Friday, July 31, 2015

The 3 - August 2, 2015

This week in my week-in-review feature, The 3, as students prepare to go back to school, you have the case of a Georgia school district which will be paying up after it settled with an atheist group over school prayer.  Also, Boy Scout leadership has voted to allow homosexual leaders.  And, 2 new videos have been released highlighting the sale of body parts from aborted babies, and the filmmakers have been ordered to stop releasing certain material by a court.

3 - Georgia school district to pay humanists in school prayer case

A public school district in Georgia will be paying a humanist organization $22,500 through its insurance carriers after the American Humanist Association sued the Hall County School System, based in Gainesville, Georgia, according to a report on The Christian Post website released this week.  The announcement of the settlement actually came on July 20, but some national Christian news sources distributed the story this past week.

The system allegedly allowed local high school coaches to lead their teams in prayers and included biblical passages on official team log books and promotional banners.  The Association sent warning letters to the district last August, identifying prayer traditions at Chestatee and North Hall high schools.

The district will be required to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees, which amount to $22,500, and requires the district to host a training session for its employees before the start of next school year to educate them on First Amendment rights and religious neutrality in school.

Superintendent William Schofield said that, "The Hall County School District admits to no violations of state or federal laws," adding, "The district will continue to hold the expectation that individuals within our organization abide by the laws of our land. The Hall County School District will make no monetary compensation to the plaintiffs. Insurance carriers are negotiating all questions regarding legal fees."

Some of the "violations" include: the wrestling coach allegedly cited Ephesians 6:12 to explain to his team that "Jesus was a wrestler," the Chestatee marching band director allowed the marching band to elect "student chaplains," the North Hall baseball coach led his team in prayer, Chestatee football coaches included a citation to Galatians 6:9 at the bottom of workout logs that were given to each student-athlete, and allowed Proverbs 27:17 to be included on a banner used at a game.

2 - Boy Scouts execs vote to allow homosexual leaders

In a vote with the expected outcome, the Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America voted on Monday to end its ban on homosexual leaders, according to a report on the WORLD Magazine website. The vote was 45-12.  BSA President Robert Gates had said banning homosexuals from serving as leaders was “no longer legally defensible.”

A statement issued earlier this month noted, “the BSA’s commitment to duty to God and the rights of religious chartered organizations to select their leaders is unwavering.” The article quotes John Stemberger, chairman of the Christian youth outdoor program Trail Life USA, who disputed that claim. He said the churches that stand for biblical values will find it increasingly difficult to operate in the structure of the Boy Scouts since so many activities are cooperative in nature.

In addition, the resolution affirms that homosexual acts can be “moral, honorable, committed, and respectful.” Stemberger said, “this opinion is wholly incompatible with historic Christian theology and ethics and will make it even more challenging for a church to integrate a BSA unit as part of a church’s ministry offerings.”

1 - 2 new hidden camera videos released exposing Planned Parenthood; court order stymies release of another

Two new videos involving the practice of Planned Parenthood marketing parts of pre-born babies whose lives had been taken were released by the Center for Medical Progress this week.  This is in addition to the two that had been previously released by the Center.

In this third video, according to Anika Smith of,  the video opens with a licensed phlebotomist who took a job as a “procurement technician” with the now-infamous fetal tissue company and biotech start-up StemExpress in late 2012. She said, "We’re asked to procure certain tissues like brain, liver, thymus, pancreas, heart, lungs, skin, pretty much anything on the fetus. It’s basically the trafficking of fetal tissues.”

For six months, her job was to identify pregnant women at Planned Parenthood who met criteria for fetal tissue orders and to harvest the fetal body parts after their abortions.

The report says that the video includes new admissions from top-level Planned Parenthood leadership about the illicit pricing structure.

The fourth video, released later in the week, features one of the Planned Parenthood officials from the third video, who is quoted as saying, according to another report by Smith on “I know I’ve seen livers, I’ve seen stomachs, I’ve seen plenty of neural tissue. Usually you can see the whole brain come out. The video includes a conversation about how to handle the legal issues of selling these baby body parts, and suggests ways for Planned Parenthood to cover up its sale of aborted body parts. “Putting it under ‘research’ gives us a little bit of an overhang over the whole thing,” Ginde remarks. “If you have someone in a really anti state who’s going to be doing this for you, they’re probably going to get caught.” 

The video also features footage inside the lab. According to The Stream's report, "It is hard to watch, and many readers will find it disturbing. At one point, there’s a cracking sound of an aborted fetus’s skull, and Dr. Ginde says, 'It’s a baby,' as she points out the heart and kidneys and explains that a per-item pricing system is best for them."

In another development, reports that a Los Angeles court has issued a temporary restraining order against the Center for Medical Progress, which will not be permitted to release any more videos allegedly showing the company involved with the criminal activity of selling aborted baby organs.  The story quotes a Fox News report that the doctors were reportedly collaborating with StemExpress, a middleman company that procures human tissue to researchers.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The 3 - July 26, 2015

This week in my week-in-review feature, The 3, there is good news out of Pakistan, where a woman sentenced to death under that nation's blasphemy laws has been given a reprieve by the national Supreme Court.  Also, a large cross atop a mountain in San Diego will be allowed to remain there, after years of court action were brought to a halt by a property transfer completed this week.  And, the Texas Supreme Court has struck down a judge's decision that had halted a repeal effort for a so-called anti-discrimination law centered on sexual orientation and gender identity.

3 - Pakistani woman's death sentence put on hold by high court

Asia Bibi, the first woman to be sentenced to death under blasphemy laws in Pakistan, has a chance to appeal that conviction, according to a piece on the Christianity Today website

She was sentenced in 2010, after allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman. The article says that the Muslim woman had refused water from Asia Bibi, a colleague, on the grounds that it was “unclean” because it had been handled by a Christian. The Muslim woman and her sister were the only two witnesses in the case, but the defense failed to convince judges that their evidence lacked credibility.

The nation's highest court, the Supreme Court in Islamabad, the capital, has temporarily stayed her execution pending a full review of her case. Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, appeared in front of three Supreme Court judges at the first hearing earlier this week.  The CT story referenced apiece on the Morning Star News website, which quotes the attorney: "I believe that Asia Bibi’s case was not handled properly, but even now she has a good chance of being freed from her ordeal on the basis of inadmissible evidence."  He added, "We have a good case, and I’m sure the Supreme Court will consider the shoddy trial Asia Bibi has been subjected to and deliver justice to her."

According to, Naveed Aziz with the British Pakistani Christian Association, said, "I am pleased with this decision," adding, "It is obvious that international pressure led to this amazing decision, and I thank all people who have called for her freedom. Sister Asia will have to spend more time in jail, but her freedom is now a real possibility and only a matter of time."

2 - Mount Soledad cross will stand; property on which it stands sold to private owner

Since 1954, a Veterans' memorial including a 27-foot cross has stood atop Mount Soledad, in San Diego.  According to Liberty Institute, the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial is the first Korean War Veterans Memorial on U.S. soil. It is on an 800-foot hilltop and includes a 29-foot cross with a plaque identifying it as a veterans memorial. It is surrounded by large granite walls that display photos and names of America’s veterans, along with various and diverse religious and secular symbols.

The Liberty Institute website tells the story.  For over 20 years, the memorial has been the subject of a lawsuit brought about by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which claimed the memorial’s cross violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. In January 2011, during the legal dispute over the memorial, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled the cross unconstitutional.

 In 2013, a Federal district judge ordered the cross to be torn down, but he did grant a stay, giving Liberty Institute and its client, the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, the opportunity to appeal. Liberty Institute and the MSMA did so a few days later, and in February 2014, the U.S. government joined Liberty Institute and the MSMA in appealing the ruling. The defendants asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but the high court denied the request, pending the outcome of another appeal before the Ninth Circuit.

As the Liberty Institute website says:

After more than two decades of attempts to remove the cross had not achieved that result, and with the prospect of a long judicial battle ahead and defenders of the cross unwilling to yield, last year a legislative remedy was proposed. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 called for the federal government’s sale of the property to the MSMA, and this was passed by Congress and signed by the President, leading to the transfer of the land.

This week, the U.S. Government sold the land to the MSMA.  Hiram Sasser of Liberty Institute says: "Today’s actions will ensure that the memorial will continue to stand in honor of our veterans for decades to come. This is a great victory for the veterans who originally placed this memorial and the Korean War veterans the memorial honors." But, his colleague Jeff Mateer issues this warning: "This is a day to celebrate," adding, "But the work is not over in protecting veterans memorials from legal attacks by organizations opposed to veterans memorials containing religious imagery on public land."

1 - TX Supreme Court blocks Houston's "Equal Rights Ordinance"

I have reported in the past about these so-called SOGI - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity - ordinances that some cities have passed, creating, under the guise of so-called "tolerance," special rights for individuals based on those components.  This could even extend to a person being allowed to use the bathroom of a gender that is the opposite of his or her biological gender.

It's a mess - and perhaps the most high-profile of these ordinances comes out of Houston, Texas, where the HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) last year passed the City Council, under the leadership of openly gay mayor Annise Parker.  According to a report on the Family Research Council website, "There was overwhelming opposition to the law in Houston and that triggered an effort by the citizens to repeal HERO by referendum." This campaign was led primarily by a group of pastors and churches who collected twice the number of signatures required to place the repeal vote on the ballot. However, Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman said that the sufficient number of signatures had not been collected.  Furthermore, in preparing their defense, city officials subpoenaed various forms of communication by pastors who had opposed HERO.  The city later withdrew the subpoenas after national opposition arose.

As FRC reports, three months ago a Texas district court judge ruled that the petitioners had failed to gather enough valid signatures to get the repeal measure on the ballot. But, this week, that decision was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court, which concluded that the City Secretary had certified the petition and that brought the "City Council's ministerial duty" to go through the repeal process into effect. The Court held that the Houston City Council must stop enforcement of HERO and reconsider the ordinance. If it does not repeal HERO by August 24, 2015, then by that date "the City Council must order that the ordinance be put to popular vote during the November 2015 election."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The 3 - July 19, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, the HHS contraception mandate is back in the news, and a non-profit organization that cares or the elderly has been told it must comply with the mandate to provide contraception and drugs that could induce abortion in their health care plans. Another story from the previous week involves the cancellation of a reality show featuring a high-profile Christian family.  And, the top story involves a video that shows a Planned Parenthood official discussing how parts from pre-born children who are being aborted are being removed and sold.

3 - Appeals Court rules against Little Sisters of the Poor in contraception mandate case

The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that employers provide free contraception and drugs that could cause abortion in their health care plans, is still being contested in court, and non-profit organizations are attempting to find some relief from having to comply.

This week, the Little Sisters of the Poor received a ruling against them in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  According to the website, the organization, with is a nonprofit, religious organization that serves the elderly worldwide, must abide by the mandate. The ruling also applied to four Christian universities in Oklahoma joining them in the suit.

The judges wrote: "Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of plaintiff’s beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme relieves plaintiffs of their obligations under the mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or infringe upon their First Amendment rights.”

Talk about a scheme - here's how the accommodation works for non-profit organizations, according to the Daily Signal website.  The scheme "requires religious organizations that object to the contraception mandate to notify the Department of Health and Human Services of religious-based objections. The government will then notify the insurance company or third-party administrator, which then provides coverage directly to the employees."

Little Sisters of the Poor says that participating in this “contraceptive delivery scheme” made them complicit and thus violated their religious beliefs. Instead, the group sought to be treated the same as houses of worship, like churches, which can exclude contraceptive coverage from insurance plans.

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, there are 56 non-profit lawsuits against the mandate, with injunctions being granted in 23 of those, and 13 being denied.  Becket Fund attorney Daniel Blomberg, said in a statement, according to the Daily Signal: “We will keep on fighting for the Little Sisters, even if that means having to go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Also, reports that in the coming school year, Wheaton College will not offer a student health insurance plan (SHIP) due to the federal requirement under Obamacare that the plan offer "morally objectionable" products and services—abortifacient drugs and intrauterine devices (IUDs).   Earlier this month, the 7th Circuit had denied a request for a preliminary injunction to exempt the school from the mandate.

2 - Duggars' television show will not continue

Not surprisingly, the TLC cable channel announced that the reality show, "19 Kids and Counting," featuring the Duggar Family, has been cancelled, according to a report on the website, which said that TLC also announced a new partnership with sex abuse prevention group Darkness to Light and anti-sexual violence organization RAINN to “raise awareness and educate parents and families about the issue.”  The channel plans to produce a documentary, and 2 members of the Duggar family, sisters Jill and Jessa, who were molested by their older brother, will be part of it.

The unfortunate series of events leading to the cancellation of the show can be accurately traced back to the teen years of Josh Duggar, the oldest child in the family, who inappropriately touched a number of young girls, including several of his sisters.  In attempting to emphasize to Josh the seriousness of these indiscretions, the parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, took him to the police. Recently, the police report was publicized, and that led to the eventual cancellation of the show.

CT reported that in a statement posted on their website, Jim Bob and Michelle thanked the film crew who’d worked on the show, which first aired in 2008.

They said, "With God’s grace and help Josh, our daughters and our entire family overcame a terrible situation, found healing and a way forward. We are so pleased with the wonderful adults they have all become,” adding, "It is our prayer that the painful situation our family went through many years ago can point people toward faith in God and help others who also have lived through similar dark situations to find help, hope and healing, as well.”

1 - Planned Parenthood exposed for profiting from pre-born babies' bodies, lawmakers vow to investigate

Despite attempts by the nation's largest abortion provider to spin the story otherwise, members of Congress are calling for an investigation of Planned Parenthood after an undercover video was revealed, showing senior director of medical research at Planned Parenthood, Deborah Nucatola, discussing how to maintain parts of a fetus for medical research during abortion procedures, according to a report on the website, publishing a report from Religion News Service.

According to the site, the video was made by the Center for Medical Progress, which used two actors posing as employees at a biotech firm who met with Nucatola over lunch to discuss how to access the fetal tissue for research purposes. The center calls itself a group of citizen journalists dedicated to exposing injustices in the medical field.

The article says that the Center for Medical Progress’ two main claims are that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue to medical researchers and that the abortion rights group violates the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which prohibits late-term abortions and certain procedures. Planned Parenthood says neither claim is true.

Now, it appears Congress will look into the matter. House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that a congressional committee would investigate the claims. He is quoted as saying, "When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so,” adding, “When an organization 
monetizes an unborn child – and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific video – we must all act.”

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The 3 - July 12, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, the attention turns to Oklahoma, where the Governor and Attorney General are standing against an order from the state's Supreme Court to remove a Ten Commandments monument.  Also, the couple who declined to back a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony faces a heavy fine, a deadline to pay it, and an order to keep quite about the case.  And, the top story involves the response of public officials in various parts of the nation about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

3 - OK governor says "no" to removal of 10 Commandments

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last month that a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, which was paid for using private funds, must be removed.  However, Governor Mary Fallin said on Tuesday that the monument isn't going anywhere.

That's according to a report on The Daily Signal website, which quotes the governor as saying: “Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions,” adding, “However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government.” Attorney General Scott Pruitt has requested the state Supreme Court rehear the case. After the initial court ruling, both Fallin and Pruitt made it clear they would request a rehearing and attempt to overturn the verdict.

The state ACLU had originally filed suit seeking to have the monument removed, claiming that the monument violated the Oklahoma State constitution, which prohibits public funding or property to go toward supporting a particular sect of religion, according to Article II, Section 5 of the constitution. The state Supreme Court initially ruled by a 7-2 margin that the monument was unconstitutional, based on the grounds that it is “obviously religious in nature and … an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.” But, Pruitt said after the decision that the monument was in fact constitutional and that the court got it wrong.  He cited a similar monument in Texas the U.S. Supreme Court deemed to be constitutional.

Governor Fallin is quoted as saying: “Celebrating the historical importance of religions and religious values is not a new idea. Our nation is steeped in references to God and the rights He bestows on all men and women.” She added, “None of these represent state endorsement of or support for any religion. They are celebrations or visual representations of our culture and events of historical importance.”

Lawmakers have proposed legislation to allow the people of Oklahoma to vote on whether Article II, Section 5 of the constitution should be eliminated. As a result, the monument will remain intact as the state appeals the court’s decision and the legislature considers the proposed changes to the state constitution.

2 - Oregon bakers stare down deadline for paying heavy fine for not providing cake for same-sex wedding ceremony

The deadline is Monday (July 13) for Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay an exorbitant, $135,000 fine for merely declining to participate in a ceremony celebrating a same-sex marriage.  But, thanks to the overreaching of the Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the Kleins face a lein on their home if they don't pay up.

Aaron has been outspoken in that he does not intend to pay the fine, and he's not keeping quiet about it.  Not only had the Commissioner ordered the Kleins to pay, but he had ordered them not to speak out about the case.  Aaron said to Todd Starnes of Fox News, “This is intimidation and bullying - that’s exactly what it is,” adding, " They are trying to strong-arm me into handing over $135,000 to the two girls and if I win on appeal - they will never pay me back.”

According to attorney Anna Harmon, the Commissioner, whose name is Brad Avakian, " intent on using his office to root out thought and speech with which he personally disagrees." A Family Research Council Washington Update piece states that one investigation shows that the Bureau was already ethically compromised:

While the state was busy accusing Aaron and Melissa of bias, emails suggest their agencies were full of it. In emails, text messages, phone calls, and other documents, Daily Signal found a shocking amount of collusion between the Bureau and the largest LGBT activist group in the state: Basic Rights Oregon (BRO).

Aaron Klein is quoted as saying: "Brad and his cohorts at BOLI have overstepped their [authority] in requiring me to cease and desist from my constitutional freedom," adding, "I will fight them with every last breath I have." As FRC says, as tough as it's been on their family, Melissa says that it's an honor to be a voice for religious liberty. She says: "It's making us stronger and emboldening us to stand up to this. Aaron and I are fighting for every American out there -- for their freedom. We are not backing down at all."

1 - State officials in a variety of states refuse to marry gay couples

Meanwhile, state officials in various parts of America are refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples:

In Ohio, a judge who also serves as an elder in his local congregation has refused to marry two lesbians this week based on his “personal and Christian beliefs” about marriage, according to

Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell, an elder at First Church of God in Columbus, declined to officiate for Carolyn Wilson and her partner last Monday because of his Christian faith. The women, upset about the matter, then went to the media to lodge a complaint.

In a statement released by the judge, McConnell stated: " The declination was based upon my personal and Christian beliefs established over many years,” adding, “I apologize to the couple for the delay they experienced and wish them the best.”  Another judge officiated over the two after McConnell declined, which should be the end of this story, but judging from past actions from gay couples wishing to get married or to force a creative artist to participate in the their ceremony, don't count on it.

In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear has ordered a county clerk to issue “marriage” licenses to same-sex pairs or resign from his position.  According to, the governor told Casey County clerk Casey Davis on Thursday those were his two choices.

Davis had met with the governor this week to outline his concerns and his convictions not to facilitate the sins of others. During the meeting, approximately 50 of Davis’ friends and family members gathered to pray at the capitol rotunda. Three other Kentucky clerks, Kenny Brown in Boone County, Kim Davis in Rowan County and Jason Denny in Anderson County, have likewise expressed their objections to issuing the licenses due to their Christian convictions.  The governor is quoted as saying: “One of Mr. Davis’ duties as county court clerk is to issue marriage licenses, and the Supreme Court now says that the United States Constitution requires those marriage licenses to be issued regardless of gender.”

In Texas, an East Texas county clerk has resigned rather than comply with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  According to the Dallas Morning News, Rusk County Clerk Joyce Lewis-Kugle submitted her resignation letter Thursday. County Judge Joel Hale, Rusk County’s top administrator, said Lewis-Kugle wrote that she could not in good conscience issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Also, in Alabama, the Supreme Court had asked for briefs before a Monday deadline last week on the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.  Liberty Counsel, which had been involved in the case that resulted in probate judges being prevented from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a singular Federal judge attempted to strike down Alabama's marriage amendment, filed a brief encouraging the state's high court: “When considering the Supreme Court’s Obergefell opinion, state Supreme Courts should contemplate the “decision’s substantial assault on the Rule of Law, Democracy, and Natural Law, and its necessary diminishment of the constitutional right to Free Exercise of Religion.”

The brief by Liberty Counsel points out that the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to follow the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the Dred Scott case, which said that blacks were not entitled to full protection as citizens. The Liberty Counsel brief also urged the Alabama Supreme Court to protect the religious freedom of its citizens.

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.