same-sex partners in states where gay marriage is legal have the right to Federal benefits afforded couples in traditional marriages.   That was a fairly straightforward, not unexpected ruling that Christian leaders were disappointed by, and Federal officials began to take steps to make those benefits available.

In the other case, the Proposition 8 case involving California's marriage amendment, the justices in the majority basically attempted to erase history.  The amendment, which defines marriage as one man and one woman,  had been appealed by 2 same-sex couples in a San Francisco Federal district court.   The judge found in favor of the plaintiffs - the defendants were then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General and now-Governor Jerry Brown.   They did not choose to appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so one of the organizations instrumental in getting the amendment on the ballot, Protect Marriage, filed the appeal.   The high court found that the pro-marriage group did not have "standing", or the authority to appeal, so it did not rule on the merits of the case, threw out the 9th Circuit decision, and basically let the narrow district ruling stand, where the judge ruled in favor of the two "married" couples.   So, the high court did not find a constitutional right to gay marriage, did not rule Prop. 8 unconstitutional, and did not even negate Proposition 8.

As Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink pointed out on The Meeting House on Friday and as Ken Klukowski of the Family Research Council and related, Proposition 8 is apparently still in effect, and despite the rush to judgment of California officials, is in for some litigation ahead.

You see, according to Klukowski, the California Constitution says that an administrative agency ... has no power:

(a) To declare a statute unenforceable, or refuse to enforce a statute, on the basis of it being unconstitutional unless an appellate court has made a determination that such statute is unconstitutional; (emphasis mine)

(b) To declare a statute unconstitutional;

(c) To declare a statute unenforceable, or to refuse to enforce a statute on the basis that federal law or federal regulations prohibit the enforcement of such statute unless an appellate court has made a determination that the enforcement of such statute is prohibited by federal law or federal regulations.

No such appellate court decision exists!  And, Klukowski also points out that since no one who wants to defend Prop 8 has standing to appeal rulings on it to the Ninth Circuit, there will never be such an opinion in the federal court system. So the only way to get an appellate opinion would be in the California state court system. So someone would have to file a lawsuit regarding Prop 8, and then appeal it to a California court of appeals and then maybe to the California Supreme Court. Only when one of those courts hold Prop 8 unconstitutional can the public officials in that state regard it as stricken from the books.

Now, according to another story by Klukowski at, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which worked with Prop 8 proponents to defend the amendment, filed an emergency application with the justice who became the fifth vote to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), this time asking for Anthony Kennedy to restore the rule of law on the California Prop 8 case.   Justice Kennedy, without comment, declined to vacate the actions of the 9th Circuit, lifting a stay on same-sex marriages in California.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling this week in Hollingsworth v. Perry that both the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit never had jurisdiction in the case, the Ninth Circuit on Friday issued an order lifting the stay and gay marriages began within minutes.

But some experts say the Ninth Circuit does not yet have the legal power to lift the stay. A Supreme Court decision does not carry force of law until that judgment is issued in the form of a certified copy of the Court’s order and opinion to the lower court, which usually takes around 25 days.   So, apparently any same-sex marriage licenses issued in California since the Supreme Court decision are premature.

Bruce Hausknecht, Judicial Analyst for CitizenLink, the public policy affiliate of Focus on the Family, looking back on Wednesday's ruling, said that there were some positive aspects to what was handed down:
First and foremost, we can take heart in the fact that the other side didn’t get what they actually wanted most, which was a 50-state mandate imposing same-sex marriage nationwide. Despite their best arguments, the Court did not find a “right” to same sex marriage in the Constitution, nor did it find that homosexuality is entitled to the same status in our law as immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity deserve. That in itself is a huge defeat for them. At this moment, no state’s marriage law has been changed by these decisions. Thirty-eight states still define marriage as between one man and one woman. The public policy debate will continue, and we still have the opportunity to make our case that marriage is about more than a couple’s romantic ties — it is about the institution that is the best available for raising children.
So, we continue to watch the courts, and we also seek to remain dedicated to the institution of marriage, which was established by God, who gives us the ability to live out marriages that bring honor to Him.   As same-sex marriage seemingly advances across America, we have an opportunity to demonstrate God's best and to express Christ's love through our homes and through the compelling lifestyles that we lead in front of those who do not embrace His principles.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The 3 - June 23, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3" includes news regarding the closure a noted Christian organization that has been involved in helping people exit the homosexual lifestyle and overcome unwanted same-sex attractions.  There's also some encouraging news out of the U.S. House that would provide protection for a number of pre-born children.  And, developments in Iran top the news, as Christians are trying to determine what to make of the election of a new President there.

3 - Exodus International exits

It was a piece of news that came suddenly, but not unexpectedly. Exodus International, a ministry that began nearly 40 years ago to help people who struggle with same-sex attractions find freedom through Jesus Christ, announced that it would be ceasing its operation, the same day that Alan Chambers, its president, announced he would be stepping down and gave an apology to the gay community.. According to CitizenLink, some people previously affiliated with the group say its president, Alan Chambers, changed the organization’s message over the last couple of years.

For example, Andy Comiskey, founder of Desert Stream Ministries, is quoted as saying, “It has undergone significant change...(Chambers) became unusually sensitive to those critical of Exodus. He began to take up their case as more important than transformation.”

Joe Dallas, who served as president of Exodus International from 1991 to 1993 and now leads Genesis Counseling in California, was sad to hear of the organization’s closure. "When we come to Christ we can overcome these (temptations),” he said. “I do think if people repent, they have the ability to resist the temptation to homosexuality and have the capacity for heterosexual response.”

Focus on the Family President Jim Daly made a statement, which included these words: “Exodus’ closing is being hailed by some as a victory and indication that Christians are abandoning long-held convictions that living with God’s design for sexuality is possible through the power of Jesus Christ – that change is possible.

“The reality is that while Exodus will no longer exist, there are numerous Christian ministries that continue to provide excellent help to those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction, including the Restored Hope Network, Desert Stream Ministries, and Katharos Integrity Alliance.

“We understand God’s original intent was for marriage to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman, with children as a natural result. But we also realize that all of us sin in many ways.

“We believe there is hope for those who struggle sexually. Be it a struggle with lust, adultery, pornography addiction, pre-marital sex, same-sex attractions or issues related to identity – there is hope. The hope of a Christian is that our behavior becomes more in line with God and God’s will. He wants us to drink from His full cup of grace and truth – because it’s through Him we can overcome lifelong struggles with sin.”

Stuart Shepard's conversation with me on The Meeting House recently, which included some analysis and commentary on the Exodus situation, can be accessed here.

Baptist Press also covered the story, and quoted Chambers' apology: "I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn't change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents...I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart."

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said it became clear last year -- when Chambers suggested that people can persist in homosexual behavior and still receive the salvation that Jesus offers -- that Chambers and Exodus International were rethinking their understanding of a Christian approach to homosexuality.

"Sadly, it appears that this rethinking has resulted in something like a surrender to the cultural currents of the day," Mohler told Baptist Press.

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, shared that, "Increasingly churches are addressing persons with same-sex attractions the same way they address everyone else: in terms of the Gospel and a lifelong call to take up one's cross and follow Christ..This means the Christian grappling with same-sex attractions needs to hear that the Gospel addresses him or her, and that this person needs the whole body of Christ, in community, not just an accountability group of those who are defined by the same temptations."

So, there are several factors at work here: We do need to show compassion to those who are trapped in a variety of areas of sin.   And, it's important to recognize that change can occur through trusting in the power of Christ.  Although Alan Chambers may have shifted his view on the possibility of gay people changing their behavior through sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories, the Bible is clear that homosexuality and the temptation of same-sex attraction are contrary to God's standards, and that there is hope to overcome any sin or temptation through the power of the cross.

2 - U.S. House approves ban on most abortions after 20 weeks
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would ban abortions from after 20-weeks of pregnancy, a point of gestation at which scientific evidence has shown that an unborn child feels pain.

According to, the vote for the bill broke down on mostly partisan lines with Republicans supporting the ban on late-term abortions and Democrats opposing it. The House approved the bill on a 228-196 vote with 6 Democrats voting for the bill and 6 Republicans voting against it.

One leading expert in the field of fetal pain, Dr. Kanwaljeet S. Anand at the University of Tennessee, stated in an expert report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, “It is my opinion that the human fetus possesses the ability to experience pain from 20 weeks of gestation, if not earlier, and the pain perceived by a fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by term newborns or older children.”

During a Congressional hearing, a former abortion practitioner, Anthony Levatino told members about the gruesome details of his former abortion practice and how he became pro-life following the tragic automobile accident of his child.

Another bombshell dropped during the hearing came from Dr. Maureen Condic, who is Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She testified that the unborn child is capable of reacting to pain as early as 8-10 weeks. This is when most abortions in America take place.

Mat Staver of pro-family legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel responded by saying, “The blinders are being lifted, and even pro-abortion Americans want restrictions on aborting children who experience pain...The Kermit Gosnell trial and the closure of abortion clinics around the country for unsanitary, unsafe conditions have created a public awareness of the violence against women and children disguised by such names as ‘women’s health clinics,’ ‘family planning,’ and ‘reproductive healthcare.’”

The bill now goes on to the Senate, where it is predicted to be defeated, if a vote is allowed.  Majority Leader Harry Reid is being encouraged to allow the bill to be voted upon.   The President has already threatened to veto the legislation.   But, if the Senate votes, it will get lawmakers on record regarding their viewpoint on late-term abortion, just as the 196 House members that opposed this legislation now have recorded votes on the matter.

1 - Christians not comforted by election of new leader in Iran, more Iranian arrests announced

Christians in America have followed closely the plight of pastors in Iran, such as Youcef Nadarkhani and Saaed Abedini, who were placed in jail as a result of their practice of the Christian faith.  We continue to made aware of persecution of Iranian believers, especially those who have converted from Islam to Christianity.   Religion Today had a piece just this week about six Iranian converts to Christianity who were convicted of crimes related to their membership in a house church, according to World Watch Monitor.  Mohabat News, which reports on news of Christians inside Iran, published a report on June 16 claiming that four men, a woman and her teenaged son were convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, in southwestern Iran. The four men were found guilty of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the Iranian regime and disrupting national security, Mohabat reported.

Religion Today also relates that, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, 33-year-old Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini told his family his health appears to have improved. However, the ACLJ also said that since Iran's presidential election last week, prison guards had threatened to move
Abedini to a more remote prison. Such a move would make it nearly impossible for his family to visit him.

Open Doors reports that even though Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s presidential election last weekend and he is being portrayed by some as a “moderate” Iranian cleric, because of his loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Open Doors contacts from the region don’t expect positive changes.

“The Christians I recently spoke with seemed rather apathetic about the elections,” says an Open Doors fieldworker in response to the election of the new president. “They don’t seem to expect significant changes in Iran’s policies against Christians.”

This is corroborated by an Iranian believer who told Open Doors last week, “In your Western media, the candidates are divided into conservatives and reformers, as if there is a choice, but let me tell you this: there is no choice. All of the candidates are from Ayatollah Khamenei’s team.”

Christians, as well as minorities such as Baha’i and Dervishes, have seen an intensification of religious persecution in Iran since 2005, when former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected for the first time.
The fieldworker also stated that, “The question is can Rouhani make a change? At least he is an intellectual, who graduated in the United Kingdom and has called for less confrontational relations with the West. I guess we just have to see in order to know, according to Iranian standards, how moderate he is.”

So while change in leadership could provide a source of inspiration for Christians, the current climate that has been fostered by the governing religious authorities indicates that there could be little improvement concerning the religious freedom of Christian believers in Iran.   That is why prayers are very important for these persecuted believers.

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.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The 3 - June 9, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3" features some areas that are not new to readers of the blog, including graduation prayer content.   A South Carolina graduate ripped up his pre-approved speech and led the Lord's Prayer, which is shown in a now-viral video.  Also, religious expression in the military continues to be a hot topic, with a couple of instances that appear to be restrictions on that type of expression making headlines this week.   And, the top story comes from Houston, where messengers gather this week for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention - and the timing of two reports has presumably coincided with the scheduled meeting and an annual evangelistic effort was conducted yesterday.

3 - Graduation prayer controversy in S.C. as valedictorian leads Lord's Prayer

Another graduation video has gone viral, this one showing a valedictorian at a South Carolina high school who deviated from his prepared and his approved remarks to lead the crowd gathered for the ceremonies in the Lord's Prayer.

Roy Costner, who attended Liberty High School in Pickens, South Carolina, had received the requisite approval for his speech, but at a point in the message, he ripped his prepared text up and began to say the Lord's Prayer. As the crowd realized what he was doing, they began to cheer. He said, “I think most of you will understand when I say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven..."
Apparently, throughout the state, the American Civil Liberties Union sent out letters at the beginning of the school year to warn districts about what they view as establishing religion. And, the Freedom From Religion Foundation had been challenging the specific district.    According to Todd Starnes of, FFRF holds the district responsible. The co-president of the organization is quoted as saying, “The valedictorian who so insensitively inflicted Christian prayer on a captive audience at a secular graduation ceremony, is a product of a school district which itself set an unconstitutional example by hosting school board prayer."

A school district spokesperson said the valedictorian will not be penalized for what he did and Costner told Fox News that he has absolutely no regrets.

“I’m happy with what I did,” Costner said. “I want this to glorify God. I want to use this as a witnessing tool and I hope others will stand up for God in our nation.”

This comes on the heels of the Texas student body president saying a prayer in his graduation presentation, despite the alleged protests of fellow students. 

There is quite a bit of misunderstanding in school districts across America about a student's religious rights, and we see it surfacing year after year in the graduation context.  It seems to me that by forcing students to submit the text of their messages could be regarded as a form of censorship, especially when there is an emphasis on pre-clearing speech that could be considered "religious".
2 - More religious freedom issues in the military

One of the areas that seems to contain a steady stream of news stories involves the rights of military members to express their faith.  Because we live in a heavily military area, I believe that relating these types of stories can be helpful to embolden our men and women in uniform as they seek to be not only excellent members of our armed forces, but also good soldiers of the Lord and citizens of His kingdom.   These types of stories also help to let those who are not associated with military know some of the challenges people of faith within their ranks are facing.

One story that circulated last week involved an Army Master Sergeant, who held a party to celebrate his promotion last August. According to a post on the Family Research Council website, it was a private event that the soldier paid for himself.   His commanding officers seemed to take issue with the invitations, which read, "In honor of my promotion and in honor of the Defense of Marriage Act, I'm serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at my promotion party."  Of course, as FRC points out, the DOMA reference was a hat tip to Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy, who became the center of a national firestorm when he refused to back down from the biblical definition of marriage.

Shortly after the Master Sergeant's party, he was shocked to receive a letter of reprimand, followed by a negative efficiency report.  The stunned soldier contacted the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty for help. Ron Crews, who heads up the organization, explained that the Army initially talked about bringing "judicial punishment" against the man but decided to investigate first to see if he had "violated any other policy." Apparently, the Sergeant was warned to stop reading conservative books, as well.

This story began to make its rounds along with another instance of religious expression that was seemingly restricted at an Air Force base in Idaho.  FRC reports on the case of a California-based artist who was shocked to discover that one of his prints, the fifth in an inspirational series entitled, "Heroes", was considered too offensive for the Mountain Home Air Force Base dining hall in Idaho.  The painting portrays a modern-day policeman with a faint picture of a white knight behind him.  Across the bottom, the word, "Integrity" and the Scripture reference, "Blessed are the Peacemakers" from Matthew 5:9 are stenciled.   Objectors found the piece to be "repugnant" to objectors, who demanded its removal.   The Military Religious Freedom Foundation contacted the base, and reportedly, within 56 minutes, the painting was removed.  

Well-known Christian artist Ron DiCianni, who painted the portrait, says he was stunned -- first to hear the print was on the installation, and then to hear that it had been torn down.  In a statement, Ron explains how "deeply saddened" they are by the military's censorship.

He said that is was regrettable, "to see the apparent hostility of Pentagon leadership to a message that is clearly in keeping with the foundation of this country and the Air Force -- and whose communication is clearly protected by the First Amendment...The military is an embodiment of the ultimate peacemaker, a pursuit blessed in Scripture. It would seem this is a message that the Air Force should be willing to foster, not censor."

You can hear my conversation with the artist here.

FRC points out that Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana has offered an amendment to the most recent Defense Authorization bill that would help to protect religious freedom in the military. Fleming is quoted as saying, "The men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms should not have their own religious freedom jeopardized during their military service...[T]roubling reports indicate that the military may be focused only on protecting beliefs of service members and not the exercise or expression of those beliefs. My amendment is necessary to ensure that men and women of faith will not be discriminated against in the Armed Forces, and will be free to exercise their religious beliefs."  By a 33-26 vote, the Committee gave the green light to Fleming's measure, which stops the Pentagon from restricting religious speech -- except in cases of "military necessity."

Congressman Walter Jones (R-N.C.) added another layer of protection by introducing (and later passing) language that allows chaplains to pray "in Jesus's name."

Those that want to restrict religious content in symbols or speech so often demonstrate an extreme level of religious hostility in seeking to deny the freedom of religious expression.  When words like "inflict" are used to describe prayer, as in the S.C. valedictorian instance, or a word such as "repugnant" to describe a moving tribute to those who keep the peace, it shows that they are doing exactly what they are accusing people of faith are doing - they are attempting to force their belief system, or more accurately, lack of belief, on people of religious faith.  People with a personal faith are allowed to express themselves consistent with their First Amendment rights of religious expression.

1 - Baptists prepare for convention in light of new stats, launch "Crossover" event

This week in Houston, thousands of Southern Baptists will gather for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the traditional run-up to the big event has already begun.

The Saturday before the convention, the Crossover event is conducted, consisting of block parties held throughout the area hosting the convention, an inviting opportunity to reach out to neighborhoods and to share the love of Jesus Christ.  According to the North American Mission Board website, this year, Crossover partnered with the larger initiative of the Union Baptist Association called Loving Houston, designed to be a long-term care and compassion movement.   The Launch week included fun, family friendly activities, sports events and many projects focused on serving the residents of Houston in tangible and practical ways.

There were also several important reports leading up to the convention.   According to Christianity Today, a self-assessment put together by the SBC, the "Annual Church Profile", indicated that the nearly 16-million-member denomination gained 270 churches over the past year, but lost more than 105,000 members and 188,000 Sunday worshipers, marking its sixth straight year of membership decline.

However, the SBC's 42 state conventions still claim almost 6 million Sunday worshipers at more than 46,000 churches.

Last year saw the second-lowest total of baptisms in 60 years. After a small increase last year, the new report shows a decline of 5.5 percent to just under 315,000 people. Reported baptisms have declined six of the last eight years with 2012 the lowest since 1948. The ratio of baptisms to total members increased to one baptism for every fifty members.

“While we celebrate every new baptized believer represented by these numbers, fewer reported baptisms is heartbreaking,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, an arm of the SBC. “Southern Baptists cannot rest on what God accomplished through us in prior years.”

The self-described reaction of Frank Page, president of the SBC's executive committee: "God forgive us and God help us."

However, giving to international missions was its third-highest total ever.

And, something else notable in the week leading up to the convention was the release of the much-anticipated report on Calvinism in Southern Baptist life, compiled by a 19-member advisory committee, which issued its 3,200-word report to Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page, according to Baptist Press.  The report acknowledged tension and disagreement between Calvinists and non-Calvinists within the convention and urging Southern Baptists to "grant one another liberty" on the issue and "stand together" for the Great Commission.  Calvinists and non-Calvinists from all walks of SBC life served on the committee, which was assembled by Page and was not an official committee of the convention.

There will be numerous reports to the messengers on the convention floor next week, and a variety of resolutions are anticipated - the most high-profile one will most likely deal with the Convention's response to the Boy Scouts of America lifting its ban on openly homosexual members - the Convention could encourage its churches to disassociate with Scout troops or perhaps another response or language could be approved.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The 3 - June 2, 2013

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, I want to continue to look at the progressive fallout from the Boy Scouts' decision to allow openly gay members.   Also, Planned Parenthood is back in the news, including some new charges against one of its clinics in Delaware.   And, the big story from the week involved graduation prayer and the groundswell of support nationally for a young man who exercised his religious rights and said a prayer at his graduation ceremony, even though there were those who wanted to restrict him.

3 - Response grows to Boy Scouts vote: churches begin to dismiss troops; atheists want pledge to God dropped, gay rights groups want openly homosexual leaders

Not surprisingly, there has been a chain reaction to the vote taken by a national council of leaders of the Boy Scouts of America to allow open gay members in its organization.  And, while gay activist organizations have already laid down the gauntlet and said the resolution did not go far enough in that it did not allow for gay scout leaders, churches, which host and sponsor a majority of the Boy Scout troops across the nation, have begun to withdraw their support for the Scout troops that meet in their buildings.

One of the first was Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, one of the nation's top 5 largest churches.   Another was in the metro Atlanta area, Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.   Two churches in the Birmingham, Alabama area, First Baptist of Pelham and First Baptist of Helena, have also announced that they will no longer allow Scout troops to meet on their property.   The reason is clear:  churches do not feel they can endorse an organization that no longer upholds traditional, Biblical values by embracing a lifestyle that Christians continue to see as incompatible with their beliefs.

And, atheists are not at all pleased with the current stance of the Boy Scouts to encourage devotion to God.  In an article released this week on its website, CitizenLink reports that Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said that the BSA needs to change its policy regarding “humanists and atheists.”  He accused the BSA of “bigotry.”  Some of the other groups wanting this policy change include The Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Atheists. 

With the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in several weeks in Houston, where a resolution or some action is expected that could lead to churches throughout the denomination abandoning Scouting, and with a meeting scheduled in late June for Louisville to discuss alternatives to the Boy Scouts, it appears that a mass exodus has begun.   And, it doesn't come as a surprise - it was predicted that up to 400,000 Scouts could depart the organization if the council voted to allow openly gay members.   But, in a true "what were they thinking?" moment, those 1400 or so people that cast a vote in Dallas 2 weeks ago succumbed to the pressure of political correctness and could have perhaps sounded the death knell for an organization that has been committed to building Godly character for over 100 years.

2 - Planned Parenthood back in the news:  Supreme Court turns down Indiana Planned Parenthood case; Planned Parenthood operator in Delaware cited by AG; Girl Scouts team up with PP

While concern about the direction of the Boy Scouts has been in the headlines recently, a cozy relationship with the Girl Scouts and supporters of abortion came to the forefront this week, as reports surfaced about a conference that was co-sponsored by World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which has member organizations across the globe, the largest of which is the Girl Scouts of the USA.  GSUSA is a co-founder of WAGGGS and one of WAGGGS’ largest financial supporters, paying over $1 million each year in membership fees.

According to a report on the website, WAGGGS is a global organization that is a well-known advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, including abortion, for youth, and claims to speak for all of its 10 million members.  Recently, it participated in a global conference called "Women Deliver", which had a purpose of “call[ing] for action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women.”  Speakers included noted late-term abortionist LeRoy Carhart, philosopher Peter Singer, who supports infanticide and euthanasia, and pro-abortion Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  Some of the breakout sessions included “Outing and Addressing Abortion Stigma” and “Why I Perform Abortions.”  Exhibitors included many abortion and population control advocates.

WAGGGS also participated, along with International Planned Parenthood Federation and Planned Parenthood Global (PPFA global), in the Youth Advisory Group for the Women Deliver Conference.  Apparently, there are other instances of ties between the Girl Scouts and abortion advocates.

Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry made the headlines in several instances this week.  
There is a report on the Christian Post website about news from Delaware, where the office of Attorney General Beau Biden, son of the Vice-President, has filed a complaint against a former Planned Parenthood abortion doctor who allegedly engaged in multiple acts of incompetence while performing abortions on five patients.

According to page two of the complaint, Dr. Timothy Liveright performed "multiple acts of incompetence and negligence," which included "over sedating patient," "failing to properly administer oxygen," and "failing to consider alternative treatments."

Now, Planned Parenthood did get some good news out the U.S. Supreme Court this week, as the high court allowed to stand a lower court ruling that negated the Indiana Legislature's law preventing the nation's largest abortion provider from receiving Medicaid funds.

Alliance Defending Freedom is attempting to shine the light on Planned Parenthood's questionable practices with its new "Pretty Ugly" campaign.  According to, it is designed to reveal “Planned Parenthood’s deception of the American public", and when you visit the website., you can get the latest news on Planned Parenthood’s deceptions, attempted cover-ups, and the truth about the abortion giant’s real business model.
Alliance Defending Freedom has already been active in over 45 cases involving Planned Parenthood, including 10 current ones, which are being litigated over issues including abortion funding, informed consent, abortion drugs, taxpayer fraud by Planned Parenthood, and a botched and forced abortion.

1 - Graduation video reinforces students' religious expression rights

Recently, scores of graduation ceremonies have taken place, and we are reminded that students do have certain religious expression rights when they step to the platform to speak.  Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying that, “The key to expressing any religious viewpoint in public school, including graduation prayer, is that the school should remain neutral - neither commanding nor prohibiting it."

In a precedent-setting case against the ACLU that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel won the right of students to pray or give religious messages at graduation. The case established the legal principle that public schools are free to adopt a policy that permits students or other speakers to present secular or religious messages, including prayer, at commencement ceremonies.

At Lincoln County High School in Stanford, Kentucky, class president Jonathan Hardwick said a prayer - and received a standing ovation for it.   Apparently, there were six students at the school that had asked Principal Tim Godbey to prevent any prayers from the graduation ceremony.   According to the Advocate-Messenger website, which covers Central Kentucky, Godbey, a self-professed Christian who says he prays for each of his students daily, said under separation of church and state laws, faculty members have never been able to pray publicly on school grounds or during school-sponsored functions. However, he noted that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit students from doing so as long as they are not otherwise disruptive.

Apparently, there's a local atheist activist who has threatened to contact organizations such as the ACLU and Freedom from Religion Foundation about the public prayer. 

Those that would cite "religious bullying" are apparently content to deny Christian students their rights of religious expression.   And, I wouldn't be surprised if the FFRF and ACLU aren't already aware of Jonathan's prayer - it has received over 70,000 views on YouTube and is continuing to receive media attention.  

It is so important that Christian students are aware of their free speech rights and realize that those rights don't go away when they enter the school building or go on school property.