Sunday, June 01, 2014

The 3 - June 1, 2014

This week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," with 3 stories of relevance affecting the Christian community, begins with news out of Houston, Texas, where a new non-discrimination ordinance has passed the City Council, which extends equal protection based on sexual orientation. Also, a Colorado cake baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple received a ruling this week forcing him to bake wedding cakes for gay couples.  And, the top story involves news this graduation season, including the story of a student in Minnesota who will be allowed to include a Scripture in her graduation speech after being told originally she could not.

3 - Texas city passes new ordinance extending rights to homosexuals

The Houston City Council has approved a controversial gay rights ordinance that critics say would impede religious liberties.  According to CBN News, the 11-6 vote came late Wednesday after more than 12 hours of debate and months of protests from area churches and Christian business owners, who say the law is unconstitutional because it infringes on their right to speak out against homosexuality.

Willie Davis, pastor of MacGregor Palm Community Baptist Church in Houston, said that, "This is what the city has turned into. This is not equal rights; this is unequal rights..."

However, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is openly gay, said the measure protects sexual minorities.

She told reporters, "This is not the most important thing I have done or will do as mayor...But it is the most personally satisfying, the most personally meaningful thing that I will do as mayor."

CBN had reported that supporters had said the ordinance would protect sexual minorities while opponents had stated it wrongly elevates sexual orientation to a constitutionally protected class.

Some faith leaders in Houston support the measure but many say it will penalize businesses that want to practice biblical beliefs in the marketplace.

Dave Welch, executive director of The Houston Area Pastor Council, said Christian businesses facing complaints under the ordinance could be forced to pay a $500 daily fine, plus thousands of dollars in legal fees, for every complaint.

Alliance Defending Freedom had noted in an analysis that the ordinance offers no protection for rights of conscience.

2 - Colorado cake baker ordered to make cakes for same-sex ceremonies

Jack Phillips owns the Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver area.   In 2012, he was asked by two men to bake a wedding cake for the same-sex couple's ceremony - in a state where gay marriage is not legal.  He did not refuse to serve the two gay men who requested the cake; he said he would bake them any kind of cake - other than a wedding cake

The two men sued Phillips, and an administrative law judge ruled against Phillips last December, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website

The report states that this past Friday, the Civil Rights Commission in Colorado ruled unanimously against Phillips, and ordered him to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, ruling his religious objections did not trump the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.

Phillips said the decision violates his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise. “I will stand by my convictions until somebody shuts me down,” he told reporters after the ruling.

The panel issued its decision verbally, ordering Phillips to “stop discriminating against gay people,” document any customers he refuses to serve, provide “anti-discrimination training” for his staff, and report quarterly for two years.

Phillips said his bakery has been so overwhelmed by supporters eager to buy cookies and brownies that he does not currently make wedding cakes. His legal counsel team, which includes religious liberty attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, is reportedly considering an appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

1 - Religious freedom and graduation 

Graduation season has been a rather topsy-turvy affair this year, as students at several universities protested the choice of speaker for their commencement exercises.   And...of course, there are those incidences where students at some schools were facing issues concerning the expression of their faith.

A few weeks ago, a professor at East Carolina University had written a post telling students they could not mention God in their graduation statements.  But, a school official did step forward to clarify that religious references could be used in short, prepared statements that would be read at the graduation ceremony, according to the CBS Charlotte website.

And, a report from CitizenLink this week says that a Minnesota student will be able to read from the Bible during her graduation speech. She was originally told she would not be permitted to do so.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter to Minnesota Connections Academy school officials after learning they told Genesis Feliciano, a senior, that she would have to remove a verse from her speech — or not be able to deliver a speech at all.  According to Feliciano, a school official said, “We don’t allow Bible verses to be quoted in graduation speeches.”  The school reversed its position after receiving the letter.

Also, CitizenLink reported on a graduation controversy from last week in Arizona, where a group of seniors opened and closed their graduation ceremony in prayer. Pima High School student Esperanza Gonzalez opened the ceremony with prayer.  She told the Eastern Arizona Courier that, “The world keeps saying, ‘No to God, no to God...So, we said ‘Yes’ to God, because He has helped us throughout our entire high school career.”

Sean Rickert, superintendent of Pima Unified School District, told reporters he made the decision to discontinue formal invocations at graduations, because he was following the advice of school district legal counsel. However, he said that, "The fact that the students here at Pima High School felt that they wanted to show their true colors, as it were, by saying a prayer at the beginning and end of their graduation ceremony makes me very proud.”

Bruce Hausknecht, legal analyst for Focus on the Family said the district actually made the right call, as did the students. He said, “The Supreme Court, for better or worse, has drawn some clear lines regarding prayer at high school graduations, in order to avoid First Amendment ‘establishment of religion’ problems."  He added, "The school avoided an inevitable lawsuit and court order."

He explained, "And the parents and students stood up for their own constitutional rights and, in the process, honored God with their prayers and faithful witness to the community...That’s a win-win for everyone.”

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