Sunday, April 05, 2015

The 3 - April 5, 2015

This week in my week-in-review feature, The 3, we take a closer look at the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear the latest appeal in the case involving New York City churches renting public school facilities.  Also, a brutal attack in Kenya at a university apparently targeted Christians. And, huge stories from the previous week involved the passage of, then revisions of, religious freedom bills in Indiana and Arkansas.

3 - U.S. Supreme Court allows ban on churches using school facilities stand, mayor indicates that he may lift it

A case that has been in the court system for some 20 years took another turn this past week at the U.S. Supreme Court.   The original lawsuit filed by the Bronx Household of Faith, a church in New York City, contested the city's ban on churches renting public school facilities for the purpose of worship.  This week, according to the website of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to leave in place an appeals court ruling that upheld a city ban on worship services in public school buildings during non-school hours.

ADF says that many eyes are turning to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and it reports that:
The high court did not overturn its precedent that appears clearly to run counter to such policies, but it did decline to disturb a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruling that upheld the city’s policy. That move leaves the decision squarely in the lap of de Blasio, who has the power to revoke the policy and expressed his disagreement with it immediately after the 2nd Circuit’s ruling.
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented Bronx Household of Faith for 20 years in its legal battle against the city’s policy, is quoted as saying: “Any community group can meet in New York City’s school buildings during non-school hours for any purpose – except for religious groups meeting to worship God. This policy is clearly nothing more than religious segregation – the kind of segregation the mayor has said he opposes."

Last year, after the 2nd Circuit made its ruling, de Blasio said at a press conference, according to ADF, “I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access," adding, “You know, they have to go through the same application process, wait their turn for space, pay the same rent – but I think they deserve access. They play a very, very important role in terms of providing social services and other important community services, and I think they deserve that right.”

2 - Christians singled out in attack at a Kenyan university

An attack by a terrorist group at a Garissa University College in Kenya has left some 150 people dead, and apparently Christians were a prime target.  According to a report on the website, in the Gleanings section, a spokesperson for the militant Al-Shabaab group had confirmed to Reuters that the Somali militants had deliberately gone after Christians.

Another Al-Shabaab spokesperson told the AFP that militants had "released the Muslims" but that they were holding others hostage.

Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage is quoted as saying, "Our people are still there, they are fighting, and their mission is to kill those who are against the Shabaab."

On Thursday, WORLD reported that Kenyan officials said they had killed four attackers and ended a hostage standoff at Garissa University College that began early that morning. After the shooting stopped, security personnel reportedly freed dozens of hostages.

CT quotes Christian Solidarity Worldwide as saying:
Al Shabaab attacks in Kenya have increased since October 2011, when Kenya’s army joined international efforts to stabilise Somalia following the cross-border abductions of foreign tourists by the group. It formally aligned itself with al Qaeda in 2012, although reports of foreign fighters amongst its ranks predated this announcement. There have been three attacks in the last two years in which the group has separated hostages according to religious identity and murdered them accordingly; the siege at Westgate Shopping Mall in September 2013, the hijacking of a bus travelling from Mandera to Nairobi in November 2014, and the attack on a quarry in Mandera in December 2014.

1 - Religious freedom bills revised in Indiana, Arkansas

Recently, lawmakers in two states - Indiana and Arkansas - passed bills designed to protect religious freedom, consistent with the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was a key component in the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which found in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties as they sought legal protection from having to comply with a mandate to provide free contraception and drugs that could cause abortion in their health care plans.

The bills passed in those two states were met with strong opposition from the LGBT community, as well as some in the corporate sector.  Governor Mike Pence of Indiana demanded that the state assembly rework the bill as it was passed and as he had signed.  Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, after initially indicating he would sign the bill as it came out of the state legislature, requested a new bill. The main objection: opponents said that the bills would authorize so-called "discrimination" based on sexual orientation or gender identity.   Supporters wanted to protect individuals and businesses from being forced to act by the government in a manner that would violate their religious beliefs.

So, what came out of these state legislatures and what was signed into law by the respective governors?  The outcomes were different in the two states.  The Family Research Council's Washington Update at made the distinction.  First of all, regarding the "fix" in Indiana:
After huddling with CEOs and LGBT groups, the legislative leadership unveiled a new law that not only guts the state's newly enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act but imposes punishing fines on people who follow their beliefs about marriage. While most were expecting some kind of 'clarification,' few expected the proposed law that outrageously contemplates criminal prosecution for business owners who decline to be a party to a same-sex ceremony. The proposal doesn't directly create criminal punishment, but for the first time establishes that if the legislature were ever to adopt criminal penalties in the future, a religious freedom claim would provide NO DEFENSE against imprisonment. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty describes the proposed language as making "specific allowances for criminal prosecution."
FRC states in its Thursday update that:
Meanwhile there was a better outcome in Arkansas in the tussle over their Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This afternoon the legislature approved and Governor Asa Hutchinson immediately held a ceremony where he signed into law an amended RFRA that mirrors the 1993 federal RFRA. "I think it's sending the right signal," said Governor Hutchinson.
The piece goes on to say that:
Arkansas Family Council President Jerry Cox had it right this afternoon when he said, "If the Arkansas General Assembly passes Senate Bill 975, most of what we were trying to accomplish will have been done. The original religious freedom bill, H.B. 1228, was the Rolls Royce of religious freedom laws. S.B. 975, the replacement bill, is a Cadillac."
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, ADF Senior Counsel Kristin Waggoner echoed concerns about the Indiana law, stating:
“The religious freedom law is a good law. It does not pick winners or losers, but allows courts to weigh the government’s and people’s interests fairly and directs judges to count the cost carefully when freedom is at stake. The new proposal unjustly deprives citizens their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system in advance. It gives the government a new weapon against individual citizens who are merely exercising freedoms that Americans were guaranteed from the founding of this country. Surrendering to deception and economic blackmail never results in good policy.”

According to the website, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell said regarding the revised law,  “Government should protect people’s freedom to follow their beliefs in their lives and work. We commend the governor’s decision to support a law that does this. Government shouldn’t be able to punish Americans for exercising basic civil rights. Religious freedom laws ensure that freedom gets a fair hearing, and they limit the government’s power to intrude on our liberties. We hope other states join Arkansas and many others in adopting similar laws.”

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