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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, 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

By Lisa Sergent

SPRINGFIELD | The Illinois Senate voted Thursday afternoon to pass SB 10, which would legalize same-sex marriage in the state, by a vote of 34 to 21. The bill now faces a vote in the State House.

David Howard (center) speaks to Illinois Baptist reporter Lisa Sergent directly following the Illinois Senate's vote to legalize same-sex marriage. Howard, director of missions for Capital City Baptist Association, and John Keyes, pastor of First Baptist Church, Riverton sat in the Senate chamber's gallery during the vote. In the hours leading up to the vote, Christian groups had urged pastors and other Christians to come to Springfield in an effort to sway senators who were still deciding.

David Howard (center) speaks to Illinois Baptist reporter Lisa Sergent directly following the Illinois Senate’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage. Howard, director of missions for Capital City Baptist Association, and John Keyes, pastor of First Baptist Church, Riverton, sat in the Senate chamber’s gallery during the vote. Photo by Meredith Flynn

A few Illinois Baptists – who were vastly outnumbered by supporters of same-sex marriage – were present in the gallery for the vote and the debate which preceded it.

Many supporters compared their perceived right to same-sex marriage with the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Emotions ran high with Senators who shared stories about family members and other loved ones they felt were being discriminated against by not being allowed to marry.

John Keyes, pastor of Riverton First Baptist, who was present in the gallery, told the Illinois Baptist he was disappointed by what he heard. “We’re rushing headlong into doing it, without really being alert to what’s going to happen as a result of all this, but I also got the distinct feeling that for many, they didn’t care about that, because it’s what they wanted.”

Lawmakers who spoke against the bill did so mainly due to fears of the erosion of religious liberty.  While the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), said the amended wording would protect religious freedom, many others did not agree.

Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) expressed concern that the passage of the bill would have a chilling effect on religious organizations that might worry they would be sued if they denied same-sex couples use of their facilities.

Righter asked Steans several questions about what would be protected from public accommodation and what would not. In her answers, Steans called his questions “red herrings.”

Righter argued, “There are two issues represented in this bill – one is same-sex marriage … and the other one is the degree to which we value the principles of religious freedom set for forth in the constitution both here in Illinois and in the federal constitution. This bill doesn’t strike that balance …

“The religious organizations [parochial schools and healthcare systems] back home we all represent … are all going to have to be asking these ‘red herring’ questions.  They’re not ‘red herring’ questions, they’re very real questions. The pastor back home with the small room in the basement is going to have to ask him or herself or the board, ‘What keeps us clear in the category of a religious facility as opposed to an educational facility?’”

Sen. William Haine (D-Alton) cited the position of Illinois Baptists and other religious groups while speaking against the bill. IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams wrote to all Illinois lawmakers last month explaining that in 2011, churches approved a resolution at the IBSA annual meeting registering their support for the traditional definition of marriage.

Democrats were confident going into Thursday’s vote; approval in the House, which could come as early as few weeks, is not as certain.

David Howard, Capital City Baptist Association director of missions, was also in the gallery. After the vote he shared, “I really don’t think there was a lot of thought in many of the senators’ stances. They went with the caucus; they went with whatever pressure was put upon them. But I don’t know that any of them really thought for themselves, and I’m disappointed in that.”