Sunday, July 05, 2015

The 3 - July 5, 2015

The 3 returns this week with perspective and commentary regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage across America, including some 30 states where the voters had approved amendments to the respective states' constitutions.   Also, this past week, the high court upheld, at least temporarily the "Choose Life" specialty license plates in a case from North Carolina. And, fires at African-American churches have been on the rise since the Charleston tragedy, and even though a fire this week is apparently due to lightning, two other fires over the last few weeks have been determined to be arson, and there are still concerns.

3 - Supreme Court upholds "Choose Life" license plates

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued yet another decision about specialty license plates.  This time, the high court overturned two lower court rulings about the "Choose Life" plates in the state of North Carolina, according to a report on the website.  The Supreme Court affirmed the state's right to issue “Choose Life” license plates.  The website had reported that in February of last year, a three-judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the plates as being “at odds with the First Amendment.”  A U.S. District Court Judge had ruled in December 2012 that the plates amounted to viewpoint discrimination because the state did not also issue plates favoring abortion.

The website reports that the state first began offering “Choose Life” plates in 2011 after legislators approved a measure allowing the pro-life plates to be produced. Each plate is an extra $25, fifteen of which goes to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a non-profit organization that helps to fund pregnancy care centers throughout North Carolina.

The Fourth Circuit had said that, “Issuing a ‘Choose Life’ specialty license plate while refusing to issue a pro-choice specialty plate constitutes blatant viewpoint discrimination squarely at odds with the First Amendment.” But on Monday, the Supreme Court overturned the appeals court's ruling, ordering the Fourth Circuit to reconsider its decision in light of the high court’s ruling earlier this month in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Supreme Court had ruled in Walker that state-issued license plates amount to government speech, and therefore, the state can reject messages that it does not endorse. quoted lead counsel Scott Gaylord, one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with the Alliance Defending Freedom and a professor of law at Elon University School of Law, who said: “Third parties like the ACLU cannot sanitize the public square of views a state communicates simply because they do not like those messages,” adding, “As the Supreme Court made clear in Walker, the attempt to censor a message like North Carolina’s ‘Choose Life’ message is inconsistent with both the purpose of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s government speech precedents.”

2 - Latest fire at African-American church caused by lightning, but some past fires at black churches ruled to be arson

This past week, news emerged of a seventh fire at a Southern African-American church since the death of 9 at a Charleston church.  Christianity Today relayed a CNN report that the FBI believes that the June 30 fire at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, SC was likely caused by lightning.

So far, in this latest round of church fires, at least two - College Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina - have been classified as arson.

A wave of church fires in 1996, which included many black churches, led Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act and President Clinton to open a related Justice Department task force.

By 2000, that task force had investigated 945 church fires, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security, with more than 305 convictions in 224 arsons and bombings. The number of arson declined following a spike in the mid-1990s.

There have been some strong comments from Christian leaders.

CT offered these comments:

Quest Church pastor Eugene Cho said on his Facebook page: "...Please pray for our sisters and brothers. Pray for their church communities. Pray for their hearts and minds. Pray for their safety. Pray for their local communities to literally surround them in both fierce and tender protection and love. Pray for their leadership. Pray for the investigation. Pray for justice. Pray for repentance. And yes, we are bold enough to keep praying for reconciliation."

Beth Moore tweeted, “The God Who Sees knows exactly who is burning Black churches.” She added, “With 1 unified voice let's ask Him to expose them at once & stop this madness.”
And, African-American professor Anthony Bradley from The King's College wrote on Twitter, "Black churches are burning again. No. 7 since #CharlestonShooting. This is why we talk about race so much."

1 - Response continues to Supreme Court gay marriage ruling

This week, there continued to be response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that established a constitutional right to so-called same-sex marriage.  A number of Christian leaders, from the moment of the ruling on June 26 throughout this past week, have offered perspective on this ruling.

I had a chance this week to talk with Ryan Anderson, who serves with the Heritage Foundation.  In an article on The Daily Signal website from June 26, he wrote:

We must work to restore the constitutional authority of citizens and their elected officials to make marriage policy that reflects the truth about marriage. We the people must explain what marriage is, why marriage matters, and why redefining marriage is bad for society.

Anderson also relates that:

Because the court has inappropriately redefined marriage everywhere, there is urgent need for policy to ensure that the government never penalizes anyone for standing up for marriage. As discussed in my new book, “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” we must work to protect the freedom of speech, association and religion of those who continue to abide by the truth of marriage as union of man and woman.

I also chatted with Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, who had written a piece for Christianity Today, and offered these thoughts in it: "... before you engage in conversations about marriage on social media, in your churches, or in your communities, take a portion of time and devote it to prayer. Ask the Lord to reveal the needs of the people around you. Ask him to give you a spirit of compassion amidst the proclamation of truth. We rightly care about marriage, but we can't do it alone."

He also encourages believers to love their neighbors and to show and share the love of Jesus.

Emily Belz of WORLD News Group talked with me, as well, and gave some insight on the various justices' writings in a story she had written about the ruling, including Justice Kennedy's majority opinion and the dissents from four different justices.  Kennedy wrote:

“The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time. … These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage.
“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality..."

There have been concerns over religious freedom protections for people of faith who disagree with same-sex marriage.  According to the WORLD report, Kennedy's opinion said:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered..."

But, dissenting justices expressed their concern that there may not be adequate protections for people of faith who object to same-sex marriage.  Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

“Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. … The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses..."

This week has been one for Christians to process the implications of the Supreme Court ruling, and begin to consider the way forward.  It is important that we are steadfast in our commitment to our own marriages, as well as the institution, as defined by God.  It is also critical that we speak truth, even though the nation's highest court has found a "right" that stands in direct opposition to our Scriptural admonitions.

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