This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, focuses on the suspension of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his term. Also, a bill has been introduced into Congress that would give pastors more leeway in their political content from the pulpit. And, China seems intent to enact greater restrictions on religion.
3 - Alabama Chief Justice suspended for remainder of term
This past Wednesday, a trial was held in Alabama in the Court of the Judiciary concerning charges brought against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, dealing with an administrative order that he had written in January of 2016. In that order, he had reminded probate judges in the state that the Alabama Supreme Court had not ruled in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell, about so-called "same-sex marriage."
A ruling was handed down on Friday, the 30th, and the Chief Justice was suspended without pay for the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2019, according to the website of Liberty Counsel, the legal advocacy group defending the Chief Justice. The website states:
Today the Court of the Judiciary (COJ) issued a decision on the charges against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. The Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) requested that he be removed from the bench. Under the COJ rules, removal requires a unanimous 9-0 vote by the members of the COJ, which is made up of judges, a lawyer and laypeople. Absent a 9-0 unanimous vote, the COJ cannot remove a judge from the bench. But today, in an unbelievable violation of the law, the COJ suspended without pay Chief Justice Moore for the remainder of his term, which runs through January 2019. When his term expires, he will be ineligible to run for election as judge again because of his age. So the suspension until the end of his term is a de facto removal from the bench.Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying, “To suspend Chief Justice Moore for the rest of his term is the same as removal. The COJ lacked the unanimous votes to remove the Chief, so the majority instead chose to ignore the law and the rules."
A Liberty Counsel press release indicates that it "is filing an appeal of the decision with the Alabama Supreme Court. A new panel of judges will need to convene to hear the case and all the sitting Justices should be recused."
2 - Bill to free pastors to make political endorsements introduced
The Free Speech Fairness Act has been introduced into Congress, sponsored by sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana, and Rep. Jody Hice, Republican from Georgia. According to a Family Research Council press release, FRC President Tony Perkins has endorsed the newly introduced bill.
The Free Speech Fairness Act would address the shortcomings of the Johnson Amendment which in 1954 was inserted into the tax code by Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, (D-Texas) without floor or Committee debate. The Johnson amendment prohibits churches and non-profits from engaging in any activity that might be interpreted as participating in, or intervening in a campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office, including a simple oral or written statement. The legislation reflects the newly adopted Republican Party platform language which criticizes the Johnson Amendment for restricting the “First Amendment freedoms of all nonprofit organizations by prohibiting political speech.”Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Erik Stanley stated, according to the ADF website:
“The IRS has no business acting as the speech police of any non-profit organization, as its many scandals over recent years have made clear. This bill corrects an unconstitutional restriction put in place in 1954 that was never intended to affect churches and other non-profit groups but has been used to intimidate them ever since. By removing the threat of an IRS investigation and potential penalties based simply, for example, on what a pastor says from the pulpit, this bill brings the law into conformity with the First Amendment...Alliance Defending Freedom has been involved in promoting Pulpit Freedom Sunday," commemorated on Sunday, October 2 this year.
1 - Chinese officials express desire for stiffer religious regulations
Recently, government officials in China released a number of amendments to its regulations on religious affairs. According to World Watch Monitor, these amendments were released in early September for a "consultation period" of a month, and "includes guidelines on religious education, the types of religious organisations that can exist, where they can exist and the activities they can organise."
The report says that Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, "emphasised the need for provincial officials to have a better overall understanding of religion, so that they are better able to resist 'foreign' religions."
The World Watch Monitor article pointed out that over the past three years...
...over 1,500 crosses have been removed from churches in the south-eastern province of Zhejiang – known as the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its strong Christian presence. Meanwhile, some churches were labelled “illegal structures” and demolished. Those who have resisted have faced physical abuse, detention and criminal charges.The report also states:
David Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said he “remained concerned” about the situation. “We really encourage them to ease the restrictions all across the country and allow religious freedom and religious institutions to flourish and function without the kind of constraints that they face – that are so pervasive,” he said.
China remained a “Country of Particular Concern” in the US State Department’s latest annual report.