Sunday, May 31, 2015

The 3 - May 31, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is some news that has been distributed this week about a Marine lance corporal who has been discharged from the military as the result of being court-martialed for displaying Scripture-related material on her desk.  Also, a victory of sorts in Syria, where Christians have been part of a fighting force to turn back incursions by the Islamic State.  And, in North Carolina, the governor has vetoed a bill granting protections to magistrates who do not wish to perform same-sex marriages because of their religious convictions.

3 - Marine who was court-martialed for posting Bible verse files appeal

Monifa Sterling was once a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps.  But not any longer. According to a report on the Gospel Herald website, she was convicted last year at a court martial as the result of not following orders to take down slips of paper with the Old Testament scripture displayed on her desk, including a paraphrase of Isaiah 54:17, "No weapons formed against me shall prosper."

The article referred to a Fox News piece that reported that last year at her trial, she represented herself and cited her right to religious expression under the First Amendment and her protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The military court found that the Biblical quote could "easily been seen as contrary to good order and discipline," and added, "Maintaining discipline and morale in the military work center could very well require that the work center remain relatively free of divisive or contentious issues such as personal beliefs, religion, politics, etc."

The Gospel Herald quotes a Washington Post report that said her rank was subsequently reduced from lance corporal to private and she was given a bad conduct discharge, which damaged her future chances at finding employment and makes her ineligible to receive veteran benefits.

The news continued to emerge this past week that Liberty Institute and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement announced they are appealing her case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest military court.  The Gospel Herald quotes Mike Berry, Liberty Institute's director of military affairs and senior counsel, who told Christian Today, "If the government can order a Marine not to display a Bible verse, they could try and order her not to get a religious tattoo or go to church on Sunday. Restricting a Marine's free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional."

The article quotes Franklin Graham, from his Facebook page: "Unbelievably, she was criminally prosecuted by the U.S. government for displaying this encouraging Scripture on her computer in her workspace. Give me a break-really? Can our society be at a point where a supervisor can order a young Marine to remove a Bible verse from her computer? Others are able to display secular messages without any opposition, but Sterling was targeted by her supervisor. Today there's a tolerance in our culture for everything-except the things of God and His Word. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has been asked to review LCpl Sterling's case-let's pray that this kind of targeting and persecution of Christians by our government will be stopped."

2 - Christians in Syria unite to fight ISIS

While opposition forces are attempting to erase gains made by Islamic State in recent weeks, a report on the WORLD Magazine website contains some good news regarding largely Christian areas in Syria.   There, an unheralded combination of Kurdish and Assyrian Christian fighters in recent weeks have managed to recapture a string of villages along the Khabur River from Islamic State, or ISIS.

These victories have come three months after ISIS swept into the area, taking command of 14 villages and kidnapping several hundred Assyrian Christians who lived there. These have gone unnoticed as ISIS made gains elsewhere, mainly in taking Palmyra further south in Syria, and capturing Ramadi in central Iraq. But as local forces reenter the Khabur River villages, they are finding a swath of devastation in the Islamic militants’ wake.  They also have destroyed Christian churches in the area.

Emanuel Youkhana, an Assyrian priest who heads the relief group CAPNI, is quoted as saying, "All the Christian Assyrian villages in Khabur are re-controlled and IS is pushed out." But he said there are newly discovered dangers, including land mines left in the vicinity of churches, leaving about 1,400 Assyrian families—nearly 7,000 persons—unable to go back to their homes and villages. Some are still living in churches in cities east of the Khabur River.

1 - Bill protecting magistrates from being forced to perform marriage of same-sex couple vetoed by NC Governor

With the proliferation of so-called "same sex" marriage and the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling legalizing the practice on the horizon, states are attempting to take measures to protect officials who object to participating in this type of practice.  North Carolina lawmakers took the bold step of passing legislation that would give government officials the right to refuse to perform gay marriages due to religious objections, according to the Breaking Christian News website.

The bill was intended to protect the rights of those who face losing their job if they decline.

The article quotes Reuters, which reported that supporters of the bill claimed it would add needed protection for magistrates who have said they would not perform gay marriages since it became legal in North Carolina last year.

However, Republican Governor Pat McCrory issued a statement on his official website following the passage of the bill, saying:
"I recognize that for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath; therefore, I will veto Senate Bill 2."
Television station WITN reported that McCrory did indeed veto the bill a half-hour after his public statement, according to spokesman Josh Ellis. The bill now returns to the legislature, which could override the veto if at least three-fifths of the lawmakers voting in each chamber support it.

The House and Senate already passed the bill by margins above the threshold, although the House's 67-43 vote Thursday was barely above it. Ten House members had excused absences and didn't vote.

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