Sunday, April 10, 2016

The 3 - April 10, 2016

It's time for another edition of The 3, highlighting 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community.  This week, the TN legislature passed a bill that would make the Bible the official state book.  Also, recently, the nation of Canada closed its religious freedom office.  And, this week, the governor of Mississippi signed a new religious freedom bill into law.

3 - Tennessee legislature recognizes Bible as state book

The Legislature in Tennessee has passed a bill that would make that state the first in the nation to name the Bible as its official state book.  The Christian Examiner reports that this past Monday, the state senate passed the bill by a 19-8 vote. Republican State Sen. Steve Southerland, who is an ordained minister, sponsored the bill. He was quoted in the article as saying that he wants to see the bill passed because of the Bible's "great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee as a record of the history of Tennessee families that predates some modern vital statistical records," according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Examiner quotes Republican Senator Kerry Roberts, who said: "The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture."

The ACLU of Tennessee and the state's attorney general oppose the measure, mostly on the grounds that the bill violates the First Amendment, according to the Christian Examiner article, which reports that the Tennessee ACLU Executive Director Hedy Weinberg told The Tennessean newspaper: "Lawmakers' thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions clearly violates both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, as our state attorney general has already pointed out."

Republican Governor Bill Haslam has voiced concerns over the bill - it is unclear whether or not he would sign it.

2 - Canada closes Office of Religious Freedom

Here is some news out of Canada that has gained more widespread attention this week.  The country's Office of Religious Freedom has been shut down, as of March 31st, according to a story on  Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had pushed for an office that had the goal of promoting international religious freedom, and it opened in February 2013.

The report says that Canadian conservatives had moved on March 21 to keep the office open, but liberals defeated the motion, 225 to 90. The new administration, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau says it will instead focus on worldwide issues of human rights.  Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said the decision to close the Office does not mean Canada is unsympathetic to religious freedom, according to WORLD News Service, quoted in the CBN piece, which quoted from Katrina Lantos Swett, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who told WORLD News Service, "We now have one less strong partner and one less voice for religious freedom," adding, "This is a very unfortunate message to send out to the rest of the world at this time."

Doug McKenzie, CEO for The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, told CBN News, "I'm very disappointed, and we believed in the Office very much," adding, "We were supportive of it to our constituents and asked people to pray for the Office." McKenzie also said, "We believe there couldn't be a worse time -- that there's a need right now for our nation, and I would say it's probably true of yours -- to be focused on things which are eternal and which take us beyond the temporal and beyond a lot of the tension which has been built up around religious ideologies that are taken to the extreme."

1 - Mississippi governor signs religious freedom legislation

This week, the Republican governor of the state of Mississippi signed the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.  The Baptist Press website had a story on the new legislation, including this from Governor Phil Bryant.  He said in a statement, "I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning," adding, "This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."  The Baptist Press article outlined some of the provisions of the bill - it:

-- Forbids state government from taking "any discriminatory action" against an individual who declines on religious grounds to provide photography, floral arrangements or other wedding services for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

-- Forbids state government discrimination against any person who establishes, on religious grounds, "sex-specific standards or policies" concerning access to restrooms or locker rooms.

-- Permits any person authorized to license or perform marriages to seek recusal from same-sex weddings on religious grounds. At the same time, the bill requires state representatives "to ensure that the performance or solemnization of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal."

-- Forbids state government discrimination against adoption agencies that decline, based on religious convictions, to allow same-sex couples to adopt.

-- Forbids state government discrimination against religious organizations that decline to solemnize same-sex marriages or make employment decisions based on religious beliefs concerning marriage.

The Baptist Press article quotes Roger Severino of The Heritage Foundation, who predicted Mississippi's law will spur other states to adopt similar religious liberty protections.

In a news release, he stated, "The Mississippi law prevents discrimination in a manner that is balanced and clear...which left little room for ideological opponents to make wild hypothetical accusations against the bill as they had done with Indiana's religious freedom proposal last year."

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