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. UPI.com 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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The 3 - February 12, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, presenting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is good news out of Georgia, where an employee of the state health department had filed suit after being terminated, apparently because of his religious beliefs.  Also, there was plenty of joy in countries around the world as special needs teens and adults participated in Tim Tebow's "Night to Shine."  And, people opposed to the offensive practices of the nation's largest abortion provider showed up at its centers across America this past weekend.

3 - Georgia health official allegedly fired for religious beliefs settles with state

Dr. Eric Walsh, who had accepted a position as a District Health Director for the State of Georgia, was dismissed not long after his hiring.  It seems the sermons he preached as an ordained Seventh-Day Adventist minister were offensive to his employers.

Walsh was defended by First Liberty Institute, which told the story on its website.  Recently, Walsh settled with the state of Georgia for $225,000 in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that had been filed by First Liberty in partnership with an Atlanta firm.  Walsh is quoted as saying: “I am pleased this trial finally ended,” adding, “It’s been a long, difficult journey, but it’s worth it to have my name cleared and to ensure that all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.”

The story points out that:
Federal law protects Walsh’s right to talk about his faith inside his church or out of it. In particular, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the government from firing people over their religious beliefs, especially when those beliefs are expressed by a lay minister, outside of work, in a church setting.
Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty ad counsel for Dr. Walsh, stated: "If the government is allowed to fire someone over what he said in his sermons, then they can come after any of us for our beliefs on anything. We must ensure every American has the right to talk about their faith at church without getting fired or being barred from public service.”

2 - Tebow's "Night to Shine" honors people with special needs, partners with churches

This past week, the annual Night to Shine experience, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, was presented at a number of venues inside and outside the U.S. The Foundation website describes the concept: "Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. On one night, February 10, 2017, churches from around the world will host Night to Shine for thousands of honored guests..."

The Foundation Facebook page proclaimed: "375 host churches. 50 states. 11 countries. 6 continents. 150,000 volunteers. 75,000 honored guests."  In another post, it said:
It was a night for our honored guests to shine, for the volunteers to shine, for the church to shine and a night for Jesus to shine! We are SO appreciative of everyone who poured out so much effort and love to celebrate our 75,000 kings and queens of the prom.
We are incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such an amazing community who believes in this worldwide movement to celebrate people with special needs!
The Foundation website states:
Following Night to Shine, we have been encouraged to see countless churches develop continued programs for people with special needs.
Through Night to Shine, we hope people with special needs realize that their church can be a place where they are loved and feel welcomed.
1 - Pro-life gatherings at Planned Parenthood centers 

Those taking a stand for life showed up at Planned Parenthood centers across America on Saturday, with over 200 protests planned in 44 states, as well as Washington, DC, according to a report on The Blaze website.

And, the report made reference to a tweet from CBS News that linked to a report that there were counter-protests by pro-abortion forces across the nation.

The Blaze article stated:
The groups behind the nationwide protests — Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Created Equal, the Pro-Life Action League, 40 Days for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List — said that they want to encourage Congress to finally act on redirecting the funds away from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, a long-held goal of pro-life activists.
And, the story mentioned the trafficking of fetal body parts, Medicaid fraud, and violation of health codes as just some of the offenses committed by Planned Parenthood.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The 3 - February 5, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there have been some statements and potential developments regarding religious freedom principles that President Trump promised to uphold in his campaign.  Also, the Boy Scouts of America has announced it will now admit "transgender" boys, i.e., girls who say they are male.  And, the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is getting high marks from a number of Christian leaders and organizations.

3 - Religious freedom watch: topic at National Prayer Breakfast, Administration spokesman voices intent to uphold religious liberties, executive order rumored

The recent National Prayer Breakfast contained a number of references to religious liberty, according to an article on the Baptist Press website, which reported that President Trump, speaking at the event, said that his administration "will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty."

The story quotes the President as saying that he would "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment," which is described by the website as "a 1954 law that bars churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates."

The Baptist Press piece also reported:
Trump said his high regard for religious liberty motivates his opposition to the Johnson Amendment as well as his immigration policy and his fight against radical Islamic terrorism.

"We will be a country where all citizens can practice their beliefs without fear of hostility or fear of violence," Trump said. "America will flourish as long as our liberty, and in particular our religious liberty, is allowed to flourish."

Immigration policy, Trump said, must secure America's borders against "those who would seek to enter our country for the purpose of spreading violence or oppressing other people based upon their faith or their lifestyle."

Trump called terrorism "a fundamental threat to religious freedom."
And, there was a draft of an executive order that was leaked this week, and, according to the Daily Signal:
The draft of the executive order, reportedly called “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” tells federal agencies to accommodate religious practices “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” would no longer require religious employers such as Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their beliefs by providing contraception and abortion-inducing drugs to employees, and prohibits penalizing employees because of personal religious views.
The article says that, "Conservatives and religious groups are calling on President Donald Trump to stand firm" on the order.  This comes in light of the Administration's announcement that it would not rescind an order by then-President Obama protecting so-called LGBTQ "rights" for Federal contractors.

And, in a recent conversation with me, Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance called attention to the response of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in response to a reporter's question about religious liberty being used a "code for discrimination."  This is from the WhiteHouse.gov website:
...We have freedom of religion in this country, and I think people should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal. And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way in the name of political correctness.

And I think the President and the Vice President both understand that one of the things that makes our country and this democracy so great is our ability to express our religion, to believe in faith, to express it, and to live by it. And that’s where I think the important part is -- whether it’s a small business owner or employee, he wants to have some degree of expression of faith at the company. And too often those voices get pushed out in the name of political correctness.

So he’s going to continue to make sure that we not only speak up for it, but find ways in which we can keep that line a little less blurred and make sure that the pendulum doesn’t swing against people...
And, in Congress this week, according to another Baptist Press story, a bill called the Free Speech Fairness Act was "introduced Feb. 1, the day before President Trump reiterated his intent to eliminate the so-called Johnson Amendment..."  According to a bill sponsor, it "would free pastors, churches and other tax-exempt entities to intervene on behalf of or against candidates in an election campaign." Sen. James Lankford is sponsoring in the Senate, and Rep. Steve Scalise is the House sponsor.

2 - Boy Scouts to accept transgender "boys"

A stunning, but not necessarily surprising announcement was made recently by the Boy Scouts of America.  Todd Starnes of Fox News wrote this:
On Monday, the BSA announced that girls who identify as boys will now be allowed to join the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts – marking a complete capitulation to the gender and sex revolutionaries.
John Stemberger, who is now chairman of the board of directors for a Christ-centered character-based organization called Trail Life USA, told Starnes that "the BSA decision is 'sad beyond belief.'"

Stemberger also said, that this new direction will “put boys in a state of confusion and does nothing to help normal psychological development.” He added, "Aside from the fact they are now going to confuse literally hundreds of thousands of young men and boys – you are now going to have further youth protection problems."

Starnes also noted:
In a statement released late Monday, Trail Life assured its “members and charter organizations nationwide that we are committed to the biblical traditional values affirmed in our statement of faith and values.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Starnes: "This is Exhibit A of the insatiable demands of those pushing this sexual anarchy."

1 - President nominates Gorsuch for U.S. Supreme Court

This week, President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, currently serving on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to be a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, to fill the open seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia.

The Family Research Council put it this way:
This was excellent news, particularly for the evangelicals that had helped push Trump to victory. Not only had the president made good on his promise to select a nominee from the list of 21 names he had released during his campaign, but Gorsuch was the kind of constitutional originalist that he had promised for the post.
Pro-life groups are getting mobilized to support the nominee. The Susan B. Anthony List website announced the formation of a coalition, represented at prolifecourt.com, "where grassroots activists can send an immediate message to their U.S. Senators, and are planning coordinated email and phone call campaigns to offices, in-state demonstrations targeting key Senators, and a digital advertising campaign."

That website provides this information:
Judge Gorsuch has a strong record of protecting life and religious liberty.
  • Gorsuch wrote a book called “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” He argues in the book that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable” and that “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
  • Gorsuch ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in holding that Obamacare’s abortifacient mandate violates the religious beliefs of closely-held corporations.
  • Gorsuch also ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, defending the rights of nuns not to be forced to pay for abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.
  • Gorsuch forcefully dissented from a case in which the Tenth Circuit sided with Planned Parenthood and refused to allow the Governor of Utah to defund the abortion business in wake of videos showing its involvement in the selling of baby body parts.