Archives For Religious Liberty

Trump administration announces initiatives to protect religious freedom
President Donald Trump said Jan. 16 his administration is taking “historic steps” to protect the right to pray in public schools. On National Religious Freedom Day, the administration released new guidance for school prayer for that will require state departments of education to report public charges of religious discrimination to the U.S. Department of Education, CNN reported.

The new guidelines also add a section on the Equal Access Act, which denies federal funds to public schools that prohibit student meetings based on religious, political, or philosophical content.

Illinois lawmaker urges churches to pray for Springfield
State Rep. Dave Severin says Illinois lawmakers need prayer. So, he’s urging churches to sign up and sit in the House gallery when the legislature is in session. The Republican from Marion has launched a Pray for Springfield Facebook page, which links to a calendar that shows dates the House is in session and if a church group is scheduled to be in the gallery.

Pastoral politics mostly a mystery, survey says
Most Americans who attend religious services at least a few times a year say the sermons they hear have about the right amount of political discussion, and they generally agree with clergy about politics. But 45% also say they’re not sure if their clergy members are Republicans or Democrats, according to research by Pew Forum.

Church planter facing deportation
A Southern Baptist church planter in California will likely return to England at the end of this month, leaving behind a growing church. Obed Brefo and his wife, Elena, are planting King’s Cross Church in one of the least churched neighborhoods in San Diego. The pastor, who hopes his family can return to California early next year, will utilize guest speakers and video messages during his absence, Baptist Press reports.

Multiracial congregations on the rise
The share of multiracial churches in the U.S. has grown from 6% in 1998, to 16% in 2019, according to Religion News Service. The number of black, Hispanic, and Asian clergy leading multiracial congregations has also increased, RNS reports, while fewer white clergy members are leading multiracial churches.

Sources: CNN, Pew Forum, Illinois Baptist, Baptist Press, Religion News Service

Christianity Today editorial highlights fractures in evangelicalism
Evangelical leaders across the country continue to debate a Dec. 19 online column by Christianity Today editor in chief Mark Galli calling for President Donald Trump’s removal from office. On Dec. 18, Trump became only the third U.S. President in history to be impeached.

“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment,” Galli wrote. “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Several evangelical supporters of President Trump spoke out publicly against the column, including Franklin Graham, son of CT founder Billy Graham. The younger Graham posted on Facebook that his father would have been disappointed by the piece, and also said Billy Graham voted for Trump in 2016.

CT President Timothy Dalrymple discussed the whirlwind surrounding the column in a statement supporting the editorial and calling for further conversation between evangelicals. Meanwhile, Christian Post reports, nearly 200 evangelical leaders told Dalrymple in an open letter that the column “offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens of millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations.”

California church defends prayer for 2-year-old’s resurrection
Bethel Church in Redding, Calif., is planning a memorial service for a 2-year-old girl after praying several days that she would be resurrected from the dead. Olive Heiligenthal, daughter of Bethel Music’s Kalley Heiligenthal, was pronounced dead by doctors Dec. 14 after she suddenly stopped breathing. Using the hashtag #wakeupolive, the church spread word online about the prayer campaign.

Church leaders cheer repeal of parking tax requirement
Lawmakers have effectively rescinded a measure that would have cost churches and other nonprofits more than $1.7 billion over the next decade. A section of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would have required houses of worship and other nonprofits to pay a 21% tax on employee benefits including parking and transportation. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives approved legislation in December that repealed the requirement.

Supreme Court to review ‘ministerial exception’ rulings
Religious liberty advocates cheered the announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether churches and other religious organizations can make employment decisions without government interference. The high court will review opinions by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that found two Roman Catholic schools in California do not have the right to fire teachers for the purpose of the “ministerial exception” recognized by the high court in a 2012 opinion. In that unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled a “ministerial exception” exists that enables churches and other religious groups to hire and fire based on their beliefs.

Religious freedom commission reauthorized
President Donald Trump signed an omnibus bill Dec. 20 that has as one result the reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The agency, created in 1998, is now reauthorized until Sept. 30, 2022, and will receive funding of $3.5 million a year, Religion News Service reports.

Sources: Christianity Today, Facebook, Christian Post, ERLC, Baptist Press, Religion News Service

‘Fairness for All’ proposed to increasingly polarized lawmakers
A Utah Congressman introduced the Fairness for All Act Dec. 6, which would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, but also exempt churches, religious groups, and some small businesses from the anti-discrimination laws.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart faces an uphill battle in Congress, Christianity Today reports, and also among LGBT advocates who oppose the exemptions. Some religious liberty advocates also disagree with the bill. In 2017, a group of evangelical leaders, including Southern Baptists Russell Moore and Albert Mohler, signed a statement opposing any law that would protect gender identity and sexual orientation because such measures “threaten fundamental freedoms.”

Ultrasound law survives legal challenge
The U.S. Supreme Court declined Dec. 9 to hear an appeal of a Kentucky law that requires doctors to perform ultrasounds before abortions. The law, passed in 2017, also requires physicians to show fetal images to patients, and to play an audible heartbeat. In upholding the law earlier this year, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said it provides “relevant information.” Judge John Bush, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote, “The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient a greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her.”

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the lower court’s decision, USA Today reported, leaves the measure in place.

California church stages controversial nativity scene
Claremont United Methodist Church near Los Angeles is making headlines with a nativity display depicting Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as a refugee family made to stay in separate cages. The church’s lead pastor, Karen Clark Ristine, told a local news station one goal of the display is to spark conversation. Ristine’s Facebook post about the scene garnered more than 11,000 comments in two days.

China recognizes church of Baptist pioneer Lottie Moon
Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai, attended by Southern Baptist missionary Lottie Moon for much of her time in China, has been designated by the country as a protected historical and cultural site. One religious freedom watchdog noted the designation comes at a time of heightened government restrictions on churches. “It’s surely easier to honor a dead evangelist than to grant basic liberties to the living ones,” Massimo Introvigne told Christianity Today.

Year’s most popular Bible verse focused on worry—again
The Bible app YouVersion announced its most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of 2019 is Philippians 4:6. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (NLT). It marks the third consecutive year that worry was the theme of the year’s most popular passage.

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, CNN

Attack on church kills 14 in Burkina Faso
The president of a West African country condemned “the barbaric attack” on one of his nation’s churches Dec. 1. Christianity Today reports Islamic extremists have been active in Burkina Faso since 2015, recently striking in the eastern region of the country. At a church in Hantoukoura last Sunday, 14 people were killed and several others injured when gunmen opened fire during a worship service.

Christians in India face heightened persecution, restrictions on freedoms
An estimated 65 million Christians in India are being threatened with increased persecution for their faith, amid the rise of extreme Hindu nationalism. New security measures in the former Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir make it “nearly impossible” for Christian congregations to meet, Morning Star News reported. Nationwide, Christians were attacked in at least 24 of India’s 29 states in a two-year period ending in July, Aid to the Church in Need reported Nov. 14.

>Related: Persecution watchdog group Open Doors ranked India #10 on its 2019 World Watch List of the top countries for Christian persecution. “The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith—including Christianity—is considered non-Indian,” the organization said.

Muslim minorities held in Chinese camps
Around one million Muslims reportedly are being held in Chinese internment camps designed to make them loyal members of the Communist party. The Ethics and and Religious Liberty Commission has issued an explainer on the camps, which Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has said are “created to wipe out the cultural and religious identity of minority communities.”

The ERLC has called for the U.S. government to hold China accountable for religious freedom abuses, including those against Muslims in the country.

>Related: China frees Christian prisoner amid ongoing persecution

Evangelical leader says faith and practice, not name, is what matters
Leith Anderson, retiring president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told Religion News Service he likes the word evangelical. “But if people want to abandon the term,” Anderson said last month, “let them abandon the term. That’s really not what matters. What really matters is their faith and their practice.”

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Open Doors, ERLC, Religion News Service

O’Rourke: Opposing same-sex marriage should mean losing tax-exempt status
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said at a forum hosted by CNN and gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. O’Rourke’s controversial position has been rejected by some of his fellow candidates, but Religion News Service reports the candidates’ liberal theology on orientation and gender is now the norm for most of the country.

Conflict in Syria endangers Christianity in the Middle East
The United States’ decision to withdraw troops from a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria “could lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said one evangelical leader. President Donald Trump announced last week he would hand over control to the Turkish government, a move many say will allow ISIS to continue their assault on religious minorities, including Christians.

Brunson’s book details discouragement, suicidal thoughts in prison
Missionary Andrew Brunson contemplated taking his own life while imprisoned in Turkey, he writes in a new book released Oct. 14. In “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance,” Brunson writes at one point, all he heard from God was silence. He was released last October after more than two years in prison. Since his release, he and his wife, Norine, have shared their story at various events, including at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Man baptized after Arkansas church offers forgiveness
Brenton Winn destroyed $100,000 of property at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., in February 2019. Six months later, Winn was baptized after accepting Christ through a recovery program the church helped him enter. “As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” he said. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”

Are our pastors our friends?
One-fifth of Christians say they regularly meet with or talk to the lead pastor of their church outside of weekly church services and events, according to Barna Research. Still, “friend” leads the list of words that best describe a Christian’s relationship with his or her pastor, followed by mentor, counselor, and teacher.

Sources: Religion News Service, Christianity Today, ERLC.com, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna Research

Opponents say Planned Parenthood facility is more about money than women
Planned Parenthood (PP) expects to open a large clinic this month in Metro East Illinois that will serve 11,000 patients a year. A Planned Parenthood press release called the new Fairview Heights clinic a “regional haven for abortion access,” as Illinois’ neighbor states have enacted stricter abortion laws.

The new clinic is 13 miles from St. Louis, where Missouri officials have threatened to close the state’s last remaining abortion provider for violations of state code.

‘Caring Well’ conference urges better measures for abuse prevention
“How and where you and I exercise our power, particularly with vulnerable human beings, shines a light on who we are.” Dr. Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist and trauma expert, was one of dozens of voices at the “Caring Well” conference, a three-day meeting of Southern Baptists designed to help churches navigate the sexual abuse crisis. Langberg and fellow speakers urged churches and ministries toward more effective prevention measures and better care for abuse survivors. Read Meredith Flynn’s reports from Dallas.

Tennessee governor plans statewide day of prayer and fasting
Gov. Bill Lee, who was elected last November, introduced the Oct. 10 day of prayer as an opportunity “to offer prayers of healing, prayers for forgiveness, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of hope for our state and for the 6.7 million who call Tennessee home.”

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press he gladly joins Lee in the statewide effort. “One thing is crystal clear: politics will not heal us, and government will not fix us,” Floyd said. “We need a massive prayer movement that will lead us back to God and bring healing to our land.”

President Trump says Christians are ‘electrified’ in his defense
As campaigning heats up ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Christians are revisiting the differences that divided them in 2016. “I got a call the other night from pastors, the biggest pastors, evangelical Christians. They said that they have never seen our religion or any religion so electrified,” President Donald Trump said Oct. 3, referencing their defense of him against his political rivals and the media. Some evangelical leaders affirmed their support of the president, while others called for distance between faith and politics.

InterVarsity reinstated on Iowa campus
A federal judge ruled in September that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship can remain on campus at the University of Iowa, even if the ministry requires leaders to sign its statement of faith. Judge Stephanie M. Rose also said campus officials will have to pay any damages awarded to InterVarsity at a trial currently set for January.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, USA Today, Baptist Press, Associated Press, Christian Post, Christianity Today

High-profile religious freedom cases set for high court’s 2019-20 session
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to consider several cases dealing with the First Amendment right of freedom of religion, including a trio of cases that ask whether sexual orientation and gender identity are included in non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law.

“This is shaking up to be an exciting term for religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the religious freedom legal nonprofit Becket, as reported by The Christian Post.

“I think this term will see the court have some opportunities to tighten up and improve its doctrine and in the process, perhaps, stem the tide of religious liberty cases it’s been getting in recent years by giving some clear answers and some clear resolutions to some lingering controversies.”

IBSA joins religious freedom lawsuits
The Illinois Baptist State Association will join two lawsuits involving religious liberty issues for the purpose of protecting Southern Baptist churches in the state. One case involves zoning regulations that prohibit churches and church plants from being located in certain areas of a city; the other contests requirements that churches and religious institutions cover the cost of abortions for their employees.

World Vision shifts sponsorship program to empower kids
A ministry dedicated to helping impoverished children around the world will now let the kids choose their own sponsors, instead of the other way around. “We are simply expressing what we believe in a new and fresh way,” Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, told Christianity Today. “We are working to empower them to be agents of change.”

United Methodists to consider separation plans
Following a narrow vote in February to keep its traditional positions on marriage and qualifications for clergy, the United Methodist Church appears poised for a breakup next year. Religion News Service reports the country’s second largest Protestant denomination (after Southern Baptists) will consider how to allow dissenting churches to leave the denomination, while keeping their ties to support organizations like publishing houses.

Disaster Relief continues in the Bahamas
Southern Baptist agencies are working with local churches and Baptist leaders to help residents of the Bahamas rebuild after Hurricane Dorian. “At the end of the day, when all the disaster relief groups from the U.S. go back, the Bahama Baptists are still there,” said Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response. “We want God to be the champion in this, and we want our local Baptist partners to be, as well.”

Sources: Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, Baptist Press