Sunday, September 21, 2014

The 3 - September 21, 2014

Here is another edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," with three stories of relevance to the Christian community.  This week, the Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death, refused to reject her Christian faith, and was ultimately released by Sudan authorities, spoke out on her ordeal.  Also, an assortment of stories received attention this week dealing with religious expression on or around the football field.  And, the top story: as many had feared, a new report issued this week demonstrated that over 1,000 health care plans included Federal funds, taxpayer funds, being used to pay for abortions.

3 - Meriam Ibrahim speaks out

Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who faced a death sentence and who did not recant her Christian faith, has been back in the U.S. since August 1st, and this week spoke out on Fox News about her ordeal.

On The Kelly File, she said that, "the situation was difficult but I was sure God would stand by my side,” according to a piece on the website.

She reminded host Megyn Kelly that,“there are many Meriams in Sudan and throughout the world. It’s not just me.”

Ibrahim says her mother was an Ethiopian Christian and her father was a Muslim who abandoned the family when she was a child.  According to the Fox News website, she had told the Sudanese high court that, “I was never a Muslim,” adding, “I was raised a Christian from the start.”

She told Kelly that while she was in prison she was visited by imams from the Muslim Scholars Association who recited parts of the Koran to her.  She is quoted as saying, “My faith was the only weapon that I had in these confrontations with imams and Muslim scholars because that’s what I believe.”

Her husband, Daniel Wani, is a Christian from South Sudan and a U.S. citizen since 2005.  The couple already had a son, and while imprisoned, Meriam gave birth to a daughter.  She is quoted as saying that, “I had to give birth with chains on my ankles,” adding, “It was difficult.”

2 - God on the gridiron: ASU helmet decision reversed, cheerleaders lead Lord's Prayer, RG3 wears Christian t-shirt, coach claims he was fired for supporting prayer

This week, there were several stories that emerged, perhaps one or even none of them which would alone enter "The 3," but rolled into one entry, you can see a compelling storyline - again this season, like others before it, there is a concern about freedom of religious expression on or around the gridiron.

Recently, a story began to circulate about a group of high school cheerleaders in Oneida, Tennessee, who decided that after their school district banned an opening prayer on their home stadium's public address system, they would say The Lord's Prayer.  When they did this at a recent Friday night game, many in the bleachers joined in.  The cheerleaders attracted widespread attention.  WBIR-TV has this story.

Also, on the high school level, reports that Gary Weiss, a football coach at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, Arizona, claims he was removed from his position because he allowed players to pray before and after games.

According to a KVOA-TV report that was cited, Weiss, formerly a volunteer coach with the district, said that he was given an ultimatum by school officials: tell players to stop praying or lose his position. He refused and opted for the latter option. He told the TV station that, "My concern is the rights of the kids to do what is their right to do."

District administrators said that voluntary prayer is permitted, but that staff members cannot facilitate or promote student invocations. Weiss denied that adults were leading the prayers and he said that that the prayers were inclusive.

Then, there's a follow-up to last week's story about the cross decals that had been placed on the helmets of the players at Arkansas State University. After a local attorney contacted the school saying it was a constitutional violation, the university ordered the decals removed or the design changed so that it no longer resembled a cross. This week, officials decided to allow members of the university’s football team to wear a cross decal on their helmets—as long as the players personally choose to affix them and pay for the stickers themselves. quotes Liberty Institute attorney Hiram Sasser as saying, "The university officials and the Arkansas attorney general did the right thing restoring the religious liberty and free speech rights of the players to have the original cross sticker design if they so choose and we commend them for doing so.”

Finally, there's the story involving NFL Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who showed up at a post-game press conference wearing a shirt displaying, in large letters, the message, "Know Jesus, Know Peace," which offers a play on words, in that the letters "K" and "W" are black, while the others are white, so the message could also read, "No (N-O) Jesus, No Peace."

Fox News reported that Michael Phillips, a reporter from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, posted on Twitter that an NFL uniform inspector made the quarterback turn the shirt inside out. Phillips said that the reason was that it was not a Nike product.

CSN Washington reported that a Redskins spokesperson denied reports that RG3 was forced to flip the shirt by the NFL. The spokesperson said Griffin flipped the shirt on his own to avoid a possible fine. CSN cites NFL bylaws that state a player cannot wear clothing that sends a personal message on game days. Griffin has reportedly been fined in the past for wearing Adidas gear on game days.

Other players, however, were seen at the podium not wearing a Nike shirt, including Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Nike reportedly has a corporate deal with the NFL.

In summary, the cheerleaders found an alternative to the limitation on prayer, the coach is speaking out about what he feels is an unfair characterization of his faith expressions, the university rethought its position on players' freedom of expression, and RG3 faced limitations on what he could wear, especially if it contained a religious message.  These are all instances of public expressions of faith surrounding the football field, several in response to attempts to limit the rights of individuals or teams to demonstrate their faith in a public setting.

1 - Government Accountability Office confirms it: taxpayers fund abortion in Affordable Care Act

In the period of time leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, opponents voiced their concern about the health care reform law including taxpayer funding of abortion.  Already, there has been much attention given to the funding of abortion through the contraceptive and abortion pill mandate, and a new report released this week by the Government Accountability Office confirms the concerns of pro-life people who warned that Federal funds could be used to fund abortion.

According to Concerned Women for America, the GAO report found that all Americans, even in states that have excluded abortion from their exchanges, are being forced to subsidize these services. It also found that when Americans tried to determine whether abortion coverage was included in their plan, that information was not readily available.

Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Nance is quoted as saying: “In a joint session of Congress in September 2009, President Obama unequivocally said that under the health care plan he proposed, ‘no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.’"  (Here is a link to the transcript.)

Nance went on to say, "Now we know that at least 1,036 plans cover abortion, and the so-called ‘surcharge’ for abortion coverage is simply an accounting gimmick. For a president who claims to pursue the most transparent administration, he continues to reject calls to shed light on what exactly is in plans on the health care exchange."

She pointed out that, “We deserve to know from our providers just what our insurance plans cover and, even more, we deserve to be assured that we will not be forced to pay for abortions under the guise of health care."

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