Archives For Supreme Court

The Briefing

Protestors target Chicago church for stand on marriage
Demonstrators flocked to one of Chicago’s South Side’s largest churches Sunday morning after its pastor removed a woman from the congregation because of her same-sex wedding. The situation renewed a long-standing debate in churches around the country, pitting tolerance and acceptance against tradition and teaching. There has been a massive culture shift over the last decade on gay marriage, but the Apostolic Church of God is staying put, saying it’s defending faith and family.

New reason churches end up in court
For more than a decade, sexual abuse of a minor was the No. 1 legal matter involving US congregations. It made up more than 1 in 9 of all church lawsuits, according to Church Law & Tax. But last year, the top reason for church litigation became a different problem: property disputes. More churches went to court in 2016 due to their building itself rather than any abuse that occurred inside of it.

Targeted for marriage beliefs, judge appeals to high court
A longtime municipal judge and circuit court magistrate is seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Wyoming fired her for telling a reporter she believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Judge Ruth Neely petitioned the Supreme Court Aug. 4 to hear her case after the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics forced her to stop solemnizing marriages, ending her career as a part-time magistrate.

President’s evangelical advisers request papal meeting
President Trump’s evangelical Christian advisers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis after a Vatican-approved magazine published a piece condemning the way some American evangelicals and Roman Catholics mix religion and politics. That request came in an Aug. 3 letter to the pontiff from Johnnie Moore, an evangelical author, activist, and public relations consultant. Moore asked Francis for a meeting of Catholic and evangelical leaders — and quickly.

People assume serial killers are atheists
A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour found that people around the world are predisposed to believe that atheists are more likely to be serial killers than religious believers — a bias even held by atheists themselves. The study included 3,256 participants across 13 diverse countries that included highly secular nations like Finland and the Netherlands as well as highly religious ones like the United Arab Emirates and India.

Sources: WGN, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, Axios

The Briefing

Charlie Gard’s parents end fight for treatment
Charlie Gard’s parents ended their bid to get an experimental treatment for their 11-month-old son after doctors determined he had irreversible muscular damage. Lawyer Grant Armstrong blamed the long delay in treating Charlie for ending his chance at life: “It’s too late for Charlie. The damage has been done.”

Supreme Court asked to hear Baptist florist’s appeal
Less than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review the case of a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration because of his religious beliefs about marriage, lawyers asked the high court to combine it with a similar case involving Barronelle Stutzman, a Southern Baptist and owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington.

‘Message’ author retracts support for same-sex marriage
Eugene Peterson, author of over 30 best-selling books — including a paraphrasing of the Bible, “The Message” — is reversing on comments he had previously made that seemed to support same-sex marriage. The 84-year-old caused a controversy in the evangelical community when he said during an interview with Religious News Service that he would perform a same-sex marriage if he were still working as a pastor.

Ole Miss coach resigns amid scandal, requests prayer
The forced resignation of Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze — an outspoken follower of Jesus — amid what the university described as “moral turpitude” has left believers disappointed and expressing hope for repentance. Freeze, a regular speaker at churches and conferences, resigned after the university discovered a “pattern of personal misconduct inconsistent with the standards we expect from the leader of our football team.”

Americans feelings mixed on sex, religion
Americans love to fight about sex and religion; but when faith and sexuality clash, which side should prevail? Americans can’t decide. About half of Americans (48%) say religious freedom is more important in such conflicts when faith and sexuality clash, according to a new study. A quarter say sexual freedom is more important and a quarter aren’t sure.

Sources: World Magazine, The Daily Signal, People, Baptist Press, LifeWay Research

Gorsuch-C-Span_screen_grab

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 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

Multiple pregnancy resource centers are suing Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner over a new law they say prohibits free speech and requires them to voice a message about abortion that is directly contrary to their mission.

On Feb. 9, 18 pregnancy resource centers filed for an injunction to avoid being forced to comply with an amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that was approved by the Illinois General Assembly last year and went into effect January 1. The amendment requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option, to talk about its “benefits,” and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers, said Attorney Thomas Olp of the Thomas More Society, one of the legal organizations working with pregnancy care centers to fight enforcement of the new law.

“It’s an interfering by the government with their ability to communicate feely about an important moral issue,” Olp said. The law also constitutes “viewpoint discrimination,” he added, in that it only regulates the speech of people with a particular viewpoint.

Olp said the government has to have a compelling interest in order to enforce such a law, and the view of the Thomas More Society is that it doesn’t, because information about abortion is readily available. Therefore, the government doesn’t have to compel people to talk about it.

Pregnancy resource centers have already felt the effects of the measure, Olp said. “Some of them have decided not to do sonograms because that’s a medical procedure that clearly is covered by the new law.” Hope Life Center in Sterling, one of the centers represented by the Thomas More Society in a separate lawsuit filed Feb. 2, suspended its medical services at the beginning of the year. Debbie Case, the center’s executive director, posted on its website about the change in operations.

“We see any compliance with this law as morally abhorrent and have determined to obey God rather than man,” Case said. “The law is unclear on what the penalties are for non-compliance (and even what constitutes compliance), but it’s reasonable to expect that if a complaint is filed against our organization we will be fined $10,000 per violation and (even more troubling) our medical personnel will be subject to the scrutiny of the state licensing board and may even lose their licenses.”

Last December, several pro-life health care providers won an injunction against enforcement of the law. Olp said they hope for a hearing and decision on the current case within a month; an injunction would stay the law until resolution of the lawsuit, which could take another year or so, he said.

Because the pregnancy centers are not willing to comply with the law, they won’t be able to continue to operate if the lawsuit isn’t resolved in their favor, Olp said. Which is exactly what proponents of the bill want, he added.

“It’s a pro-abortion law that wants to stymie and eliminate pregnancy resources centers’ message to women who are considering abortion.”

There are more than 90 pregnancy resource across Illinois.

Publicly-funded abortions
Lawmakers could vote any time on Illinois House Bill 40, which would allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for abortions. If approved, the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), would provide abortions for women covered by Medicaid for any reason at any point in their pregnancy. Current state law only allows Medicaid coverage for “medically necessary” abortions or those in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

Emily Troscinski, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, estimates that if HB 40 is approved, it could increase the number of abortions in Illinois by 12,000 a year.

The bill also makes wider, more sweeping provisions about abortion, including:

  • Removing language from Illinois that states “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception…and is entitled to the right to life from conception,” and
  • Making the provision that should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade, abortion would still be legal in Illinois.

-Meredith Flynn

The BriefingFlorist aims for Supreme Court for religious liberty
The Washington Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling Feb. 16 convicting Barronnelle Stutzman of violating the federal and state civil rights of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to design floral arrangements for their homosexual wedding nearly four years ago. The Southern Baptist grandmother remains liable for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and damages but will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Remembering Jane Roe’s change of heart
Norma McCorvey was 22, unmarried, and pregnant with her third child in 1969 when she sat down across from two abortion-advocate lawyers. They urged her to sign paperwork, and not wanting her real name known, she scrawled “Jane Roe.” That signature allowed the lawyers to use her story in the case that prompted the 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade. McCorvey, who died Feb. 18 at age 69, spent the years of her middle age fighting to overturn the ruling that bore her pseudonym—a decision she came to see as a tragedy.

MO governor to fight St. Louis abortion ‘sanctuary’
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has pledged to lead a fight to repeal a bill passed by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen essentially making St. Louis a “sanctuary city” for abortion, with critics contending it threatens the religious freedom of citizens and institutions opposing it. Known as Board Bill 203, it places pregnancy and reproductive health — including the decision to abort a child — alongside already protected classes such as race, gender, religion and disability in St. Louis’ anti-discrimination ordinance.

TX Christian university opens Muslim prayer room
The Methodist-affiliated McMurry University dedicated the space in one of the school’s residential dorms for its Muslim students’ daily prayers. Before its creation, Muslim students met for prayer in a nearby hotel, a student who helped establish the new prayer room. Of the university’s roughly 1,000 students, about 60 are Muslim and many come from Saudi Arabia.

Church seeks to establish police force
Briarwood Presbyterian Church near Birmingham, AL is trying to establish its own police force. The move requires approval from state lawmakers. The church calls this a way to create a safer campus in a fallen world. Some lawmakers argue allowing a private church to have its own police force could begin a slippery slope.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Baptist Press, The College Fix, ABC 33/40