Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 3 - March 30, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, includes some significant activity of movies with a Bible component that have done rather well at the box office.  Also, 2 companies were before the nation's highest court this week challenging a law that forces them to provide drugs that violate their religious beliefs, in that they could cause abortion.  And, the top story involves a major Christian charity which dramatically changed its employee policy this week to include same-sex married couples, only to reverse the decision 2 days later.

3 - Movies with Biblical components score at box office

There's a new theatrical box office champion, and it's not even close.   The new adaptation of the Biblical story of "Noah" exceeded $40 million over the weekend, according to estimates at And, in what I would regard as a surprise, another movie with Biblical themes remained in the box office top 5: "God's Not Dead", which apparently came close to equalling its take from last weekend, has now exceeded $20 million.  And, factor in the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey movie, "Son of God", which took in another million and was #2 at the box office just about a month ago, and you have an impressive display of faith-related themes at the box office.

Of course, in the Christian community, there has been plenty of discussion about the "Noah" film from director Darren Aronofsky.   Some Christian leaders are seeing this as a great sign that Hollywood might be paying attention to the faith audience, even with an embellished version of a Biblical narrative.   It is being seen as an opportunity perhaps to open doors about the real story of Noah and its implications regarding salvation and God's mercy.   But, others are put off by the liberties that the filmmakers took with the Biblical story, missing the mark on the real meaning of the narrative.

My wife and I have had plenty of discussion about the film, even though neither of us have seen it.  I'm fascinated by the abundance of opinion that is out there, that can be healthy as long as it doesn't become divisive.  She made me aware of Ed Stetzer's series featuring comments and analysis from Dr. Jerry Johnson, President and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, who worked with the studio to craft a disclaimer that appeared on promotional materials saying that the film was "inspired" by the Noah story in the Bible.   Here are Dr. Johnson's 5 positives and 5 negatives regarding the film:

5 Positives:

Noah's context among all films is positive.

Noah knows its place among Bible films.
Johnson points out that Aronofsky is known for films that have a maverick and mystic quality, and that "Noah" is no different. 
Noah follows the basic plotline of the biblical story.
Human beings have brought much evil on the earth, God judges through a flood, Noah's family is saved from the destruction through the ark, and the human race begins again upon a renewed earth.  Johnson says, "It is nice to see the main lines of the biblical narrative portrayed dramatically.

Noah takes some key Gospel doctrines seriously.
He believes that the concepts of sin and judgment are front and center throughout the whole film. Johnson says that Noah, Methuselah, and the heroic characters of this movie all affirm God as the Creator and just Judge. 

Noah takes some textual elements literally.
He points out that the flood scenes are compelling and appear to represent a global, rather than a local, flood.  He also says that the ark in Noah is a big box measured to biblical specifications, not shaped like a boat as seen in Sunday school literature and so many other evangelical representations. 

Noah's main character does not ring true.
He says that Aronofsky's Noah becomes so disturbed by human sinfulness that he obsesses on the idea that the race should not survive. God must be using the hero's family just to save the animal kingdom and then mankind will die out.

He adds, "The portrayal of Noah during this part of the movie is so dark that you do not want to like him."

The environmental agenda is overdone.
While showing images of war, violence, theft, and sexual sin, the main evil of humankind according to "Noah" is the abuse of the environment, according to Johnson, but the message may have been moderated during the editing process.

The theistic evolution scene will be a concern for many.
This is a reference to Noah's retelling of the creation story to his family, referring to the Creator, but the visuals point to evolution.  However, Johnson says, "That cinematic slight-of-hand notwithstanding, there is a clean break in the cycle when Noah speaks of the first man and woman. They just appear hand in hand, no anthropoid halfling in between."

The Nephilim concept seems convoluted.
Johnson cites what is called a "CliffsNotes" summary: The "Watchers" helped mankind with technology; humans abused it for evil; God cursed the angels for this and turned them into rock giants; these fallen angels help Noah build and defend the ark; when they die in the battle against the bad guys, the mysterious beings go up to heaven.

Secondary biblical details are blurred.

I think this is a great summary of pros and cons, from someone who has worked with Paramount in the marketing of the film to the Christian community.  Again, there are Christian leaders who recommend seeing the film, others who advocate staying away, and it's important that regarding this choice, as well as other choices in our lives, that we exercise spiritual discernment based on God's word, and not allow our differences over this matter to be divisive.

2 - Contraceptive and abortion pill mandate on trial at Supreme Court

Oral arguments were held at the U.S. Supreme Court this week in cases involving two companies owned by Christian families who attempt to run their businesses according to Biblical principles:  Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who challenged the government's mandate that employers provide free contraceptives in their health care plans that could cause the termination of life in an abortion.

CitizenLink offered coverage about the proceedings before the high court, quoting Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the family that owns Conestoga.  He is quoted as saying:
“The justices were extremely concerned that the government’s position is so extreme that it could force families to fund abortion and not even have their day in court, because they object and have sincere religious beliefs against that. We are hopeful and ask for your prayers that the court will protect religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represents the Green family, who own Hobby Lobby. Barbara Green, Co-Founder of Hobby Lobby, said the company was “built on our faith and together as a family.”

“We’ve kept that tradition for more than 40 years, and we want to continue to live out our faith in the way we do business,” she said after the hearing. “We are thankful that the Supreme Court has heard our case, and we prayerfully await the justices’ decision.”   Her husband, CEO David Green, said that the company could face crippling fines over $1 million per day if the outcome of the lawsuit is negative.

Cathy Ruse, Family Research Council senior fellow for legal studies, was also in the courtroom.

“After listening to the oral arguments today,” she said, “I am cautiously optimistic that a majority of the court understands that a family’s choice to make a living shouldn’t mean giving up your religious freedom.”

I interviewed David Cortman of ADF and Erin Mersino of the Thomas More Law Center (which has almost 2 dozen clients challenging the mandate), who offered their viewpoints of the proceedings.

1 - World Vision shifts employee policy on gay marriage, the rescinds decision

I would say that many in the evangelical community were stunned at the announcement on Monday that international Christian relief organization World Vision had changed their employee policy to include those who were in same-sex marriage relationships.

WORLD News Group reported that many evangelical leaders lambasted the decision as a severe compromise of the authority of Scripture. Christian author and ministry leader John Piper called the move “a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition—and therefore, the cross …”

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission noted that afternoon: “We’re entering an era where we will see who the evangelicals really are, and by that I mean those who believe in the gospel itself. … And many will shrink back.”

But, as WORLD said, by Wednesday afternoon, World Vision had shrunk back from its decision. The ministry announced that it would reverse the new policy, and apologized for the “pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to biblical authority.”

WORLD said that as the development broke, some Christians expressed continued confusion over the massive shift in thinking over the course of 48 hours, and concerns over the judgment of the ministry’s leaders.

In a Thursday morning interview, Moore said those concerns are fair, and that Christians should watch carefully how events unfold: “But we should do that with a hermeneutic of charity—of being willing to take an apology that comes from an organization that says it did something wrong.”   Moore did add that Christians should remain discerning about any organization they support, and the fact that a longtime Christian organization had been “willing to barter away gospel orthodoxy on such a crucial gospel point is a warning signal to us about the kind of culture we live in.”

Assemblies of God general superintendent George O. Wood had urged members of the denomination to begin shifting their support away from World Vision in the wake of the original announcement.  Wood did applaud the group’s reversal and encouraged members to reinstate support to the child sponsorship program.

As World Vision moves forward, it will have to regain the trust of those who are skeptical of the leadership of an organization would make such a decision as the original policy change.   This series of events can also serve to challenge Christians to be discerning about the ministry associations in which they engage.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The 3 - March 23, 2014

This week in my week-in-review feature, "The 3", more court action concerning same-sex marriage, as another singular Federal judge has decided that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional in another state.  Also, a Christian professor who had been denied a promotion, allegedly because of his Christian beliefs, was granted a positive outcome by a jury.  And, the top story involves the progress of pro-life legislation in several states, the week after a pro-life bill was dealt a setback over a week ago.

3 - Another Federal judge rules a state marriage amendment unconstitutional

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer are two lesbians from Michigan who want to get married. They also wish to adopt one another's children - three children who have special needs. But, they can't jointly adopt each other's children because joint adoption in the state is tied to - marriage. So, they went to court in 2012 to overturn Michigan’s ban on joint adoptions by same-sex couples.   The WORLD website has a report.

Out of that case came a ruling by a Federal judge this week that struck down Michigan's constitutional amendment, approved by 59 percent of voters, that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman released his 31-page ruling exactly two weeks after the rare trial that mostly focused on the impact of same-sex parenting on children. Attorneys for the state said during the trial that the plaintiffs, a Detroit-area lesbian couple, were great parents. Nevertheless, the state urged the judge to respect the results of that 2004 election when the marriage amendment was approved.

Judge Friedman stated that, “Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage...Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette is quoted as saying that he would immediately ask a federal appeals court to freeze Friedman’s decision and prevent same-sex couples from marrying while he appeals the case.

The Windsor case decision from last summer, overturning a portion of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, has continued to open the door for marriage amendments to be overturned in various states.  Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia, but those rulings have been put on hold pending appeal.

2 - Jury finds Christian professor experienced discrimination

There was an encouraging court ruling in the area of academic freedom issued this past week, according to a report on the CitizenLink website.

Dr. Mike Adams was hired at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington in 1993 and promoted to associate professor in 1998. He became a Christian two years later. He then began sharing his faith in published columns. After that, he was turned down for a full professorship, despite his exemplary record as a professor.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Allied Attorney Travis Barham said that university officials had "...passed along false and misleading information about his academic record, explicitly considered the content of his protected speech in promotion documents...and — incredibly — allowed a professor who’d filed a false criminal complaint against Dr. Adams to cast a vote against his application.”

In 2011, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that: “No individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.”

Last year, a federal court found sufficient evidence to have a trial. This happened after an appeals court determined the First Amendment protects the views Adams published in opinion columns with which university officials disagreed.

Lead counsel David French with the American Center for Law and Justice praised the jury verdict.

“We’re grateful the jury determined what we have long known to be true — that the university violated Dr. Adams’ constitutional rights when it denied his promotion,” he said. “This is an important victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment.”

1 - States continue to consider limitations on abortion, Federal judge rules AR fetal heartbeat abortion ban unconstitutional

Even though a Federal judge struck down the portion of an Arkansas law over a week ago that provides that an abortion cannot be performed involving an unborn child who has a detectable heartbeat and is at 12 weeks' gestation or greater, there are still provisions of the bill that remain in place.  And, more pro-life legislation is advancing in other states. reports that Arkansas may still require testing for a heartbeat before performing abortion and, when a heartbeat is detected, require disclosure to the mother that her unborn child possesses a heartbeat.

In striking down the abortion ban, the court cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent regarding viability of the unborn child as the point when the government may prohibit abortion in some cases. This rule is often called the “viability rule.” Viability is not a precise event but usually occurs, in the current state of medical development, around 24 weeks of pregnancy. The Arkansas heartbeat law banned abortions at 12 weeks when a heartbeat was detected. Therefore, the district court ruled that the law violated Supreme Court precedent. points out that this ruling is a victory for advocates seeking to protect unborn children by requiring that mothers considering abortion be informed if their unborn babies possess a heartbeat.

In other pro-life news, legislation to stop abortions after the point at which the unborn child can feel pain was introduced in the Minnesota Senate this week. The measure would prohibit the taking of the lives of innocent unborn children at 20 weeks from conception, approximately the point at which scientists have determined that an unborn child can feel pain.

Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), is quoted by as saying that, “For far too long, Minnesota’s abortionists have been inflicting unconscionable suffering on unborn babies by killing them when they are already extraordinarily developed and pain-sensitive,. “It is illegal to treat animals in such a brutal way; this bill will finally protect unborn children at 20 weeks and older from the torturous pain of abortion.”

And, the website reports that in South Carolina, the House has approved a similar bill that would enact a 20-week abortion ban.  Meanwhile, in Alabama, legislation that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected is still awaiting action before the state Senate, part of a 4-bill package of pro-life bills that have already passed the House.  The Alabama Legislature is in recess this coming week.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The 3 - March 16, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3", includes some news from 2 mainline denominations - a large California church is moving from one Presbyterian denomination to another, and a United Methodist bishop in New York has decided he will not allow church trials for ministers who violate church law and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.  And, the top story involves news surrounding religious freedom in the military - this time, a cadet leader at the Air Force Academy had a Scripture verse removed from the whiteboard outside his room.

3 - Large California church approved to leave its denomination

A story that has been developing for some time now is nearing its conclusion, as the departure of California's Menlo Park Presbyterian Church from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., has been approved.

It took place on Tuesday, when the Presbytery of San Francisco approved the congregation’s request for dismissal by a voice vote. The church, whose Senior Pastor is noted author John Orterg, will now begin the formal transfer process into another Presbyterian denomination, ECO, according to a press release issued by the church and linked to the website,  

On Sunday, March 2, members of the church voted to request the transfer. About 64% of the church’s members participated in the vote, with 93%, or 2,024 members, voting to approve the motion. There were 158 members who voted to oppose the motion.

Ortberg is quoted as saying, “This has been a spiritual journey of discernment for our church...I’m grateful
for the learning, praying, and engagement of the whole congregation, including those who voted for a different outcome. We are committed to moving forward together in fulfilling our mission as we discern God calling us.”  The church and Presbytery agreed upon dismissal terms of $8.89 million, in order for the church to be dismissed with title to its property.

The church noted that the reasons for its Session’s recommendation to change denomination fell under four key areas: identity, mission, governance and property. As a multisite church seeking to open five new campuses in the next five years, MPPC leaders felt that ECO’s flexible, innovative denominational structure would best help the church achieve its mission.

The Blaze reported that in a document published by Menlo Park last year, leaders described their reasons for seeking a split with the PCUSA, noting that the church’s “evangelical identity around who Jesus is and our understanding of the authority of scripture are increasingly out of alignment” with the denomination as a whole.

Specifically, the church expressed concern that many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders do not believe in the deity of Jesus, nor do they embrace salvation through Christ. The Blaze article points out that these are central tenets of most mainstream Christian churches, leading to a difficult ideological splintering.

2 - United Methodist bishop refuses to hold church trial of minister who performed same-sex wedding

Within the United Methodist denomination, there has been quite a bit of wrestling with the topic of homosexuality, and events this week may cause a heightened level of concern regarding ministers who perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.   According to a report on the Christianity Today website, Bishop Martin McLee of New York committed to end all church trials dealing with ministers who perform such ceremonies, even though they violate the church's Book of Discipline.

McLee wrote in a statement that, "The just resolution provisions of the Book of Discipline are clear in voicing just resolution as the preferred response in Judicial Administration...Church trials produce no winners."   He committed to "a cessation of church trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies and instead offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical conversation."

Thomas W. Ogletree, a minister who performed a marriage ceremony for his son and partner in 2002, was set to go on trial.   The cancellation of his and future church trials under this Bishop's jurisdiction was, according to CT, frustrating for those who support the Methodist Book of Discipline, which affirms "the sanctity of the marriage covenant … between a man and a woman."

Randy Paige, one of the pastors who brought the complaint against Ogletree, wrote in a statement, "The impact of this settlement today will be that faithful United Methodists who support the church's teachings will feel ignored and will face their own crisis of conscience, as to whether they can continue to support a church that will not abide by its own rules...Far from avoiding schism, today's settlement increases the probability that schism will take place."

Tom Lambrecht, vice president of the conservative Good News ministry, agreed. "When certain parts of the church decide they can no longer live according to church teachings, you've got an intolerable situation in the church," he told the Boston Globe.

Also this week, according to a report on the Religion News Service website, complaints were filed against retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, who officiated at an October 25th ceremony in Birmingham, even after the local bishop and the executive committee of the Council of Bishops urged Talbert not to go ahead with the ceremony.

The denomination’s Council of Bishops had requested complaints be filed against Talbert. According to the complaints lodged with the bishops in the denomination’s Western region, Talbert is alleged to have “violated the sacred trust of his office.”

1 - Controversy at the Air Force Academy over cadet writing Scripture on whiteboard

Questions over religious freedom in the military are continuing to proliferate, and the flame was fanned this week in the aftermath of an incident involving a cadet leader at the U.S. Air Force Academy, who had written the text of Galatians 2:20 on the whiteboard outside his room.   The message was removed, apparently as the result of a complaint filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, according to a report by Todd Starnes for the website.

The head of the MRFF, Mikey Weinstein, told Starnes, "It clearly elevated one religious faith [fundamentalist Christianity] over all others at an already virulently hyper-fundamentalist Christian institution...It massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny, exceptionalism and supremacy at USAFA."

Starnes reports that exactly two hours and nine minutes after Weinstein complained to Air Force Academy Superintendent Michelle Johnson, the Bible verse was erased from the cadet leader’s whiteboard. Johnson said in a written statement that the verse was removed because there was a “potential perception” problem.

The removal of the Bible verse led what Starnes referred to as "a small uprising among cadets."  At least a dozen posted Bible verses on their personal white boards and some even went so far as to post passages from the Koran. Those verses were not removed, presumably because the cadets were not in leadership positions.

Family Research Council reports that the incident at the Air Force Academy has been aired in the halls of Congress. At a hearing before a House committee, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Walsh were originally scheduled to talk about branch spending until some lawmakers demanded a detailed explanation of the events that unfolded at the Academy. Representatives from Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) to Democrat Mike McIntyre (N.C.) took turns grilling the duo on the incident.

The Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition, a group of two dozen like-minded religious liberty organizations, announced Thursday that they are ready to offer assistance to any Air Force Academy cadet who faces repercussions for writing Bible verses on their hallway whiteboards.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The 3 - March 9, 2014

On this edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, some coverage of the resignation, from the ministry he founded, of a Christian leader who has had millions attend his seminars.  Also, new regulations on religious expression in the workplace have been handed down from a Federal agency.  And, big news this week for a German homeschool family that has been living in America - their case to stay was rejected by the Supreme Court, but in roughly a day's time, they experienced a stunning reveral of circumstances.

3 - Legendary Institute in Basic Life Principles leader suspended, resigns

I remember that when I was teenager, members of the youth group at my church all travelled to downtown Atlanta to hear a gentlemen speak on Biblical principles.  I was stunned to see the old Omni arena full of people coming together for what was then called the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts.   I remember the red notebook that was full of principles and black-and-white cartoon drawings.   I am thinking that I returned the following summer, as well.   What an incredible impact the teaching of Bill Gothard has made on so many people!  Through what is now called the Institute in Basic Life Principles, thousands have experienced a deeper walk with Jesus Christ.   More than 2.5 million people are estimated to have attended a Bill Gothard seminar, according to a recent article on the WORLD website, which stated that Mr. Gothard has resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and from its board and affiliates.

The announcement came Thursday night in a letter to families associated with the IBLP’s Advanced Training Institute from David Waller, ATI’s administrative director.

Gothard’s resignation comes just days after IBLP’s board of directors placed its longtime leader on “administrative leave” while it investigated claims that the 79-year-old years ago engaged in sexual harassment and other misconduct.

The accusations against Gothard became public as a result of the work of Recovering Grace, which has statements from 34 women regarding incidents dating back to their youth in the 1970s and thereafter.

In Waller’s letter, neither Gothard nor the organization admitted wrongdoing. “Mr. Gothard communicated to the Board of Directors his desire to follow Matthew 5:23-24 and listen to those who have ‘ought against’ him,” Waller wrote. “To give his full attention to this objective, Mr. Gothard resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, its Board of Directors, and its affiliated entities. The Board of Directors expects to appoint interim leadership for IBLP in the very near future.”

The apostle Paul writes about the importance of finishing strong.  If the current trajectory continues, that may not be the case for Bill Gothard.  Since the allegations deal with activity dating back to the 70's, there would have been ample opportunity for repentance to occur.  The IBLP statement did not admit that any wrongdoing took place, and I would hope that would be the case.  But, if not, perhaps it is not too late to restore some of the lost reputation of this man and his ministry that has touched so many lives by an admission of wrong, an expression of a desire for restoration, and the necessary steps to help make things right.

2 - EEOC guidelines changed to allow more religious accommodations

The number of complaints and million-dollar settlements for cases of religious workplace discrimination neared record levels in 2013, according to a piece on the Religion News Service website.  Therefore, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new, detailed new guidelines for employers on religious rights and responsibilities in the workplace.

An EEOC spokesperson, Justine Lisser, said that complaints have more than doubled since 1997.   Lisser also said that representatives of religious groups have asked for more EEOC outreach in this area.  There have been guidelines in the past but the EEOC spelled out workplace rights and responsibilities in a new question-and-answer guide and accompanying fact sheet.

The new guidelines detail how businesses with more than 15 employees must accommodate workers with “sincerely” held religious beliefs — and unbelievers who “sincerely” refuse religious garb or insignia. For instance, businesses cannot refuse to interview a Sikh with a turban or a Christian wearing a cross. Neither can they limit where employees work because of their religious dress.

The guidelines cited multiple examples including three settled in 2013:
Title VII, which is enforced by the EEOC, “defines religion very broadly to include not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or may seem illogical or unreasonable to others.”

The rules apply to the sincerely unreligious as well, as long as these views relate to “what is right or wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”
This could be viewed as a welcome clarification of religious rights in the workplace.  It will be interesting to see how these will be implemented and if this could lead to more freedom for religious expression in a work setting.

1 - German homeschool family can stay in the U.S. after case rejected by Supreme Court

The week began for the German homeschool family who had been fighting to stay in America by having their case rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.    However, the Romeike family was granted "indefinite deferred status" by the Department of Homeland Security, according to a report in the "Gleanings" section of the Christianity Today website.

The family had fled to the United States from Germany and received asylum in 2010 after being severely penalized for illegally homeschooling their children in their home country. The family was threatened on multiple occasions, fined about $10,000, and had three children forcibly removed from home and driven to school by police, according to the brief.

After they had initially been granted asylum, the Romeikes lost every case after that, eventually ending up at the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court decided against taking the case on Monday, the Home School Legal Defense Association promised not to give up but to look for another way.

Jim Mason, HSLDA attorney, said that even though the Supreme Court thought that the family wasn't entitled to asylum under current law, the Department of Homeland Security apparently doesn't want to send them back to Germany.  He told CT that the organization is working on legislation that would make it possible for others to come to the United States if they're facing similar circumstances. He said that, "The denial of certiorari from the Supreme Court makes it more difficult for other families to come in the same ways the Romeikes did.  He added that the deferred status makes it possible for the Romeikes to stay without worries in the future.

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is quoted as saying, in response to the Supreme Court denial, "Educating one's children according to one's religious convictions is a human right...Sending this family back to Germany is the repudiation of a great American heritage. This should remind us of how imperiled religious liberty is at home and around the world."

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The 3 - March 2, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, a report on yet another Federal judge that has taken a state marriage law to task.  And, news from the movies, where a depiction of the life of Jesus came in a strong second for the opening weekend.  Also, the studio responsible for another movie based on a Biblical story has agreed to place a disclaimer on its marketing materials.  The top story involves a religious freedom bill that came under fire in Arizona and was eventually vetoed by the governor there.

3 - Federal judge rules Texas marriage amendment unconstitutional

The parade of largely conservative states who have had their marriage amendments struck down by aggressive Federal judges continued to march on this week, as Federal Judge Orlando Garcia ruled against the Texas constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The ruling will not go into effect while the case is appealed.

CitizenLink quotes Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz as saying that the ruling by Judge Garcia is “the most egregious form of judicial activism of our generation...This hollow victory and clear attack on morality and the rule of law will not stand in Texas.”

Saenz is quoted as saying that, “This is just the beginning of an epic battle that the Texas people will ultimately win in name of the only true and lawful definition of marriage: one man, one woman.”

And this week, a Federal judge issued an order supporting his declaration over 2 weeks ago that the state of Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.  Judge John G. Heyburn refused to put his ruling on hold pending an appeal

2 - Faith at the movies: "Son of God" soars, studio adds disclaimer for "Noah"

The initial movie box office indicators are in, and after a close head-to-head race on Friday, the film featuring excerpts from the enormously successful miniseries, "The Bible," on the History Channel, has apparently vaulted over the $25 million mark - "Son of God" will likely finish second for the weekend, a few million dollars behind the new Liam Neeson film, "Non-Stop", according to  At the time of this posting, it appears that "Son of God" will take the #1 slot at the box office for Sunday.  "Non-Stop" opened up the tight box office race with a significantly stronger performance on Saturday.  

"Son of God," produced by reality show producer Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, who portrays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the film, was aided by churches who stepped up to buy out entire theaters for showings of the film.   The film opened on well over 3,200 screens across the nation.

Meanwhile, NRB - National Religious Broadcasters - has reached an agreement with Paramount Pictures, the studio responsible for the new "Noah" film, to place an explanatory message in marketing materials.

According to the website, the move follows an appeal by Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, to help audiences better understand that the feature film is a dramatization of the major scriptural themes and not a line-by-line retelling of the Bible story.

Future marketing materials, including a soon-to-be released online trailer, the film’s official website, and 100% of print and radio, as well as a percentage of the film’s online and broadcast, will contain the following explanatory message:
"The film is inspired by the story of Noah.
While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.
The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."
Paramount Pictures' Vice Chairman, Rob Moore, is quoted as saying that, "We are deeply appreciative of Dr. Johnson’s efforts to bring this idea to us...Our goal has been to take every measure we can to ensure moviegoers have the information they need before deciding to buy a ticket to see the film. We are very proud of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. We think audiences all over the world will enjoy this epic film.”

Adding to that, Dr. Johnson said, "It is a significant and welcome development when a leading Hollywood studio like Paramount makes a major film about a story from the Bible."

1 - Arizona religious freedom bill goes down with governor's veto

On Wednesday this week, at the end of a media firestorm that included alleged misrepresentations of a religious freedom bill that was intended to prevent discrimination against people of faith, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, citing, among other things, the possibility of unintended consequences.  The bill was intended to extend protections under Arizona's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1999, to businesses.

Alliance Defending Freedom had a hand in drafting the bill, and ADF's Kellie Fiodorek, in a piece on the website, stated that the bill, SB 1062, "merely clarifies Arizona’s existing law to protect Arizonans from any attempt by the government to force them to speak or act in ways that violate their religious beliefs. It safeguards freedom by closing loopholes that have allowed other state governments to punish private citizens for living and working according to their convictions."

She points out that, "Despite the simple, commonsense purpose of the bill, its opponents have turned it into something it is not. It would not allow a business owner to refuse someone a meal or a taxi ride. There’s a key distinction between selling someone paint and allowing the government to force you to paint a mural with a message that violates your deepest beliefs. This bill prevents the government from violating people’s dignity by forcing them to act or speak contrary to their religious convictions. It does not grant license for just anything at all."

ADF Senior Counsel Doug Napier said that, “Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed. Today’s veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona. Even though the battle has become more difficult, Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend any Arizonan who suffers the indignity of religious discrimination.”

The veto came after eleven prominent law professors from a wide variety of backgrounds sent a letter to Governor Brewer in support of the bill. The group included both Republicans and Democrats and those who both oppose and support redefining marriage, but all of them believe the bill “has been egregiously misrepresented by many of its critics,” their letter says.

Napier explained, “As these legal scholars rightly point out, the misrepresentations about the bill have been egregious...It has nothing to with refusing someone a sandwich. It has everything to do with making Arizona a safe place for people to freely live out their faith. The falsehoods need to be exposed for what they are.”

Some excellent comments about the Arizona religious freedom bill situation can be found in my conversation with Stuart Shepard, of CitizenLink, a public policy partner of Focus on the Family.