Archives For Religious Liberty

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Cutline: Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court after rules change in a 54-45 vote April 7.
Screen capture from C-Span

Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed Friday, April 7, by the U.S. Senate as the next justice of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, 49, is known to be an advocate of religious freedom, as evidenced by his support for Hobby Lobby and other organizations that opposed—based on their religious convictions—healthcare legislation requiring their employee plans to cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs.

Gorsuch currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. He will be sworn in to the high court on Monday, April 10, replacing Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016 after 20 years on the Court. Last year, former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to succeed Scalia, but the Republican-majority Senate refused to hold a hearing on the nomination.

President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch in February, garnering praise from many Christian leaders, including Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“Make no mistake; this is a very important nomination,” Mohler said on a February episode of his podcast, “The Briefing.” “And for those of us who are looking for a particular way of looking at the Constitution that is in keeping with Justice Scalia’s tradition, and for those of us who care about the sanctity and dignity of human life, we have to understand this win in terms of the nomination is absolutely monumental…”

Gorsuch’s confirmation by the Senate came after Republicans invoked the “nuclear option,” changing the rules for filibustering of a Supreme Court candidate so that only a simple majority was needed to proceed with the nomination. His confirmation passed by a 55-45 vote.

“The confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is good news,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty President Russell Moore. “I am confident he will protect the Bill of Rights, especially our First Freedom of religious liberty. Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record, statements in confirmation hearings and his reputation for brilliance and integrity all commend him to sit on the nation’s highest court. I pray that he will serve for decades with principled commitment to the Founders’ vision of natural rights and ordered liberty.”

Gorsuch’s confirmation came after Senate Republicans invoked the “nuclear option,” changing the rules for filibustering of a Supreme Court candidate so that only a simple majority was needed to proceed with the nomination.

As the Court’s newest justice, Gorsuch will soon hear another religious liberty case, this one dealing with a Missouri preschool fighting for their right to take part in a government funding program. Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., sued the state after being denied participation in a grant program that helps non-profit organizations provide safer recreational space for kids, Fox News reported. The preschool applied for the funding in order to be able to replace its gravel playground surface with recycled rubber.

Many are calling the case, scheduled to be heard April 19, the biggest case of this Court session.

After Gorsuch’s confirmation, FoxNews.com released a list of five cases he’ll hear in his first month. In addition to the Missouri case, Gorsuch will weigh in on:

Weaver v. Massachusetts and Davila v. Davis
Both concern the Sixth Amendment and a defendant’s rights. After Kentel Weaver, then 16, killed a 15-year-old boy, the public and his family were locked out of court proceedings while a jury was selected. Weaver’s legal team did not object, which his current team says constitutes inadequate representation and a violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.

In the second case, lawyers for death-row inmate Erick Davila, who was convicted of killing a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother in a 2008 drive-by shooting, received ineffective counsel during his trial.

Maslenjak vs. U.S.
After it was discovered she made false statements about why she and her family came to the U.S., Bosnian refugee Divna Maslenjak was stripped of her U.S. citizenship—even though her statements were found to be immaterial to the decision to grant her citizenship.

California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc.
The case deals with whether the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s class action lawsuit concerning the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers should have been barred because it was ruled to have been filed too late.

The BriefingSenate lets states defund Planned Parenthood
For more than 40 years, the federal government has made funds available through Title X grants for organizations that provide family planning services. Through this program, the federal government can fund healthcare organizations directly or award grants to states, which choose money recipients. Days before President Barack Obama left office, he ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to block 13 conservative states from denying Planned Parenthood Title X funding. The Senate voted to rescind that order March 30.

VP Pence’s ‘Billy Graham Rule’ angers Internet
One line from a Washington Post profile of Second Lady Karen Pence is garnering reactions from many on social media. Ashley Parker’s profile of Indiana’s former First Lady cites a 2002 Mike Pence interview with The Hill. In it, the former Indiana congressman and governor said he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife, Karen. Pence also said he wouldn’t attend an event where alcohol would be served without her by his side.

Reprimand of Air Force colonel sparks protest
U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Madrid was reprimanded in 2016 for his Christian religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. The Air Force originally cleared him in 2014 of charges that he made unsubstantiated derogatory comments against homosexuality to an openly gay airman. But when Madrid was placed under the command of Maj. Gen. John E. McCoy two years after the case was closed, McCoy accused Madrid of having lied during the investigation and disciplined him without any new evidence.

Judge grants man right to become genderless
A 27-year-old video game designer has become the first American to gain legal designation as “genderless” following a ruling by an Oregon judge. The game designer known as Patrick Abbatiello who is now legally designated agender, also got legal approval to become mononymous — meaning only having one name instead of a given name and a surname — and is going by the name “Patch.”

Polar bear ‘prays’ next to cross
Jessica Andrews was scanning through dozens of photos she took of a polar bear roaming around her backyard when she came across one that stopped her in her tracks. The large animal was squatting beneath a white cross, its paws together and raised skyward as it looked up in a seemingly reverential pose.

 Sources: World Magazine, Indy Star, Baptist Press, NBC News, Toronto Sun

Illinois-Senate-chambers

Illinois Senate Chambers

An Illinois Senate bill that would have mandated training for clergy has been pulled by its sponsor. The bill had raised concerns regarding First Amendment rights and religious liberty.

Senate Bill 912, the Abused and Neglect Child Training Bill, mandated clergy be required to complete at least four hours of training each year to recognize signs of domestic violence against children and adults. According to Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), the bill’s sponsor, Senator Melinda Bush (Grayslake), is instead working on a resolution that would urge the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to reach out to clergy and churches through an educational campaign about how to recognize child abuse and domestic violence.

In an e-mail, Rivera credited the bill’s defeat to “quite a number of pastors and citizens who contacted their senators urging them to oppose this government intrusion into the affairs of churches and religious liberties.” This included the Catholic Conference and over 500 people through IFI.

Read the next issue of the Illinois Baptist for additional coverage breaking news.

Code of Ethics

A bill pending in the Illinois senate that would require pastors to take state-regulated classes in child protection raises important questions: Shouldn’t pastors do all they can to protect children? That’s how one colleague phrased it. Yes, obviously, but at what risk to religious communities’ First Amendment rights?

And, as important is this question: Why aren’t clergy engaging in stronger self-policing using a mechanism most already have in place, the ministerial code of ethics?

Senate Bill 912 introduced by Melinda Bush of Lake County is surely purely motivated, but this means of child protection draws immediate objection based on First Amendment grounds: if the state requires pastors to receive certification in this well-intended and altruistic concern, then what’s next? There aren’t many steps from this bill to government licensure of clergy and churches. That’s why the Illinois Family Institute is urging Christians to notify state lawmakers of their objection based on religious liberty. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” isn’t a sufficient argument to allow government regulation of pastoral work.

And, there’s a better way.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy.

As a seminary student, I was required to write for myself a ministerial code of ethics. I studied a dozen examples and came up with my own list of biblical and ethical ways for dealing with people, issues, and sticky situations.

A year or two later, I was the grader for that class, and I read scores of codes of ethics submitted by students. Most of these aspiring pastors took the assignment seriously, considering how they should handle counseling and confidentiality, reporting of abuse or neglect, the pastor’s relationship to the law and enforcement agencies. Some addressed euthanasia, and a few spoke to sexual identity and relationship issues just entering public discourse at the time.

Some of these students laid a good foundation for engaging and regulating their future work, so when hard questions arose, they already had in place biblical ways of processing the issues not based on emotion and reaction.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy. It requires that pastors stay up-to-date on the issues and the law. Through such personally adopted codes, pastors police themselves. They may join in voluntary association with other clergy in their enforcement.

Our Baptist polity—respecting the autonomy of the local church—doesn’t allow the denomination to enforce rules on pastors. Neither does the U. S. Constitution. That’s why we must take responsibility to govern ourselves.

For the sake of the children.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Church sues Chicago

ib2newseditor —  March 23, 2017

City tried to limit building use

An IBSA church has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago, which is enforcing a zoning ordinance that won’t allow the church to purchase its building near the University of Illinois-Chicago campus.

“Agonizing” is how Nathan Carter, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, described the decision to either seek other meeting space or file the lawsuit. His congregation has met in its current location since 2011, and was set to close on the purchase of the building last summer, when city officials blocked the sale because they determined Immanuel had not established legal use.

70320Immanuel BC

The main issue is parking; the Chicago Zoning Ordinance requires religious assemblies to have a certain number of parking spaces based on how many people they’re able to seat. Immanuel needs 19 spaces to comply with the ordinance, but like many organizations in their neighborhood, the church utilizes street parking. Immanuel and the law firm representing them, Mauck & Baker, are arguing that the ordinance violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by requiring stricter standards of religious assemblies than for other organizations.

The space at 1443 W. Roosevelt had been rented by another church previously. Churches are a permitted use in the zoning, and the City’s building department gave Immanuel an occupancy permit in 2011. City officials assured Carter the sale wouldn’t be blocked despite the church’s use of street parking. But the City returned a different verdict in July 2016, informing Carter “the church still needed to meet the city’s parking requirements and that the city must determine if a religious assembly use is something it wants to promote on a commercial corridor such as Roosevelt Road,” according to a press release from Mauck & Baker.

The church’s ensuing lawsuit was a “last resort,” said the pastor. “We’ve been courteous and kind throughout the process and not adversarial, seeking to bend over backwards to meet their demands. We have our alderman’s support.”

Plus, Carter continued, “We have many of the same goals for the neighborhood as the City does. We’ve communicated that if they don’t fight it, then we won’t seek damages or fees. [The suit is] framed in such a way that they can admit they are bound by the letter of a current zoning ordinance, but then point out how that zoning ordinance is federally illegal (because of RLUIPA) by requiring more parking spots for religious assembly than it does for non-religious assembly uses that courts have determined are comparable.”

Carter referred to a sign on the door of his local library, which clearly states the library has no parking and patrons are to park on the street. City ordinances also state “live theater venues” with fewer than 150 seats need no parking, nor do libraries or cultural exhibits within the first 4,000 feet. Mauck & Baker is arguing Immanuel meets both of these requirements: their building seats 146 people and has less than 4,000 square feet.

Carter said the church is praying they can settle the suit within the next month, but if the City decides to continue to fight the purchase, the process could be a lengthy one.

Still, he said, the church sensed the Lord leading in this direction, albeit a somewhat frightening one. “Since 2005 our church has had a vision for being a long-term, stable gospel presence in our specific area of the city—a cluster of neighborhoods that surround the University of Illinois at Chicago,” Carter said. After meeting in four rented locations over the years and doing an exhaustive search of their community for other spaces, the purchase of their current building seems like a strategic decision.

“If the Lord closes this door, we have no doubt that he will open up another one,” Carter said. “But at the moment this was the only one that was cracked open, and there are scary lights coming from behind it, but we sensed the Lord wanted us to knock.”

-Meredith Flynn

The BriefingSB 912 raises religious liberty concerns for Illinois clergy
A bill working its way through the Illinois Senate that proposes mandatory training for clergy to recognize signs of child abuse is causing concern among religious liberty advocates. An amendment added to SB 912 Abused Child-Reporter Training, which specifically targets clergy is the cause for concern.

Moore, ERLC trustees issue ‘Seeking Unity’ statement
An extended statement, “Seeking Unity in the Southern Baptist Convention,” has been issued by Russell Moore and the executive committee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Moore, in a 1,691-word portion of the March 20 statement, clarified criticism he had leveled at Christians who supported Donald Trump for president in the November 2016 election.

Divide over Gorsuch on display
The Senate Judiciary Committee began the latest hearings in what has been an often stridently contentious process for the last three decades with a day of opening statements — first from the 20 members of the panel, then from the nominee. Sixty national and state pro-life organizations weighed in on Gorsuch, urging senators in a letter to confirm him. The pro-life leaders cited his “keen understanding and respect” for religious freedom.

Coming solar eclipse: Act of God?
On Monday, Aug. 21, in the middle of the day, the sky will go dark. The temperature will suddenly get several degrees colder. The total solar eclipse that will cross America— an event that last happened 99 years ago — will be an important moment for scientific observers and a massive nationwide spectator event. It will also, for many people of faith, be evidence of God’s majesty — and even, to a few, a harbinger of the coming end of the world.

Christians respond to “Benedict Option”
More than a dozen Christian thinkers recently shared their thoughts on Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.” The Benedict Option is essentially responding to western cultural change by pulling away from the culture building up the local church, creating counter-cultural schools based on the classical tradition, rebuilding family life, thickening communal bonds, and developing survival strategies for doctors, teachers, and others on the front lines of persecution.

Sources: Ilga.gov, Baptist Press (2), Washington Post, Breakpoint

The BriefingGraham urges ‘Beast’ boycott
Franklin Graham has called for a boycott of Disney over the company’s inclusion of a gay character in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake. “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children—watch out!” Graham wrote in a Facebook post.

Christian bakers appeal $135K fine
Christian bakers who lost their store and were fined $135,000 for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding brought their case before the Oregon Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the judgment. Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, said they simply want the freedom to live by the tenets of their faith.

High court vacates pro-transgender ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court set aside March 6 a ruling in favor of a transgender high school student and returned it to a lower court for reconsideration in light of the Trump administration’s recent withdrawal of a directive issued under President Obama. With the change in administration guidance, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will have to weigh its April 2016 decision that the school board of an eastern Virginia county violated federal law by refusing to permit a transgender high school student — who is a female biologically but identifies as a male — to use the boys’ restroom.

Muslim chaplain to head Army division
After a ceremony this summer, Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz will become the first Muslim division-level chaplain in the history of the U.S. military. In January, he was offered the job of chaplain for an entire division, an honor for anyone in his field but a milestone in his case – a Muslim spiritual leader for more than 14,000 mostly Christian soldiers.

Americans warm to religious groups—except evangelicals
Fewer Americans say they know an evangelical Christian. Potentially as a result, evangelicals were the one religious group that didn’t experience an increase in warmth among Americans. Pew Research asked Americans to rate their feelings toward major faith groups on a “feeling thermometer,” ranked from zero to 100—the higher the ranking, the more positive the impression. Overall, Jews (67 degrees), Catholics (66 degrees), and mainline Protestants (65 degrees) were rated warmest.

Sources: Time, The Washington Times, Baptist Press, McClatchy DC, Facts and Trends