Sunday, March 27, 2016

The 3 - March 27, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, some good news out of China, it seems, as an attorney involved in defending churches who have had their crosses removed is reportedly out of prison.  Also, religious liberty concerns continue not only in Georgia, but also in North Carolina, where the Legislature struck down Charlotte's so-called "non-discrimination" ordinance and strengthened its laws regarding discrimination.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court was the site of another set of oral arguments related to Obamacare and its requirement for employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient coverage.

3 - China releases attorney who spoke against cross removals

A Chinese attorney who has defended some 100 churches that have been damaged as the result of a a campaign to demolish crosses in the Zhejiang province has been released from jail, according to a Christianity Today story which cited confirmation by the group China Aid.

Zhang Kai was arrested this past August and has written on social media that he has returned to his home in Inner Mongolia, which is an autonomous region of China.  He had been arrested just before a meeting with David Saperstein, who is the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom.

The terms of his release are unclear. He had been sentenced to six months of residential surveillance at a so-called “black jail,” where prisoners are held at a secret location. He had appeared on state television stating a "confession," that many believe was coerced.

2 - GA, NC face threats from gay-friendly corporate interests

The states of Georgia and North Carolina are facing threats from various corporate interests as the result of recently passed legislation that does not conform to the so-called gay agenda.  A bill in Georgia that passed the Legislature offering protection for pastors and certain non-profit organizations from having to perform services that they do not agree with on religious grounds has brought threats and criticism.  The bill has drawn fire from the NFL, as well as the following corporate interests, according to the Disney, Netflix, and The Weinstein Company, who have all threatened to boycott Georgia if the bill is signed. Viacom, Time Warner, Fox, Sony, MGM, CBS, and Comcast/NBC Universal, as well as other studios have spoken out against the bill.

But, as a article points out, the media has been responsible for incorrectly defining what it calls a "watered down" religious liberty bill.   It reports that, "The bill protects clergy, churches and religious schools but not wedding professionals." It states that Ryan Anderson, with the Heritage Foundation, said the bill would do little to actually further religious liberty rights in Georgia, citing a story on the Daily Signal website. The article says that the NFL is warning the measure could hurt Georgia's chances to host an upcoming Super Bowl.

And the reports on the North Carolina legislation that was passed this week and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, which is, according to the website, is "designed to prevent cities, towns and counties from passing anti-discrimination rules beyond certain standards set by the state."

The bill requires that bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and colleges and in government buildings be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex.  The legislation came on the heels of a so-called "non-discrimination" ordinance in Charlotte, about which Lt. Gov. Dan Forest told the website, "It stretched way beyond Charlotte’s legal authority, so we had a special session to deal with this after an outcry of tens of thousands of people across the state telling us to keep our women safe."

1 - U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in contraception mandate challenge

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, Zubik v. Burwell, which is more commonly known as the Little Sisters of the Poor case.  According to a report on the WORLD Magazine website...

... plaintiffs from seven total cases came together to hear arguments in their Supreme Court cases challenging Obamacare’s contraceptive and abortifacient mandate on behalf of religious nonprofit organizations. A Supreme Court ruling in favor of the government has the potential to significantly weaken protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which is why even religious groups who don’t object to contraceptive and abortifacient drugs have filed on the nuns’ side. The nonprofit petitioners face millions of dollars in penalties if they do not comply with the mandate.

Emily Belz, who wrote the WORLD article, observed that, "the court seemed headed for a 4-4 tie, given Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong sympathy for the religious objectors." She continued: "A tie would be a sort of victory for the nonprofits because it would not set a national precedent against their conscience rights, but it would affirm the lower court rulings in which all the petitioners here lost."

One of the major issues is the so-called "accommodation" for religious organizations.  According to David French, writing at the National Review website, the "accommodation..."

"...requires the Sisters and other religious employers to comply with the mandate, but allows them to do so by filing a form or writing HHS to inform it “not only of [the employer’s] religious objection, but also of the ‘name and type’ of its plan and ‘the name and contact information for any of the plan’s third party administrators and health insurance issuers. In addition, “the employer also ‘must provide updated information’ to HHS ‘if there is a change in any of th[at] information.’”

Once the form is filed, HHS notifies the employer’s insurer that it is required to provide contraceptive coverage at no charge to the employee. In other words, the form (or letter) triggers the free coverage.

French continues:

HHS still requires the Sisters to participate in the process of providing contraceptives even if that process does not include payment. They’re required to facilitate the provision of abortifacients and other contraceptives by providing the government with ongoing access to updated insurance information. Other religious employers, such as churches, don’t have to participate in the process at all. They don’t file forms. They don’t notify the government. They simply provide health plans in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Belz writes for WORLD that:

The RFRA legal test of the mandate has three components: whether the mandate created a substantial burden on the petitioners’ religious exercise, then whether the government has a compelling interest (i.e., a good reason) for burdening them, then whether the current “accommodation” is the least restrictive means of accomplishing the government’s objective.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The 3 - March 20, 2016

In this edition of my week-in-review feature, The 3, a look at a tragedy involving four Bible translators who were recently murdered in the Middle East.  Also, the Georgia state legislature has approved a religious freedom bill.  And, the U.S. Secretary of State has designated atrocities committed by Islamic State as "genocide."

3 - 4 Bible translators lose their lives in Middle East

Some disturbing news out of the Middle East involves four Bible translators who were part of Wycliffe Associates. Christian Headlines reported this week that militants raided the translators' offices and that two of the translators were shot and killed, while another two died of wounds from being beaten. Those last two managed to protect and save the lead translator by lying on top of him while the militants beat them with their now-empty weapons.

The militants also destroyed translating equipment, including Print on Demand equipment, books, and translation materials. But, Wycliffe says the militants did not destroy the “computer hard drives containing translation work for eight language projects,” and thanked the Lord for that.

The story said that Wycliffe asked for prayer for the families of the slain translators, as well as these areas:

“Will you pray with me for the injured translators? Pray for others to step up and take on the translation task. Please ask the Lord to mend the hearts and wounds of the translation team who have gone through this horrible ordeal. Pray that God will strengthen their minds, their hearts, and their bodies to be able to continue the translation of the gospel for their people."

2 - States pass religious freedom protections

The Georgia Legislature has passed a religious freedom bill, which, while not as strong as some would have hoped, does provide a measure of protection for religious leaders from having to perform services that violate their deeply-held beliefs.  Liberty Counsel reported that the:

...“Free Exercise Protection Act” protects pastors and churches from being forced to perform or provide facilities for same-sex marriage. The bill also provides that faith-based organizations shall not be required to rent, lease, or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for an event which is considered objectionable. The bill further provides that faith-based organizations shall not be required to provide social, educational, or charitable services that violate sincerely held religious beliefs. Faith-based organizations include churches, religious schools, associations or conventions of churches, mission agencies, or integrated auxiliaries.

The bill now goes to the desk of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who had said he won't sign any bill that promotes discrimination. A spokesperson for the governor was asked Wednesday night if the governor would sign the bill in its current form, and the spokesperson said Deal review the legislation next month.  

The business community in Georgia, as well as the governor, has united against religious freedom legislation, including a version of the bill that would have protected businesses against ramifications for acting according to their religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, this past week, Liberty Counsel reported that Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed the “Pastor Protection Act,” into law on Thursday, March 10. This law protects clergy, churches, and religious organizations and their employees from civil action for refusing to perform same-sex marriages.

1 - U.S. Secretary of State declares Islamic State activities as genocide

This past week, Secretary of State John Kerry was facing a deadline, imposed by Congress, to declare the activities of Islamic State against religious groups, including Christians, as "genocide." A WORLD Magazine report said that the State Department had issued a statement the day before the deadline that Kerry's decision would be delayed.

However, on Thursday, the day of the deadline, Kerry told reporters that he had completed his review and determined that Christians, Yazidis, and Shiite groups are victims of genocide and crimes against humanity by ISIS militants.

Kerry said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in territory under its control,” He went on outline a number of atrocities that he said the militants have committed against people and religious sites, as well as threats: “Daesh is genocidal by self-acclimation, by ideology, and by practice.”

The U.S. House of Representatives, in a 393-0 vote on Monday, had approved a resolution declaring the activities of Islamic State to be genocide.  Representatives Jeff Fortenberry, Republican from Nebraska and Ann Eshoo, Democrat of California, had introduced it last fall.  After Kerry's announcement, Fortenberry said, "The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority,” adding that he now hopes the genocide designation “will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The 3 - March 13, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there has been some activity this week concerning defining activities carried out by Islamic State as genocide.  Also, another state has approved a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.  And, religious freedom is getting an airing in statehouses, including Missouri and Georgia.

3 - New report calls on officials to label ISIS activity as "genocide"

A new report was introduced this week that provides evidence of activity carried out by Islamic State in the Middle East, co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic society, and In Defense of Christians, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Christianity in the Middle East. According to a report on The Stream website, Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, said: "The evidence contained in this report as well as the evidence relied upon by the European Parliament fully support—and I suggest to you compel—the conclusion that reasonable grounds exist to believe the crime of genocide has been committed against Christians in the region."

The 278-page report includes a legal brief, 44 Iraqi witness statements, and lists of crimes against Christians, Christians that were murdered, and churches that were attacked, as well as other supplementary materials. The story points out that over 200 House lawmakers have voiced their support of a declaration of genocide against ISIS for its treatment of Christians and other religious minorities through House Concurrent Resolution 75.

The resolution was introduced in September by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican from Nebraska, and Democrat Representative Anna Eshoo of California, and defines targeted “atrocities” against Christians and other religious minorities as “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” and “genocide.” The House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the resolution on March 2.

A letter was sent earlier this week to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry from an attorney on behalf of The Philos Project, the American Mesopotamian Organization, the Assyrian Aid Society of America and the Iraqi Christian Relief Council regarding "the genocide being perpetrated against Christians in Islamic State-controlled territory."  According to the Iraqi Christian Relief Council website, "Kerry and the State Department were asked to carefully consider this letter as they anticipate making an imminent decision regarding the question of whether Christians are, along with Yazidis, victims of genocide. This letter has also been sent to the appropriate offices at the White House."  In the Executive Summary of the letter, it states:

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”) prohibits the intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic or religious group by, inter alia, killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, or deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.

Publicly available information strongly suggests that ISIS is subjecting Assyrian and other Iraqi and Syrian Christians living in areas under the control of ISIS to genocidal conditions.

2 - South Dakota governor signs late-term abortion bill

Another state has passed legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks. reports
that South Dakota has become the latest state to, "protect unborn babies from painful, late-term abortions."

On Thursday, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks and penalize doctors who do late-term abortions in non-emergency situations, according to a report in the Argus Leader referenced by the website.  Penalties for violations of the law include up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine, according to the report. The only exceptions would be in certain medical emergency cases, the report states.  It points out that the bill is modeled after the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which had become law in 12 states, now 13.

Live Action News referenced a recent Montgomery Advertiser story that reported that this past Wednesday, an Alabama Senate Committee voted 7-1 to approve a bill that would ban abortion after fetal heartbeat.

The bill would make it a felony for a doctor to abort a baby whose heartbeat had been detected. Exceptions are made for cases in which the mother’s life is in danger, cases of ectopic pregnancy, and cases of lethal anomaly in the fetus.

And, in Oklahoma, according to, a bill has introduced that would add killing an unborn child to existing murder statutes.  It reads, "No person shall perform or induce or attempt to perform or induce an abortion after conception,” adding, “A person commits murder in the first degree when that person performs an abortion as defined by Section 1-745.5 of Title 63 of the Oklahoma Statutes.”

The website says that the effort to pass such a bill is said to be the result of a petition signed by over 30,000 Oklahoma residents, calling for lawmakers to immediately present legislation that would completely end abortion in the state. It was to have been heard in the Senate Tuesday following its recent passage out of the Health and Human Services Committee, but was stalled by Republican leadership.

1 - States grapple with religious freedom bills (GA, MO)

This past week in Missouri, a resolution was passed by the state Senate March 9 and is now headed to the state's House of Representatives, according to a report on the Baptist Press website.

After a 39-hour filibuster of Senate Joint Resolution 39 (SJR 39), also called the Missouri Religious Freedom Amendment, SJR 39 was approved 23-9.  If resolution passes in the House, it goes to a referendum this fall, in which voters determine whether or not it will be added to the state constitution.  The resolution's legislative process does not require the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon.

Drafters of SJR 39 insist that the amendment "is a shield, not a sword" -- intended not to attack any group of people, but simply to provide religious liberty protections for people of any faith following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage last summer.  SJR 39 would protect the religious liberty of pastors, churches and other religious organizations as well as business people who use their creative abilities within the wedding industry.

In Georgia, there have been bills introduced to prevent people of faith from facing repercussions as the result of acting on their deeply held religious beliefs. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Senate Bill 129) and the Pastor Protection Act or First Amendment Defense Act (House Bill 757) are two pieces of legislation pending in the General Assembly. According to the Neighbor Newspapers website, The Atlanta City Council Monday by a 13-0 vote approved a resolution by members Mary Norwood and Alex Wan expressing its opposition to the bills.

According to a piece by Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Convention, writing on The Christian Index website in a piece dated March 4:

The most significant piece of legislation so far has been the Pastor Protection Act (HB 757) that passed out of the Senate with an amendment that will protect individuals (ex. counselors), churches, private schools, private colleges, adoption agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses from adverse government action because of their beliefs on marriage. This bill, having already passed from the House without this amendment, now has to be voted on again with the Senate’s amendment.

Griffin goes on to describe how important it is for the House to retain the amended language, rather than having the bill go to a conference committee.  He says:

The LGBT activists, the Chamber of Commerce, and media are promoting only pastors, churches, and faith-based nonprofits. They overwhelmingly asked the legislature and the governor to not protect the business community from public accommodation laws, which will force these businesses to promote, support, and participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Neighbor Newspapers reports that on March 2, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, a bipartisan grassroots campaign that is "dedicated to protecting GLBT Georgians from discrimination" delivered a petition with over 75,000 signatures "opposing any efforts to enshrine discrimination in Georgia law to Gov. Nathan Deal, who recently came out against the proposal as well."

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The 3 - March 6, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there are several broad topic areas that have a number of developments.  For instance, there is much from the Presidential race: Super Tuesday results, another GOP debate, and the departure of a high-profile candidate who had appeal to people of faith.  Another story involves Christians who are facing opposition for their devotion to deeply-held business principles.  But, our top story comes from the U.S. Supreme Court, where a major Texas abortion clinic case is in the spotlight.

3 - Carson exits Presidential race, announces next chapter

This was a key week in the Presidential race, especially related to Christians.  First of all, it was Super Tuesday, which featured contests in a dozen states.  And, the headlines revealed that Hillary Clinton on the Democrat side and Donald Trump in the Republican primaries were apparently the big winners.

And, there was a faith component at play in the Republican primary that bears watching.  According to David Brody of CBN News:

Winning in the South has always been important to the fortunes of a GOP presidential candidate so Trump’s victories in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Virginia are significant. But it’s even more noteworthy because he did it by securing the evangelical vote yet again, just like he did in South Carolina. Exit polls show that he’s doing it by appealing to middle class, blue-collar evangelicals who love their country and love God. In essence, many of them are former Reagan Democrats. They’re conservative but aren’t necessarily folks who always toe the GOP line. The fact that a billionaire like Trump can appeal to the, “regular guy” is an intangible that every candidate would love to have. Trump has it in spades.

Trump won 7 states and Ted Cruz won 3.  Brody writes:

Winning your home state of Texas, neighboring Oklahoma and remote Alaska doesn’t constitute a big night, especially considering you’re the “evangelical candidate” competing in evangelical-rich states. The exit polls showed that Cruz won the evangelical vote in Texas and Oklahoma. When he does that, he wins states, plain and simple. It happened in Iowa too.

There was also a GOP debate this week.  While much of the reporting focused on the cage match between Trump and Rubio, with some assistance from Cruz, there were some moments regarding the issue of gay marriage.  Former TX Solicitor General Cruz minced no words in declaring his opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling, responding to a question on gay adoption. According to The Christian Post, he said: "Well, listen, adoption is decided at the state level and I am a believer in the 10th Amendment in the Constitution, I would leave the question of marriage to the states, I would leave the question of adoption to the states...,"(quoted from the transcript on the Washington Post website.)  He continued, "That's the way it has been for two centuries of our nation's history until five unelected judges in an illegitimate and wrong decision decided to seize the authority over marriage and wrongfully tear down the marriage laws of all 50 states."

The Christian Post story said:

Cruz's position on gay adoption was part of the "social issues" segment of the two-hour long debate, which touched upon religious liberty and Second Amendment issues.

During that segment Kasich, who in a previous debate advocated for businesses being compelled to service gay weddings, appeared to sidestep from his position, arguing he would prefer for gay couples to simply not sue Christian busisness owners in the first place.

"If you go to a photographer to take pictures at your wedding, and he says, I'd rather not do it, find another photographer, don't sue them in court. You know what, the problem is in our country — in our country, we need to learn to respect each other and be a little bit more tolerant for one another," stated Kasich.

And, this past week, Dr. Ben Carson announced that he was putting his campaign on pause and pulled out of the Thursday night Detroit debate. On Friday, he was in Washington announcing his next endeavor.  The Stream reports that Carson announced he is the new national chairman of My Faith Votes, which is a nonpartisan organization focused on getting Christian voters to the polls. He also announced at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference being held this week) that he is officially ending his bid for the White House.

In a statement, the renowned neurosurgeon, who is respected by a number of Christians, said, "Christians in this country can easily determine the next president of the United States and all other national and local leaders, should they simply show up at the polls,” adding, “When we do vote, We The People will once again solidify our commitment to the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded.”

2 - Businesses who choose not to provide products for gay weddings advance; Texas couple facing opposition 

The case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, who were fined $135,000 for declining to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony, continues to advance, and it was announced recently that First Liberty Institute will be taking up their case.  Now, First Liberty (formerly Liberty Institute) has published a story about a bakery in Texas that is facing hostile treatment for their stance of gay marriage.

The Gospel Herald reports that the Kleins are scheduled to have their day in court before the Oregon Court of Appeals. Legal briefs are expected to be filed throughout the year, and oral argument will take place in late 2016.

The First Liberty website tells about David and Edie Delorme, owners of Kern’s Bake Shop in Longview, Texas. They are Christians, and in the past they have consistently refused to bake alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or risqué-themed cakes. When two men requested a cake for their same-sex wedding, Edie politely informed them that Kern’s Bake Shop did not make same-sex wedding cakes, and offered to provide a list of other bakeries in Longview that could fulfill the couple’s request.

Unfortunately, the incident soon appeared in a local newspaper, igniting a firestorm of hostility and even death threats toward the Delormes, their family, and their business from places as far away as New York and California.

The case of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington state who would not provide flowers for a gay marriage ceremony, is also moving forward. The Washington Supreme Court has agreed to hear her case, according to a story on The Washington Times website.

The article quotes Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kristen Waggoner, who said that Ms. Stutzman "and many others like her around the country have been willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages."  She added, "We hope the Washington Supreme Court will affirm the broad protections that both the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution afford to freedom of speech and conscience," Ms. Waggoner said.

1 - Supreme Court hears arguments on abortion clinic case

The U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments on a key Texas law requiring stricter standards for abortion clinics operating in the state and admitting privileges for abortion doctors at local hospitals. This case was being argued in the aftermath of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.  An article from Religion News Service on the website described some of the proceedings before the high court.

According to the story:

“Would it be a) proper and b) helpful for this court to remand for further findings on clinic capacity?” Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Stephanie Toti, the lawyer representing Whole Woman’s Health and other Texas clinics.

While such a move might be viewed by many as punting on a major issue that’s taken years to work its way through lower courts, justices often are dissatisfied with trial records. Kennedy and Justice Stephen Breyer, perhaps the two most frequent swing votes, are the main advocates of do-overs. Chief Justice John Roberts often seeks the path of least resistance.

The article pointed out that the court’s four liberal justices challenged the purpose of the law. Kennedy noted a potential “capacity problem.” He noted that fewer Texas women are using medications to induce abortions, while more are getting surgical procedures. “This may not be medically wise,” Kennedy said.
Justice Samuel Alito said states should be able to set extremely high standards for abortion care as long as they don’t pose an undue burden, but Kennedy said that test needed to be “weighed against what the state’s interest is.”