Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 3 - April 24, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting recent developments impacting the Christian community, shines the spotlight on the state of Oklahoma, where voters will get to decide on whether or not a 10 Commandments monument will return to the capitol grounds.  Also, in Georgia, a public health official has lost his job because of content of sermons he preached in his capacity as an ordained minister.  And, the issue of restroom facilities for transgender individuals took center stage on a number of fronts this week.

3 - Oklahoma residents to vote on restoring 10 Commandments Monument

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has added its approval to a Senate Joint Resolution that would send an amendment to the state Constitution to the voters - that amendment could lead to restoring the 10 Commandments Monument to the grounds of the state capitol.

KFOR Television reports that the action by the House will allow voters the option of removing a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution, which was cited in a ruling that led to the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from state capitol grounds, according to a press release.   The state Supreme Court had ordered the monument's removal last June.

The resolution would remove a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”

House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman is quoted as saying, "Oklahomans overwhelmingly supported the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol, and they will now be given the opportunity to address the issue in our constitution which the Supreme Court cited in ordering the removal of the Ten Commandments monument.”

Rep. John Paul Jordan, who brought the resolution, said that, “The new interpretation of this provision can potentially make our state hostile to religion and have damaging impacts on our counties, cities and school districts,” adding, “This impact has already been felt in Johnston County, where the ACLU filed a lawsuit based solely on this section of the state constitution and forced the removal of their Ten Commandments monument."  The amendment could be on the ballot in November.

2 - GA health official fired because of sermon content at his church files lawsuit

Another public official in Georgia has lost his job because of his religious beliefs, that he expressed apart from this work.  Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired because of his views on sexuality, including the sinfulness of homosexuality, which he related in a book that he had written.  Now, according to the First Liberty Institute website, a District Health Director for the Georgia Department of Public Health has been terminated - this time, because of sermon content.  The site states:

Dr. Eric Walsh is an expert in public health with multiple advanced degrees. He has served as the director of the City of Pasadena’s Public Health Department, was appointed to President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs and also served as an associate pastor for his church. In May 2014, the State of Georgia’s Department of Public Health hired Dr. Walsh as a District Health Director. But soon after Dr. Walsh accepted the offer, state officials asked him to submit recordings of his sermons for their review. After inspecting his sermons, they fired him. First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia on behalf of Dr. Walsh because no one should be fired from his job for something he said in a sermon.

Walsh is an ordained Seventh-Day Adventist Minister. His sermon topics included following Christ, having compassion on the poor, health, marriage, sexuality, world religions, science, creationism, and more.

In September, First Liberty (then known as Liberty Institute), along with co-counsel, filed an official charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Dr. Walsh’s behalf. The complaint charged the State of Georgia Department of Public Health with religious discrimination and retaliation for firing Walsh over the content of his sermons. This week, First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the Department.

1 - Transgender bathroom developments: Federal court strikes down VA school policy, Target declares using bathroom of opposite gender is OK

This has been quite a week with respect to the LGBT agenda, especially the "T" component, which stands for "transgender."  While lesbians and gays want people to believe that they were born as homosexual, transgenders have the opposite approach to sexuality - they believe that they were not born with a particular gender; rather they were assigned a gender, which could be different than their "true" one.  Some embrace a concept that gender is fluid - it can fluctuate dependent on feelings.

So, the issue of which restroom to use in public becomes an issue.  The state of North Carolina believes restroom usage should be determined by biological gender, a commonsense approach that has brought criticism to the state.  Just this week, there were several reports I heard or read that involved people going into the bathroom of the opposite gender and committing acts that led to them being charged with crimes.  When you begin to mix genders in public restrooms, it opens the door to trouble.

Just this week, a Federal appeals court struck down a school district's restroom policy in the case of a transgender student - it ruled the district should allow the transgender individual, identifying as a girl, to use the boy's restroom facilities.   A large retailer, Target, reiterated its support of people using whichever restroom they choose.

In the Virginia case, the Christian Examiner reports that a policy preventing transgender student, Gavin Grimm, from using a boys restroom at his Virginia high school is discriminatory, according to a Federal appeals court, which overturns a prior decision to reject Grimm's discrimination claim. Grimm had filed a sex discrimination claim when barred from using the bathroom at the high school after the school received complaints and adopted a policy requiring students to use restrooms corresponding with their biological gender.  Grimm was born female but now identifies as a male.

The article points out that the ruling "may set a precedent for transgender-bathroom related lawsuits in other states, including North Carolina."

The Christian Examiner also ran an article from The Christian Post, which stated that retail chain Target announced this week that transgender people are free to use the bathrooms and fitting rooms in their stores that match the gender they identify with, not their sex.   Target stated on its corporate website:

"In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity."

The issue became a topic on the Presidential campaign trail, with Donald Trump voicing opposition to the North Carolina bathroom bill, which John Kasich had earlier indicated he would not have signed as a governor.  Ted Cruz fired back at Trump by sharing concern over grown men going into ladies' restrooms.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The 3 - April 17, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting recent news and information impacting the Christian community, shines the spotlight on a decision not to replicate the entrance to a pagan temple in 2 major cities.  Also, there's a tribute to POW's and MIA's that features the Bible; and some military facilities have removed the Bible from their displays.  And, there will be a language change in the citizenship test that more accurately reflects the expression of faith.

3 - Plans to build replica of entrance to Baal Temple in New York & London scrapped

In a recent Front Room blog post, I shared information about plans to erect replicas of the arched entrance to the Temple of Baal from Palmyra, Syria in New York and London. had reported this, along with other news sites, and that website now relates that those plans have been suddenly--and rather inexplicably--cancelled.

The story says Charisma News writer Michael Snyder suggests that the sudden change in plans is perhaps due to the large amount of negative feedback the plans received when they were reported on news sites.  Snyder also submits that the “prayers of God’s people” were likely a driving force in the new plan not to make a replica of the Temple of Baal arch either in New York or in London.

Snyder says that the British news outlet, the Telegraph, has confirmed that no arch will be built in New York City, while an arch that is a replica of the Arch of Triumph in ancient Rome will be built in London in place of the arch of the Temple of Baal.

In my earlier blog post, I had quoted a CBN News report that the reproduction of the entrance to the Temple would be erected as a tribute to the original structure, which was 2,000 years old and destroyed by ISIS last year in Palmyra, Syria.  The story said that the reproductions would be made using a 3-D printer, producing a life-size model of the temple's entrance.

Roger Michel, executive director for the Institute for Digital Archaeology, had said, "We hope it is viewed as a constructive response to what has happened there." The Institute had expressed hope to build around 1,000 versions of the arch around the world.

2 - Bibles taken out of "Missing Man" displays remembering POW's 

The Missing Man table is solemn reminder of those who were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action, and was established during the Vietnam era, according to a story by Todd Starnes at, which says that the tables are typically displayed on military bases and VA clinics – and feature empty chairs for each of the five services, a red rose, an inverted glass, a yellow ribbon, salt sprinkled on a plate, a lemon slice, a candle – and a Bible. The official ceremony script says that, “The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God."

But Veterans' Administration officials in Youngstown and Akron, Ohio removed the Bible from displays at clinics in those locales, under pressure from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which, according to Starnes, believes the Bible’s presence on the Missing Man table represents a violation of the law."  The story points out that MRFF also reports that a VA clinic removed the Bible from a display in Houston, Texas.

And, in a separate incident, the Bible was also removed from a display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

A letter has been sent to Robert McDonald, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, urging him to reinstate the Bible to the Missing Man displays. It was signed by representatives of Family Research Council, First Liberty Institute, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, and others. The article on offered these quotes from the letter:
“The removal of the Bible not only violates the integrity of these displays, but insults those returned POWs who gained daily strength from their faith in the prisons of our enemies,”
“When a governmental agency such as the VA removes any part of the display, it is a grave insult to the nation’s veterans who often gather together to honor those who have not returned, while also interfering with the message being expressed.”
1 - Citizenship test will reflect wording change, back to "freedom of religion"

There has been an ongoing discussion about the difference between the concept of "freedom of worship" and "freedom of religion."  There are those who would say that "freedom of worship" implies the activity that takes place inside a church building or house of worship, whereas "freedom of religion" refers to religious practice in a broader sense, throughout society.

The website reports that back in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made a slight change in wording to the citizenship exam given to potential Americans, but that change had enormous political implications – it removed the phrase "freedom of religion" and replaced it with "freedom of worship," which the department deemed more inclusive.

The change in those testing materials was picked up by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, who, after he was elected to the Senate in 2014, asked why the language had been changed. A little over a week ago, the senator's office announced DHS had made the decision to revert to the phrase "freedom of religion" in its testing and education materials.

León Rodriguez, director of the DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote in a letter to Lankford, "We are in the process of revising our test study materials and Web content to reflect the change. Approximately 40 different internal and external Web-based and printed publications will be revised as a result of this decision."

Sen. Lankford is quoted in the Christian Examiner article as saying, "I applaud the Department of Homeland Security for listening to me and deciding to change their material to reflect our First Amendment right of freedom of religion," adding, "At first glance, it appears like a small matter, but it is actually an important distinction for the Constitution and the First Amendment. The 'freedom of religion' language reflects our right to live a life of faith at all times, while the 'freedom of worship' reflects a right simply confined to a particular space and location." He continued, "We live in a great nation that allows individuals to live out their faith, or have no faith at all. To protect freedom and diversity, we must carefully articulate this right throughout the federal government."

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."

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The 3 - April 3, 2016

This week on my week-in-review feature, The 3, I call attention to a deadly incident in Pakistan, in which Islamic extremists targeted and killed Christians, and they ended up actually killing Muslims, as well.  Also, the bill passed by the North Carolina Legislature that set statewide standards for transgender individuals' use of public restrooms and struck down the city of Charlotte's outrageous action of a few weeks ago has continued to have its detractors, including the state's attorney general, who refuses to defend the bill.  And, religious freedom has been in the news this week, as Georgia's governor vetoed a mild religious freedom bill and Mississippi legislators passed a bill that extended protection to business owners.

3 - Islamic radicals target Christians in Easter Sunday massacre

Over 70 people lost their lives in an Easter Sunday bombing in a park in Lahore, Pakistan.  The Los Angeles Times reports that "Officials raised the death toll in the Sunday evening bombing to 72 people, including at least 25 children. The explosion occurred as the park was packed with families celebrating Easter, among them members of Lahore’s Christian minority, although the vast majority of casualties were Muslims. About 300 more were injured."

The newspaper reports that a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban militant federation claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it targeted Christians, who make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s population of 182 million.  The Times reported that officials said at least 14 Christians were among the dead.

Morning Star News reported that the dead included at least 45 Christians and 25 Muslims, including women and children, according to unofficial reports.

A spokesman for the militant organization, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said a suicide bomber deliberately targeted the Christian community. He is quoted as saying "We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter. He added that the attack had been carried out under an operation code-named Saut Ul Raad (Sound of Lightning), “which will continue throughout this year.”

“It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year,” Ehsan said, adding that “we had been waiting for this occasion … We want to convey to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab and we will reach you.”

Morning Star reported that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “condemned the Easter bombing in the strongest terms and assured justice to the mourning families,” and the country’s powerful army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, ordered intelligence and security services to “arrest the perpetrators of the attack.” However, Islamist extremist groups continued to mock the state’s declarations.

2 - North Carolina governor, lawmakers face corporate backlash for bathroom ordinance, Attorney General refuses to defend the new law

During the final full week of March, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.  It was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, according to a story at, which reported that the law bans local governments from passing “anti-discrimination” ordinances and requires transgender people to use the public restrooms that align with their biological gender.  The legislation overturns a Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to be free to choose the restroom that they wished.

The Legislature's bill immediately came under fire from LGBT activists, according to WND, and North Carolina’s Democrat attorney general, who is running against McCrory for governor, refused to defend the law against legal challenges from the ACLU and others.  Governor McCrory called the opposition to the new law a “vicious nationwide smear campaign” and rebuked Attorney General Roy Cooper for refusing to defend the law. In a five-minute YouTube video, the governor said that by getting professional sports leagues, the Hollywood film industry and corporate America to line up against the law the political left has been able to turn a common-sense privacy issue into an economic issue.

And, a Christian legal advocacy firm has announced that it would be willing to defend the law.  The article reports that Mat Staver, founder and chair of Liberty Counsel, sent a letter Thursday to North Carolina lawmakers stating that his organization will defend the new North Carolina law free of charge. The ACLU has already sued the state on behalf of two transgender people and a lesbian professor.

1 - Religious freedom bill passes Mississippi Legislature, Georgia governor vetoes religious freedom bill

States are continuing to strengthen religious liberty protections, and the latest is the state of Mississippi, whose Legislature on Friday, according to The Stream, passed a bill that would prohibit the government from punishing businesses, social workers, religious groups and public employees for denying services based on “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” The state's House of Representatives approved the Senate version of the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” by a vote of 69-45.

The report referred to stories from CNN and NBC News.  According to the NBC report, the government would not be permitted to prevent those of faith from, among other things: refusing to marry a same-sex couple, firing an employee whose "conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization," or blocking the adoption of a child because of religious beliefs.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a strong supporter of the bill, is quoted as saying, “In the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, many Mississippians including pastors, wanted protection to exercise their religious liberties,” adding. “This bill simply protects those individuals from government interference when practicing their religious beliefs.” The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the legislation.  But, he did tell WLBT recently he didn’t think the bill was discriminatory.

Meanwhile, the Georgia General Assembly passed a religious discrimination bill that provided protection for pastors and religious organizations from facing punishment for refusing to take part in certain activities that violate their beliefs, such as performing a same-sex wedding ceremony or lease their facilities for such a purpose, without any protection for small business owners who wished to opt out of certain activities.  Another piece published on The Stream, a commentary from Breakpoint, including these comments by John Stonestreet:

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB757, saying the bill “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of our people.” Deal, despite his insistence otherwise, was the latest governor to cave to the well-orchestrated pressure from the NFL, Disney, Salesforce and the LGBT lobby.

That would be disturbing enough if this were the same type of religious freedom bill that caused so much trouble in Arizona and Indiana. But as Ryan Anderson notes at the Daily Signal, this bill offered no protections for florists, photographers, bakers or other wedding-related professionals to live by their religious convictions. This bill would have only protected the freedoms of ministers from officiating same-sex ceremonies, for faith-based organizations from hiring employees whose views undermined their mission, and for protecting churches and their ministries from state government-level discrimination.

Stonestreet observed:

...The Indiana Religious Freedom Act firestorm a year ago showed us that “religious freedom,” an idea as American as baseball and apple pie, was no longer considered to be a cultural “good.” When many, many people in our country hear “religious freedom,” what they really hear is “license to discriminate.”

The Georgia governor’s words and actions this week prove just how far that redefining of religious freedom has gone. Apparently, not even pastors should be able to hold religious convictions that violate the new orthodoxies our culture has embraced.

You can hear my interview with Mike Griffin, Public Affairs Representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, on this legislation and the governor's veto, by clicking here.