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The War on Religious Liberty Opens a New Front

March 31, 2010

According to proponents of homosexual behavior, the battle between religious liberty and homosexual behavior is a zero sum game where one side must lose so the other one can win.  And the battleground has now moved to the military.

President Obama has called for repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prevents open homosexual behavior in the military.  Already, two bills are pending in Congress that would both get rid of DADT and replace it with special rights for homosexual behavior, treating such behavior as deserving the same protection from discrimination as innate, innocuous characteristics like race and gender.

The result of this change will be a major loss to religious liberty in the military, especially for chaplains.  We’ve already seen the effects of such “non-discrimination” laws in the past, and they almost invariably end in marginalizing or attacking Christians simply for being Christians.

Christian counselors have been punished for declining to counsel same-sex couples, Christian chaplains have been disciplined for refusing to turn their worship service over to individuals who openly engage in homosexual behavior, and Christian ministries have been penalized for choosing not to allow their facilities to be used for same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Fortunately, Americans aren’t allowing religious liberty for their soldiers to die without a fight.  ADF sent a letter to the President and other leaders explaining the unconstitutional costs of repealing DADT, and other organizations are wading into the fray.  But victory remains uncertain–perhaps even unlikely, given the current political environment–unless more voices begin to speak out.  Fortunately, it seems like more voices–and some particularly credible ones at that–will be doing so soon.  Stay tuned…

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Government quits trying to run Bible schools

March 23, 2010

Government shouldn’t try to tell private Christian educators how to teach Christianity.

                In a decidedly unconstitutional turn of events in April of 2009, the state of Wyoming threatened to shut down a small but well-established Bible school because the school’s Bible classes weren’t state approved.  That the First Amendment prohibits government attempts to control religious education wasn’t enough to stop the state’s actions—at least not initially.  

                The school, Frontier School of the Bible, is a purely religious non-profit technical school that was founded over 40 years ago in LaGrange, Wyoming.  The school’s curriculum is solely aimed at preparing its students for Christian ministry, and the few non-Bible classes taught at the school—like English—are provided only because they aid effective teaching and interpretation of the Bible.  The school has over 1,600 alumni, most serving as missionaries, pastors, and youth ministers throughout the world.  Frontier exists for one purpose: preparing Christian leaders to teach others about God.

                But the state of Wyoming believed that the quality of Frontier’s Christian education might not be good enough for government work, so its education department sent the school a letter last April demanding that it either become approved by the state or close its doors.  And approval by the state didn’t present an attractive choice.  One way to become state-approved would have accreditation.  But for a school that didn’t pay salaries to its faculty or staff (instead, they all have to obtain voluntary financial support, much like missionaries do) in order to keep costs low so ministry-oriented students weren’t crushed by debt at graduation, the sky-high costs of accreditation wasn’t feasible.  Plus, other similar non-accredited Bible schools that have sought accreditation report that it often requires jettisoning the purely Bible-based teaching that was the sole reason for Frontier’s existence.

                The school’s second route to state approval was even worse: getting a state license.  But this would require ceasing to discriminate based on religion both in admitting students to the school and in hiring teachers for its Bible classes.  Nothing could be more destructive to school’s Christian identity and purpose than having its Christian curriculum taught by non-Christians to non-Christians.

                Thankfully, after being challenged on the many constitutional infirmities of demand to the school, the state made the right decisions to protect religious liberty, granting Frontier an interim exemption from the state’s regulations while legislators crafted a fix to the statute.  That fix was signed into law just this month.

                But what if Wyoming hadn’t made the right decision?  It would have set the State up as in authority over the Church to determine the content of theological instruction.  And “setting standards for a religious education is a religious exercise for which the State lacks not only authority but also competence.”  HEB Ministries v. Texas Higher Educ. Coordinating Board, 235 S.W.3d 627, 643 (Tex. 2007).  That is, having a bureaucrat determine the content of a quality Christian curriculum is like having your single neighbor tell you how to raise your children: not only does he not have any right to tell you what to do, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. 

Christian education is too important to be left in the hands of government.

Oasis of Truth: Banning Bible Study in Your Backyard

March 18, 2010

Banning Bible Study in Your Backyard


Does your neighborhood need to be protected from dangerous small-group Bible studies?

Oasis of Truth Church in Gilbert, Arizona, has seven adult members.  It met on a rotating basis in the homes of its members for a few hours of church services and a weekly Bible study.  The maximum number of people who ever attended Oasis’ meetings was 15; even then, only one car had to be parked in the street to accommodate the vehicles of the attendees.

As is painfully obvious from this description, the church’s meetings in homes were a threat to the community and had to be stopped.  And stopped they were when, just a few months after it started meeting, a Gilbert zone enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order to Oasis.  And why were the meetings stopped?  Because they were too big?  Meeting too often?  Being too loud or attracting too much traffic?  Generating irate community complaints?

Try none of the above.  Rather, the church was targeted simply because it was a church.  Nothing more.  As the Town later acknowledged in an official zoning interpretation, it didn’t matter if the meeting in question was a one-time get-together of two people for a quiet prayer time.  If the meeting was a church meeting, it was banned.

By contrast, other types of meetings—like Cub Scouts, business parties, or Monday Night Football gatherings—were all acceptable.  In fact, some day cares are specifically allowed by the zoning code to be run from homes.

Such blatant discrimination against churches is unconstitutional.  Targeting churches for disfavor simultaneously violates the Free Exercise Clause, since it unfairly limits religious liberty, and the Establishment Clause, since it prefers non-religious gatherings to religious ones.

Of course, municipalities can make some reasonable regulations on how homes are used, preventing your next door neighbor’s duplex from being turned into a shopping mall or a convention center.  But such regulations are only legitimate as long as they are focused on concerns like traffic, parking, building code safety, and the like.  Where the law instead singles out religious activities for discrimination, it leaves behind all pretense of legitimate regulation and becomes a tool to silence the church.

Fortunately, Gilbert is fixing the problem.  It sent high-ranking officials to church services to apologize and is working with the church now to protect religious liberty.  Hopefully, Gilbert’s approach to fixing the problem can be a model to other municipalities on how never to have a problem in the first place.

When Good becomes Evil

March 3, 2010

Normalizing homosexuality generally means marginalizing Christianity.

One of the most eye-opening features of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial – the trial where a few people in California are trying to redefine marriage for the entire nation to include homosexual relationships – was its near daily insistence on attacking foundational Christian moral beliefs.  On a regular basis, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Position Statement on Sexuality or the Catechism of the Catholic Church – both of which, like all orthodox Christian teaching on the subject, recognize homosexual behavior as sinful – would be pulled out and subjected to ridicule.  Worse, these Christian teachings were used as evidence that the recently-enacted California definition of marriage was irrational because it may have been based in part on religious teachings.  In other words, if you vote your faith, your vote shouldn’t count.

As disturbing as such a direct attack on religious belief is, it is also instructive.  For a long time, proponents of homosexual behavior have argued that their cause was also about “tolerance.”  But it never has been.  For them, tolerance is a one way-street, where their actions must be tolerated, but your beliefs cannot be.  Perry makes this clear: normalizing homosexual behavior requires marginalizing your religious beliefs.

It’s not just Christians who are seeing this, either.  Chai Feldblum, President Obama’s new head of the powerful EEOC, has admitted that when religious liberty and homosexual behavior conflict, “I’m having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.”  Hear that, pastors?  Your ministries, your churches, your sermons – they’d better get in line or get out of town.

Perry is just one of the recent examples of the attack on Christianity from homosexual activists.   Catholic Charities in both Washington, D.C. and Boston were run out of the adoption business by aggressive city officials who wanted to force them to place children with same-sex parents.  A church campground in New Jersey was punished by the state for refusing to use its property to host same-sex “commitment ceremonies.” A Christian student in a public college in California was verbally attacked by his professor for respectfully speaking out in support of traditional marriage.

Isaiah tells us that when society starts calling evil “good,” it won’t be long before it calls good “evil.”  Is. 5:20.  Things have gotten to the point where being a Christian – particularly one of those kinds of Christians who actually lives what you believe – is “evil.”