Sunday, February 19, 2017

The 3 - February 19, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, a high-profile Christian organization dealing with immigration and refugees has announced significant cutbacks.  Also, the U.S. Justice Department has stepped back from an appeal by the previous administration on a Federal district judge's order halting progress of implementing an initiative that would have forced schools to base their restroom policy on "gender identity," rather than biology. And, a florist in Washington state received a ruling from the state Supreme Court that could force her to pay stiff penalties for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding celebration.

3 - Christian relief organization announces cutbacks due to refugee settlement cuts

The immigration advocacy organization World Relief made this announcement this week:
As a direct result of the recent decision by the Trump Administration to dramatically reduce the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. throughout fiscal year 2017, World Relief has been forced to make the difficult decision to layoff 140+ staff members across its U.S. Ministry and close local offices in Boise, Idaho; Columbus, Ohio; Miami, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; and Glen Burnie, Maryland. Collectively, these five offices have resettled more than 25,000 refugees over the past four decades.
But, how draconian are those cuts?  Just after the release of the executive order, David French of National Review stated that...
...the order temporarily halts refugee admissions for 120 days to improve the vetting process, then caps refugee admissions at 50,000 per year. Outrageous, right? Not so fast. Before 2016, when Obama dramatically ramped up refugee admissions, Trump’s 50,000 stands roughly in between a typical year of refugee admissions in George W. Bush’s two terms and a typical year in Obama’s two terms.
Jerry Johnson of National Religious Broadcasters tweeted out the aforementioned press release, along with this comment: "Is this why @WorldRelief objects to vetting plan for refugees? They lose federal funding, will layoff 140+ staff."  Dr. Johnson had also retweeted a tweet from Dr. Jack Graham, former President of the So. Baptist Convention, who said: "The progressively left leaning National Association of Evangelicals humanitarian arm is World Relief. 75% of dollars are government grants..."

Now World Relief claims to be a Christian organization, an outreach of the National Association of Evangelicals, which has been chided for its leftward drift. World Relief is also an organization that receives money from the Federal government to place refugees in America. Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote at The Stream in 2015:
Since we now know that such murderous jihadis can enter Europe and murder Parisians, there can be little doubt that religious minorities in refugee camps are vulnerable. And it’s not far-fetched to believe ISIS members and other jihadists could come to the United States disguised as refugees, as well. FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have all admitted that Muslim refugees from Syria cannot be properly screened.
In spite of this reality, the Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGs) working with the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement are demonizing members of Congress who are seeking to rectify the situation.
World Relief, who is attempting to lead the charge among evangelicals to scale back further restrictions on refugees, is among a small group of these VOLAGs that, according to McDonnell, "acquire an average of some 70% of their revenue from taxpayer-funded federal grants and contracts. In some estimations, they receive more than $4,000 per refugee resettled."  And the President of that organization does not believe Christians should be prioritized, according to CNN, even though, as that story pointed out, 99% of the almost 12,600 refugees from Syria last year were Muslim.

2 - Justice Department seems to switch sides in transgender bathroom case

By now, you're probably familiar with the letter that was sent out by the Obama Administration last spring that directed school districts to allow students to use the restroom and locker room facilities corresponding to their so-called "gender identity."  That directive was thought to contain an implicit warning that schools violating this new "policy" could lose Federal education funding.

A Federal district judge had issued a nationwide ruling preventing those provisions from taking effect, and as the Family Research Council reported:
Frustrated, the Obama attorneys asked the court to lift its ban in every state except the 13 who sued the government over it. O'Connor refused, insisting:
"It is clear from Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent that this Court has the power to issue a nationwide injunction where appropriate. Both Title IX and Title VII rely on the consistent, uniform application of national standards in education and workplace policy. A nationwide injunction is necessary because the alleged violation extends nationwide," he wrote. "Should the Court only limit the injunction to the plaintiff states who are a party to this cause of action, the Court risks a 'substantial likelihood that a geographically-limited injunction would be ineffective."
The Obama Administration appealed the judge's action, and a court date was scheduled for this past week.  Just days before that court appearance, the Trump Administration indicated it wanted to take another direction. reported:
President Donald Trump's administration has asked to withdraw a motion filed by former President Barack Obama seeking to allow transgender students in public schools to use the restroom with which they identify.
In a court filing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Department of Justice on Friday requested to withdraw Obama's motion filed last year that asked a judge to scale back a temporary injunction that blocked the Obama administration's guidance over the transgender bathroom issue.
As FRC said,
"The parties are currently considering how best to proceed," Justice officials wrote. Of course, most Americans hope that "proceeding" includes the formal withdrawal of an edict that's already had a deleterious effect on girls' privacy and safety. From Virginia to Oklahoma, the groundswell of opposition exploded. While some districts may have waffled on the rule, parents refused to take the government's coercion lying down.
1 - WA Supreme Court rules against florist who stood by convictions regarding gay wedding ceremony

The florist in Washington state who politely declined to provide flowers for a gay wedding ceremony received a crushing blow from the state Supreme Court this week.  Family Policy Alliance reports that:
The Washington Supreme Court ruled today that the government can force Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, to create floral arrangements for same-sex weddings or face heavy penalties.
One of her attorneys, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, is quoted as saying, "This case is about crushing dissent,” adding, "In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist. It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees.”

ADF has indicated it will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its report, Family Policy Alliance states: "The case points out the need for the Trump Administration to make good on its campaign promise to strengthen religious freedom. The President has the opportunity to sign an executive order doing just that, but so far has not done so."  The Alliance is just one of the Christian organizations that is encouraging people who support such an order to sign on online petition.  You can hear a recent conversation on The Meeting House with Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance here.

Back now to David French of National Review, who pointed out that, "Stutzman did nothing illegal. She had always consistently and joyfully served gay clients, including the man who ultimately decided to bring potentially ruinous legal claims against her. On each of those prior occasions, however, she was not using her artistic talents to help her clients celebrate an occasion she considered immoral.

He added, "In other words, she was not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. She was making a decision not to help celebrate an action, a form of expression." And, as he pointed out, the man asking Baronelle to provide the flowers was a regular customer - and she recommended other florists who could provide the products.

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