Saturday, February 21, 2015

The 3 - February 22, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is news emerging out of Iran, where a pastor was released and another was able to visit for an extended period of time and worship with his father.  Also, a Washington florist has been found to have violated state law by refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding ceremony and faces the possibility of personal money being used to pay the penalty.  In other religious freedom news, the former Atlanta fire chief has filed a lawsuit against the city.  And, 21 Egyptian Christians lost their lives recently, and a group of church leaders has announced a multi-faceted response.

3 - Iranian house church pastor released; Pastor Saeed worships in prison

An Iranian Christian pastor, considered to be a leader in Iran's house church movement, has been released from prison, according to a report on the Christian Today website, which says that Pastor Rasoul Abdollahi was first arrested in December of 2010 as part of a widespread crackdown on Christian activity.  He was detained and interrogated for more than two months before being released on bail.

He was then tried in court and imprisoned in December of 2013. But he has now been pardoned and released, and will be able to return to his wife and children.

A source, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, told Christian Today that Iran's judiciary seems to be encouraging Christians that are arrested to leave the country before standing trial.

Meanwhile, an Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, remains in prison in Iran.

The website reports that Pastor Saeed was permitted to visit with his father in prison for an extended amount of time this week, a rare blessing for the pastor who has been imprisoned for his Christian faith for over two years.  Abedini’s wife Naghmeh wrote on her Facebook page that the father and son were able to talk, pray and worship God.

Quoting a Charisma News story, the article said that prison guards watched the visit, but did not force Abedini and his father to end the time of fellowship.  Naghmeh related that, "They were allowing them to pray and worship together,” adding, "The normal 20-minute visit turned into 40 minutes, which turned into an hour, which turned into a few hours. Saeed and his father were shocked the amount of time that they were allowed. The presence of the Lord was so strong that the guards did not want to intervene and end the visit! Praise the Lord!"
2 - Religious freedom watch: Washington florist found guilty of discrimination, Atlanta fire chief files lawsuit against city

Baronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington state who declined to provide flowers for a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, was found to have violated state law, and she must provide must provide full support for wedding ceremonies that are contrary to her faith, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom Media website. 

After the ruling, according to ADFAttorney General Bob Ferguson, who had contended that Stutzman violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination and its Consumer Protection Act for acting consistent with her Christian faith, made an offer to Stutzman that he would drop his lawsuit if she would pay $2,001 and agree to give up her religious freedom.

She sent a letter to the Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Friday to decline the settlement offer.  In it, she said:
Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about.... It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important…. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets….
The Alliance Defending Freedom had reported that the court had ruled recently that both the state and the same-sex couple, who each filed lawsuits against her, may collect damages and attorneys’ fees not only from her business, but from Stutzman personally. That means the 70-year-old grandmother may not only lose her business, but also her home and savings because she lives her life and operates her business according to her beliefs.
Also, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom Media site, ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city and mayor of Atlanta for their termination of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because of his Christian faith and beliefs. At a news conference Wednesday, ADF and Cochran announced the lawsuit, which comes on the heels of an administrative complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last month.

ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman is quoted as saying that, “Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of being fired because of their beliefs and thoughts...The city of Atlanta is not above the Constitution and federal law. In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant.”

The website reported that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had first suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training” after activists who don’t agree with the fire chief’s Christian views on sex complained about a men’s devotional book Cochran had written on his personal time.   Biblical sexual morality is mentioned only briefly in the 162-page book.  ADF reported that after an investigation that included interviews with employees found Cochran did not discriminate against anyone, the mayor fired him anyway – citing as his basis, ironically, the need to tolerate diverse views.

1 - More ISIS violence: Egyptian Christians beheaded by ISIS, victims' remembered in prayer 

There has been swift and passionate response to the video released by the Islamic terror group showing the murder of the 21 Egyptian Christians.  Baptist Press, in an article on a response by Christian leaders to the attack, said that the text that accompanied the ISIS video is addressed to "The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church," according to news reports. It quotes a Wall Street Journal report that the terrorists in the video are identified with a Libyan group that allied itself with the Islamic State last year.

A coalition of Christian leaders representing a variety of ministries and denominations issued a call for a moment of silence on Sunday, February 22, followed by prayer for the families of the 21 Egyptians who lost their lives in the brutal attack.

The coalition includes Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Mathew Staver, of the Liberty University School of Law; Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership and Conference; television producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey; James Robison of LIFE Outreach International; Doug Beacham of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church; and Glenn Burris of the Foursquare Church.

The Baptist Press piece reports that in addition to calling for prayer, the coalition is urging President Obama and Congress to do more in addressing the persecution of Christians by ISIS and other Islamic extremists. Additionally, the Christian leaders are calling the United Nations to convene a summit on Christian persecution around the world, according to a press release from A. Larry Ross Communications.

Rodriguez said that as Christians, "We stand convicted and convinced that terror and intolerance cannot, and will not, extinguish the light of God's grace, truth and love," adding, "We hope leaders around the world will join us in honoring those who have lost their lives, praying for those suffering and repudiating all acts of terror."

More information is available at

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The 3 - February 15, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, we recognize that a young lady has lost her life while being held captive by the radical terror group, ISIS, a young lady whose faith in God apparently sustained her during her ordeal.  Also, a jury has found that there was no fraud in the petition drive to get that so-called equal rights ordinance on the ballot in Houston, but there were some improprieties discovered.  And, the top story involves the implementation of so-called "same-sex marriage" in Alabama this past week in some, but not all, counties.

3 - ISIS announces death of American relief worker 

It was confirmed earlier this week that an American humanitarian aid worker had indeed lost her life while being held by the radical Islamic group, ISIS.  The Christian Post reported that a U.S. intelligence official has said that worker, 26-year-old Kayla Mueller of Prescott, AZ, appeared to have been married off to an ISIS official. The terror group had sent photos of her dead body to her family showing her in a white burial shroud, supposedly as a sign of respect.

The article noted that ISIS has claimed that Mueller, who had been held captive since 2013, died following a Jordanian airstrike on one of its targets.  However, American officials have not yet confirmed the cause of her death.

It was reported that Kayla's family released a letter she had written during her time in captivity, where she asked her parents not to worry about her, and claimed she was healthy and was being treated well.  The family noted that her deep Christian faith gave her courage.

Mueller is reportedly the fourth American confirmed to have been killed at the hands of ISIS since the U.S. began military operations against the terror group in 2014.

2 - Jury reaches decision in case concerning petition drive to overturn Houston ordinance; effect clouded

The ongoing standoff between city officials in Houston and citizens who wish to see the so-called equal rights ordinance there put to a vote of the people took another confusing turn this week, as a jury reached what the Houston Chronicle is calling a "mixed verdict."   The case involved the collection of signatures for a petition drive, in which those opposing the amendment claimed to have exceeded the requirement for signatures in order that the ordinance would be placed on the ballot, only to have city officials throw out a large number of the petitions.

The article said that the jury found that the law's opponents submitted a repeal referendum petition that contained forgery and other flaws. Attorney for the petitioners, Andy Taylor, is quoted as saying, "The thing that is super significant here is that the jury found no fraud," adding, "This mayor has been claiming for over six months that these hardworking citizens committed fraud and this jury found that they did not. So they can take that to the bank."

What's next?  The Chronicle reports that attorneys on both sides said that the presiding judge, Robert Schaffer, will now begin counting which signatures are valid to see if opponents have reached the needed 17,269-signature threshold. Schaffer reportedly retains wide legal discretion in what he deems valid. The report says:
The jury's ruling Friday will trigger a series of legal dominoes that, eventually, will yield a definitive answer: The judge will count the signatures, issue a decision on whether the petition is valid and then the case will almost certainly go to the appellate courts.
The piece noted that jurors were tasked with poring over the almost-5,200-page petition and answering six questions about the work of more than 100 circulators. Ten of the 12 jurors signed off on the final decision.

1 - Legal battles continue concerning same-sex marriage in Alabama

This past Monday in Alabama, a federal judge's ruling went into effect, allowing marriage licenses to be issued for same-sex couples across the state.  The first day, according to a map on the website, fewer than 10 counties were actually issuing the licenses to same-sex couples. Chief Justice Roy Moore had instructed probate judges in Alabama not to issue the licenses.

On Thursday, in response to legal action filed against the Mobile County Probate Judge, Don Davis, the same judge that ruled the state's marriage amendment unconstitutional, ordered that judge to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.   By the end of the week, according to an updated map, over 40 counties had begun to issue licenses to such couples.

But, the legal action has not ended. reports that late Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed, by a 6-2 margin, to consider a petition by two groups seeking a halt to the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses by state probate judges.

The high court reportedly set up a schedule for the coming week for the different sides to file their answers and briefs on the request by the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program. The court, however, did not say whether it would hold a hearing for oral arguments before responding to the petition.

API and ALCAP on Wednesday filed their emergency petition for a writ of mandamus declaring the state's ban on same-sex unions is still in force and to halt any probate judge from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The order stated that briefs by probate judges should address issues raised by the petition, including whether the state Supreme Court even has jurisdiction to hear the petition.  Answers and briefs by probate judges are to be filed by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, then ALCAP and API will have a chance to respond by 5 p.m. Thursday.

National legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel is also involved in asking the Alabama Supreme Court to prevent probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The 3 - February 8, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature:  a new development in the case of an Oregon bakery who refused to endorse a same-sex wedding by baking a cake for it.  Also, there's been quite a bit of commentary on President Obama's message at this week's National Prayer Breakfast likening the brutality of ISIS as an extreme perversion of religion to, as he put it, the Crusades or Jim Crow laws.  And, an appeals court ruling upheld the rights of a parachurch ministry to set its practices on who to employ or terminate according to its faith principles.

3 - Christian bakers in OR found guilty of discrimination, could pay huge fine

In 2013, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery in Oregon, declined to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, according to a report by Todd Starnes on the Fox News website, who said that the owners, Todd and Melissa Klein, were relentlessly pummeled in the media. LGBT activists launched protests and boycotts. Starnes reports that their small children even received death threats - simply because they chose to follow the teachings of their faith.

He also states that:
At some point the activists threatened to launch boycotts against any wedding vendor that did business with the Kleins. That turned out to be the death blow to their retail shop. Today, Melissa bakes cakes out of the family’s home.
The report says that last year, investigators concluded the bakers had violated the couple’s rights to equal treatment in places that serve the public.  And, in the latest development, an Oregon administrative law judge ruled on January 29 that the Todd and Melissa did, in fact, discriminate in 2013 when they declined to provide the cake for the lesbian couple because it would have violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.  The announcement of the judge's ruling was made this past Monday, according to a piece on the Baptist Press website.

There will now by a hearing on March 10 at which the Kleins will learn how they will be punished. They could have to pay at least $150,000 in fines.  Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian will be making that determination. Starnes reports that in 2013, Avakian told The Oregonian that it is the government’s desire was to "rehabilitate" businesses like the one owned by the Kleins.

Aaron Klein is quoted as saying that there will be no reconciliation and there will be no rehabilitation. He said, "There's nothing wrong with what we believe...It’s a biblical point of view. It’s my faith. It’s my religion.”

2 - Critics call out President for comments about religious extremism at National Prayer Breakfast

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event held in the nation's capital which generally features a keynote speaker, along with a message by the current President.  Dr. Ben Carson was the speaker in 2013, Eric Metaxas the year before that.  This year, NASCAR great and Fox Sports commentator Darrell Waltrip was the guest speaker.  He shared about his own personal faith journey and apparently delivered a strong presentation of gospel truth.  WORLD reported on Waltrip's message:
“If you’ve never gotten on your knees and asked Him to forgive you of your sins—you’re just a pretty good guy or a pretty good gal?—you’re going to go to hell,” Waltrip said, after telling the story of how he accepted Christ following a bad crash in 1983. He walked away from the wreckage wondering what might have happened to him if he had died.
During his younger years, Waltrip said he was arrogant and drank too much. He was more interested in hanging out at bars than going to church. But his wife, he said, prayed for him for years and continually pointed him toward God. When he finally got on his knees, he said it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
However, Waltrip's testimony has been overshadowed by the words of President Obama.  WORLD reports that Mr. Obama said that Islamic State militants are part of a “death cult,” not a legitimate religion: “We are summoned to push back against those who would distort our religion for their nihilistic ends.”

But, as the article points out:
Rather than focus his comments on Islam, Obama wagged a rhetorical finger at Christians, who he said were responsible centuries ago for atrocities during the Crusades and more recently for using the name of Christ to justify slavery and later Jim Crow laws in the United States. Because of that history, the president said, Christians especially should be humble in assuming they have all the answers or a direct line to divine revelation.
A number of Christian leaders were swift to respond, such as Franklin Graham, who posted on his Facebook page, according to The Christian Post:
"Today at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President implied that what ISIS is doing is equivalent to what happened over 1000 years ago during the Crusades and the Inquisition," Graham wrote. "Mr. President — Many people in history have used the name of Jesus Christ to accomplish evil things for their own desires. But Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness."
Graham further wrote that unlike Jesus, who lived His life without sin, Mohammed took many innocent lives.
"[Jesus] came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life. Mohammad on the contrary was a warrior and killed many innocent people," Graham asserted. "True followers of Christ emulate Christ — true followers of Mohammed emulate Mohammed."
The article reports that Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also criticized Obama for his easy willingness to condemn Christian brutality but inability to acknowledge terrorist ties to Islam. He told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that he thinks the president squandered a chance to bring more awareness to the lives of people currently being oppressed by Muslim oppressors, which currently includes an American citizen, Saeed Abedini.

And, Western Journalism reports on the words of Bishop E.W. Jackson of STANDAmerica on Fox and Friends, telling Elizabeth Hasselbeck:
This president does everything he possibly can to defend Islam and does almost nothing to defend the honor of this country. And yes, once again, he’s giving them exactly what they want. And you know, Elizabeth, they’re laughing at us because all they see it as, is a sign of weakness. And America needs to operate from strength.
Jackson concluded his comments with a strong message to Christians:
Pray for our president. I think he’s deeply misguided and confused. Pray for our country. We need leaders who will defend the integrity of our nation.

1 - Appeals court rules that parachurch ministry can set employment qualifications based on faith 

This past Thursday, a ruling was handed down by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and its employment practices. According to a Christianity Today report, the ruling is apparently an extension of the Hosanna-Tabor decision that said that churches could establish practices concerning the hiring and firing of employees based on their faith principles.

In 2013, a former spiritual director at InterVarsity filed a lawsuit challenging her firing. She had been placed on paid leave in 2011 after informing her supervisor she was considering divorce, and terminated that December for what she alleges was "failing to reconcile her marriage." (Her husband filed for divorce the following month.) She claimed that two of her male colleagues in similar situations had not received the same treatment.

According to the report, the court ruled that because InterVarsity is a religious organization and the employee was a "ministerial employee," "IVCF’s decision to terminate her employment cannot be challenged under federal or state employment discrimination laws."

The article provided some of the backstory of the Hosanna-Tabor case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a Lutheran school teacher was a "minister" who could not sue the church that fired her in 2005, on the basis of the “ministerial exception,” which allows religious institutions to hire and fire employees according to their religious criteria. While the Sixth Circuit acknowledged that IVCF was not a church, it granted faith-based organizations the same rights.

The article quotes David French, an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented IVCF in this case, who wrote, “These conclusions demonstrate profound respect for our constitutional structure and for the First Amendment...It is simply not the business of the government to determine who may or may not serve as a minister of the Gospel—or a minister of any other faith."

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The 3 - February 1, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes some good news from Great Britain for a large-scale missions organization.  Also, more legal developments regarding a federal judge's ruling that Alabama's marriage amendment was unconstitutional.  And, there's news concerning New York City, where city attorneys continue to fight for the right to keep churches from meeting in school buildings - the defense team for a local church filed a brief this week with the U.S. Supreme Court.

3 - Youth With a Mission workers will be allowed to stay in Great Britain

Youth With a Mission is an organization that operates around the globe.  Its website describes the organization, also known as YWAM, as "a global movement of Christians from many cultures, age groups, and Christian traditions, dedicated to serving Jesus throughout the world."

In 1960, the organization's main focus was to get youth involved in missions. Today, it still focuses on youth, and people ages 8 to 80 are involved. It currently works in more than 1,100 locations in over 180 countries, with a staff of over 18,000.

In December, according to a Christianity Today piece, Britain suspended licenses for 300 YWAM missionaries and their families due to issues with the organization’s sponsorship paperwork.  Without the authorization to sponsor visas, YWAM would have been forced to send the missionaries home as soon as April, cutting its presence in England and Wales in half.

This week, it was announced that government officials reinstated the organization’s sponsorship status, meaning that these YWAM workers could continue their work.  In a statement, YWAM said that, "We are extremely grateful for this positive outcome, but admit that we have had to learn several hard lessons about our internal processes and our approach to record keeping.”

The missionary organization, which has operated in the UK for more than 40 years, released a statement Tuesday praising God for the resolution to its visa issue and thanking supporters for their encouragement.

2 - Alabama marriage amendment defended by Chief Justice and Governor, Attorney General appeals federal judge's ruling

Over a week ago, on January 23 a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama issued a ruling saying that Alabama's marriage amendment, defining marriage as one man and one woman, was unconstitutional.   That ruling, along with another that she issued dealing with same-sex marriage, were both placed on hold until February 9, giving the 11th Circuit appeals court an opportunity to extend a stay on the ruling taking effect.

A Baptist Press piece follows the series of events involving probate judges in the state, who would be charged with issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples. After the initial ruling, the Alabama Probate Judges Association issued a statement claiming the ruling only applied to "parties in the case" and did not require its members to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But a clarification issued by the judge, Ginny Granade, on January 28 led the president of the judges' organization to say in a statement that the association now believes its members could be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples February 9.

The piece also includes a report on the letter that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore sent Gov. Robert Bentley on January 27 stating that Moore would "continue to recognize the Alabama Constitution and the will of the people overwhelmingly expressed in the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." Moore added that "nothing in the United States Constitution grants the federal government the authority to redefine the institution of marriage," according to a report on

In response, Bentley issued a statement expressing his support of the marriage amendment. He stated, "The people of Alabama voted in a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between man and woman...As governor, I must uphold the Constitution. I am disappointed in Friday's ruling, and I will continue to oppose this ruling. The Federal government must not infringe on the rights of states."

As an article points out, the governor filed a court brief to support Attorney General Luther Strange's appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put the January 23 ruling on hold.

The piece reports on the 24-page brief submitted by attorneys for Bentley, which argues, among other points, that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants the power to define marriage to states.

They argue that a stay pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court would avoid substantial confusion on the law concerning marriage licenses in Alabama.  The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the issue of same-sex marriage in its upcoming term.  

1 - Legal team files brief in defense of churches' right to meet in public school buildings, New York City mayor's legal team defends ban

This past Monday, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a brief before the U.S Supreme Court answering New York City’s arguments against the high scrutinizing its attempts to ban worship services in empty public school buildings, according to the website.  In September of last year, ADF asked the high court to review a 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that upheld a city policy prohibiting worship services in public school buildings during non-school hours.  The panel’s ruling is on hold until the Supreme Court decides whether to take the case.

ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence contends that, "In New York City, any community group can meet in vacant school buildings for any purpose except for religious groups meeting to worship God. The city’s arguments in defense of this policy cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny," adding, "Evicting churches and the help they offer the people in their communities through their worship services in otherwise empty buildings on weekends helps no one. Violating the First Amendment, as New York City is doing, hurts everyone. For that reason, we hope the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear this important case."

The New York City Department of Education has defended this policy, known as Regulation I.Q., in court on and off since 1995 even though the department allows other community groups to rent space for their meetings. As reports, this case began in 1995, when Bronx Household of Faith submitted an application to rent a public school building for its worship services, but was denied by the Board of Education.  The matter then went to court, and the Board of Education argued that allowing churches to use school facilities and to advertise their services amounted to a violation of the Establishment Clause in the United States Constitution.  The church, represented by ADF, pointed to the fact that religious student groups already use school rooms after hours for Bible reading and prayer.

The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the matter.  In 2012, however, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Presha issued a permanent injunction, allowing the Bronx Household of Faith to continue to hold services in local public school buildings indefinitely. She stated that denial of the use of the building equated to an infringement of the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

But the ruling was again appealed, and last April, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling that the school board's prohibition doesn’t violate the Constitution. The case was then again appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, despite the declaration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during his campaign, quoted by Christianity Today, that, "I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access," attorneys for the city argued to keep its current restrictions.  Their brief said, according to, said, "The department’s decision to make public schools available to religious organizations for a wide range of activities, but not for worship services or as a house of worship, is constitutional." It also stated, "The policy does not prohibit, limit, or burden any religious practice; does not entangle the government in matters of religion; and does not impair petitioners’ ability to speak freely."