Archives For Supreme Court

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

supreme-court-buildingImmediately following the election, Pew Research found 81% of white evangelicals said they for voted for Donald Trump. Many have said they did so because, with one vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court and the potential for others, they believed Trump would choose conservative nominees who would reflect their values. In naming Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, President Trump did exactly that.

Following the Gorsuch announcement, Southern Baptist culture watcher Ed Stetzer recalled that Pew poll and wrote on his blog at Christianity Today, “Evangelical Trump voters made a choice and many of them saw today, with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, that their choice was validated. They voted for the sanctity of life and for religious liberty.” Stetzer is the former head LifeWay Research who now leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Episcopalian from Denver, Colorado, appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism. According to the Washington Post court reporter, Robert Barnes, this means “judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written — and a textualist who considers only the words of the law being reviewed, not legislators’ intent or the consequences of the decision.”

In a Jan. 27 interview with CBN, Trump said, “I think evangelicals, Christians will love my pick. And will be represented very fairly.” Gorsuch was the judge who had sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court cases. Suits were filed because the Affordable Care Act had imposed rules requiring them to violate their religious beliefs and provide abortion causing contraceptives to employees.

After the announcement, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler expressed thanks for Trump and supporting the nomination: “Judge Gorsuch is committed to textualism and will uphold the Constitution of the United States. His academic credentials are impeccable and his experience as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices and his own distinguished tenure as an appeals court judge qualify him for this nomination without question.”

Russell Moore, President of the SBC’S Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a similar statement, calling Gorsuch, “an exceptional choice for Supreme Court justice. He is a brilliant and articulate defender of Constitutional originalism in the mold of the man he will replace: Justice Antonin Scalia.…I heartily support President Trump’s excellent appointment.”

The Gorsuch nomination follows several others of interest to evangelicals. Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, who attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 2., pointed out other Trump nominees whom he called “followers of Christ”: Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos, Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary, Rick Perry for Energy Department head, Tom Price to head Health and Human Services, Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

–with info from Pew Research, ChristianityToday.com, and the Washington Post

The BriefingTrump relying on God now more than ever
President Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network becoming President of the United States has made him rely on God more than ever. “I would say that the office is so powerful that you need God even more,” Trump told The Brody File. “There’s almost not a decision that you make when you’re sitting in this position that isn’t a really life-altering position. So, God comes in even more so.”

Trump to announce Supreme Court pick Jan. 31
Setting up a high-stakes legal and political battle, President Trump said Monday he will announce his Supreme Court choice in a prime-time address Tuesday night, two days earlier than initially scheduled. He did not disclose the identity of his nominee, but told reporters that his pick is “unbelievably highly respected” and people will be “very impressed” by the selection.

ERLC deploys online effort for PPFA defunding
The ERLC announced an online advertising campaign to rally support for the congressional drive to cut federal dollars for Planned Parenthood, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider. The effort is the first of its kind by the ERLC and includes a digital petition that makes it possible for the commission to deliver the list of signers to congressional leaders.

Tornado damages William Carey University
An EF3 tornado that ripped through southern Mississippi Jan. 21 in the wee hours of the morning damaged nearly all the 30 buildings on William Carey University’s Hattiesburg campus and left seven students injured. William Carey is affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention and has campuses in Hattiesburg and Biloxi.

Super Bowl won’t stop church services
For churches that have Sunday night activities, most pastors say it’s still “game on” despite the big game next weekend. According to a new study from LifeWay Research, 68% of Protestant pastors say their church typically has some activity on Sunday night. And among those pastors, almost 6 in 10 (59%) say they will continue as normal on the night of the Super Bowl.

 Sources: CBN, USA Today, Baptist Press, Facts & Trends, Baptist Press (2)

61222word_cloud

We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

Standing on the promises

61222trump_pence

Donald Trump (left), Mike Pence (right)

A third of Americans (34%) think Donald Trump will be a “good” or “very good” president, while 23% say “average” and 36% expect a “poor” performance. The survey by CBS News was conducted the second week of December, after Trump began announcing cabinet appointments.

The ratings fall along party lines: 70% of Republicans expect a good presidency, while 60% of Democrats predict poor results. That means evangelicals, who mostly supported Trump, have high expectations—but for what?

Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, on her Washington Post blog, points to a half-dozen areas where Trump’s campaign promises intersect with evangelical interests. Some are the expected areas involving religious liberty. The nomination of Supreme Court justices who will uphold pro-life legislation topped the list. Trump also said he would defund Planned Parenthood, sign a bill that forbids abortions after 20 weeks, and make the Hyde Amendment permanent. It prohibits use of federal funds for most abortions. And Trump has expressed support for a group of nuns who have battled provisions in the Obama Affordable Care Act that mandate contraception as part of an organization’s health care plan. Southern Baptists have supported their lawsuit.

Trump promised to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the U.S. tax code, which prevents pastors from endorsing or opposing political candidates, or else lose their church’s tax exempt status. And he has taken a position on education funding that allows families to choose private, charter, or home schooling, with a promise to set aside $20 billion for vouchers in his first budget.

The U.S. will be a “true friend to Israel,” Trump said, a position common among evangelicals favoring Israeli interests over others in the Middle East and urging movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Many Southern Baptists would support these actions, if they came to pass. For SBC leaders who have been in contact with the future administration, the Trump presidency represents a new way of thinking about the White House. Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Southern Baptists in general have viewed Republican administrations as allies in the causes of pro-life, families and marriage, and religious liberty. They have, at the least, been sympathetic to evangelical causes, and even co-laborers in the faith. (Remember the stories of George and Laura Bush singing hymns at the White House piano with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the keyboard?) Democratic presidents, on the other hand, have often been at odds with evangelicals’ causes, even if they claimed to be Baptists, as in the case of Bill Clinton.

Donald Trump represents a third way of relating to the White House: a president who made promises to evangelicals and drew their support at the polls, but who shares no apparent faith commitment with the born-again community. (There are no stories of Trump walking on the beach with Billy Graham and committing his life to Christ. And the tycoon-turned-president has said he sees no need to ask for forgiveness for his sins.)

The evangelicals closest to Trump, including incoming vice president Mike Pence, take on the role of Joseph in Egypt—keeping the interests of God’s people before pharaoh, hoping to keep his ear and hold him to his promises.

High hopes for high court

Some voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump said they did so because of concern for the U.S. Supreme Court. The February death of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy, and three of the Justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, Anthony M. Kennedy, 80, Stephen G. Breyer, 78—may be looking toward retirement in the next few years.

Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson supported Trump. He told Christianity Today, “The next president will nominate perhaps three or more justices whose judicial philosophy will shape our country for generations to come.”

A LifeWay Research survey found 23% of evangelical pastors were most concerned about the candidates’ likely Supreme Court nominees. And 36% of Trump-supporting pastors cited the high court as a major factor in their choice.

Trump released a list of his potential Supreme Court nominees—20 judges and one senator, Mike Lee of Utah. Each met two criteria: they are pro-life and support the Second Amendment. The list was vetted and reviewed by the Federalist Society, which is comprised of conservative and libertarian lawyers, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Commentator Denny Burk told Baptist Press the list “does not alleviate the concerns that many of us have about his candidacy.” Because Trump didn’t promise to pick someone from the list, Burk said, “The list means nothing….And we are again being asked to trust the judgment of a man who changes his positions daily…” Burk is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.

Reince Priebus, future White House Chief of Staff, told radio host Hugh Hewitt on December 14 that the President-Elect will likely name Scalia’s replacement near the January 20 inauguration.

Priebus said Trump may choose a younger nominee. “Well, I tend to believe younger is better, too, but I can tell you what the president (elect) believes is that the most qualified, best person to serve on the Supreme Court is what’s most important….Certainly longevity’s a factor, but it’s just a factor. Competence and having the best possible person nominated is what’s most important.”

Tension between leaders, pews

61222russell_moore

Russell Moore

The 2016 presidential campaign and election exposed deeper divides than many knew existed in the U.S.­­—and within evangelicalism. White evangelical voters overwhelmingly supported Trump, even while some of their leaders voiced their opposition.

As Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer said after the election, “The evangelical leadership is out of touch with the evangelical rank-and-file,” during a Christianity Today podcast.
Tension over the election appears to be at least part of a rift between some Baptists and the SBC’s public policy entity, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

In November, Louisiana Baptists voted to ask their convention’s executive board to study recent actions of the ERLC.

Will Hall, editor of the state’s Baptist Message newspaper, noted that the motion did not elaborate on the issues of concern, “but ERLC President Russell Moore has come under fire nationally from Southern Baptist laymen and leaders for a number of controversial actions and statements, including…his aggressive attacks on Southern Baptists who supported Donald Trump.”

Moore, who has led the ERLC since 2013, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in May in which he said the election “has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country.” His article caught the attention of Trump, who tweeted that Moore was a “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals.”

The op-ed also sparked a fervent debate on the SBC Voices blog, where Baptists posted a variety of opinions on Moore, from “he did what we pay him to do,” to “it is difficult for me to imagine Russell Moore functioning as ERLC President if Trump wins in November.”

The questions about Moore and the ERLC are just one example of the impact the 2016 election could have on religious organizations and denominations, and on the nature of Christian leadership. The tension leaders face, Ed Stetzer said, is between recognizing the responsibility to speak prophetically, and realizing they represent a constituency who largely feel very differently than they do.

For Christian leaders, their influence in the next four years may well depend on how well they strike the balance.