Saturday, October 18, 2014

The 3 - October 19, 2014

In this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I focus on some international news, with developments in the ongoing case of the first Christian women to face a death sentence under Pakistan's blasphemy laws.  Also, students across America were being encouraged to bring their Bibles to school this past Thursday.  And, the top story involves the situation in Houston, Texas, where pastors' communications are being subpoenaed.

3 - Pakistani court upholds Asia Bibi's death sentence

Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, had her appeal of her conviction rejected by the High Court in Lahore on Thursday, according to a report on the World Watch Monitor website.

The women, also known as Aasiya Noreen, received the death penalty in 2010 after she allegedly made derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.

However, the Superintendent of Police who investigated Asia’s case, testified in the trial court that the religious argument broke out over drinking water, and not about the Prophet or the Koran. The trial court judge nonetheless convicted her and gave her the death penalty.

The Lahore High Court began hearing the appeal in March this year, but the case kept circulating among several judges who postponed its hearing.  Legal sources told World Watch Monitor that judges were unwilling to decide the case because of fear of reprisal from extremist elements.  Asia Bibi's defense team now has one more opportunity to appeal her case by taking it to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

Asia Bibi has had some high-profile supporters, the article notes.  Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the Pakistani government for clemency.  The then-Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, went to meet Noreen in prison and prepared a petition for mercy, which he had intended to submit to the President of Pakistan, but he was killed in 2011 because of his support for Asia and his characterization of the blasphemy laws as "black laws."  Two months later, the only Christian member of the cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed.  Bhatti had supported Noreen and sought to reform Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which, according to the article, are often used to settle personal scores and pressure religious minorities.

2 - Students encouraged to participate in "Bring Your Bible to School Day"

This past Thursday, students across the nation were invited to participate in a national effort called Bring Your Bible to School Day, according to a report on the website.  The initiative is sponsored by Focus on the Family, in association with the Day of Dialogue.  It is stated to be “designed to empower Christian students who have a heart for sharing Christ’s love and express a Biblical perspective on current-day issues with peers.”

Students participating in the effort were encouraged to not only bring their Bible to school, but to also engage in dialogue with their peers about matters of faith during non-instructional times. 

Candi Cushman, Focus on the Family's education analyst and facilitator of Day of Dialogue, said, "We believe truth rises to the surface when honest conversations and a free exchange of ideas are allowed to happen...It equips the next generation of Christian leaders with confidence that the Gospel of Christ speaks into even the most sensitive cultural issues.” Organizers are quoted as saying that the (Day of Dialogue) event began three years ago with just a few hundred participants, but has now grown to an estimated 18,000 youth observances nationwide.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) issued a legal memo surrounding the observance.   ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco is quoted as saying that, “Christian students don’t abandon their constitutionally protected freedoms at the schoolhouse gate...Their freedom to express their beliefs includes the right to bring their Bible to school, to read it during their free time, and to engage in other activities as part of ‘Bring Your Bible to School Day.’”

1 - Houston pastors under threats from city officials

A fierce debate on a so-called "equal rights ordinance" in Houston reached a whole new level this week.  In June, the city council had passed the ordinance, supported by openly lesbian mayor Annise Parker, which provides for new policies, including allowing those who identify as a gender different than their biological one to use the bathroom of the opposite sex.  A petition drive challenging the law was launched earlier this year, and even though the number of signatures collected was well over the threshold of necessary signatures, city officials claimed that there were not enough valid ones.  A lawsuit was filed to challenge the actions of the city of Houston, and this week, a group of 5 pastors, none of them involved in the lawsuit, were presented subpoenas for various forms of communication, including sermons.

You can read a report from the Alliance Defending Freedom here.

According to a Family Research Council blog post from FRC President Tony Perkins,
Everyone from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to the liberal Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have challenged Parker’s naked abuse of government power.
Writing about a Thursday press conference, Perkins said:
The Mayor “should be ashamed,” Sen. Cruz told reporters before a local press conference this morning. “This is wrong. It’s unbefitting of Texans, and it’s un-American. The government has no business asking pastors to turn over their sermons.”
Perkins points out that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called out city leaders with the full weight of the state.  In a formal letter to Houston city attorney David Feldman, he wrote: “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment...The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government. Nothing short of an immediate reversal by your office will provide that security.”

In a press conference with Parker, Feldman said, “It’s unfortunate...that our subpoenas have been construed as some effort to infringe on religious beliefs.”  It was widely reported that the mayor did eliminate sermons from subpoenas, but other forms of communication are being sought.  Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defending Freedom is quoted on the FRC blog: "The only way to make this subpoena appropriate and not unconstitutional is to place a giant red X across the whole thing. Otherwise, this is window dressing intended to shield them from public attention, not any real change. There is NO construction of this subpoena that is appropriate. Period.”

A conversation with Kerri Kupec, Legal Communications Director for ADF, from the Friday, October 17 edition of The Meeting House can be found here.

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