Author Archive

Court Turns Back Recent Attack on Ministry

March 27, 2010

The assault on faith and people of faith has never been greater here in America. Billboards sponsored by atheistic organizations have been springing up around the country spouting phrases like “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief,” and “Imagine No Religion.” Churches taking a biblical stand on moral issues such as homosexual behavior are becoming victims of vandalism and disruption of worship services.
But those standing firm in the face of this anti-religious onslaught received welcome news from a federal court the first week in March. Several years ago the anti-religion group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued President Bush, the governor of Wisconsin, and Shirley Dobson in an effort to stop the National Day of Prayer.
Mrs. Dobson voluntarily chairs the National Day of Prayer Task Force – a private non-profit ministry that promotes prayer observances on the National Day of Prayer each year and asks the President to issue a proclamation. For her efforts, she was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit. The plaintiffs complained that a ministry requesting the President to ask the nation to pray violates the so-called “separation of church and state.” In essence, they wanted the court to muzzle people of faith and keep them from talking to their political leaders.
But in a March 2, 2010 ruling, a Federal District Court in Wisconsin threw out their claim against Mrs. Dobson – reaffirming the right of religious people and organizations to petition their government officials. Thankfully, this attempt to silence religious ministries was unsuccessful. Mrs. Dobson is to be commended for not rolling over when faced with legal action for merely speaking up.

Government Control of Church Schools

March 19, 2010

A church school in Redford, Michigan was dealt a blow to its independence from government control by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 9, 2010.  Hosanna-Tabor is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Misosouri Synod, and operates a church and school.  All the school teachers lead weekly chapel services, teach a 30 minute religion class four days per week, lead prayer three times per day, and teach a morning devotional.  In fact, most of the teachers are commissioned as ministers.

Courts have long recognized the “ministerial exception,” which prohibits courts from getting involved in the relationship between a religious organization and its ministers.  This independence (often referred to as “church autonomy”) from government control is considered vital because ministers are recognized by the law as the lifeblood of the church.

While the Sixth Circuit upheld this principle in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church, it failed to apply it because it found the teacher in question was not really a minister.  At bottom, the court said she wasn’t a minister because she spent 6 hours a day teaching secular subjects like math, social studies, and music.  Only an hour or so was spent on exclusively religious instruction.

The court failed to recognize something even Christians struggle with – our biblical worldview and Christian principles affect all aspects of our lives.  That certainly includes how we teach our children to interpret music, and interact socially.  It even applies to math, as demonstrated by the great mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton (even though his Christian views certainly were not orthodox).

Apparently, Hossana-Tabor should have been clearer about how its teachers communicate the church’s theology in all subjects.  Hopefully it can do so at trial, since the case has been sent back down to the lower court.

John the Baptist, Herod, and Extreme Censorship

February 17, 2010

The beheading of John the Baptist for preaching against Herod’s immorality seems to be an extreme and antiquated story. But incidents of government penalties on pastors who speak out on moral issues of the day are getting closer to home all the time. Just last week, LifeSiteNews reported that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) threatened to “revoke[] the charitable status of Kings Glory Fellowship (KGF), a Christian church in Calgary.  …’The members of the Board of Directors espouse strong negative views about sensitive and controversial issues, which may also be viewed as political, such as abortion, homosexuality, divorce, etc.,’ wrote CRA agent Dian Prodanov in an October 29th letter.”  This is proof that European style censorship of pastors like the arrest and conviction of Ake Green in Sweden has crossed the Atlantic and is now in our own backyard.

Losing tax exemption is certainly not beheading (or even arrest), but the effort to silence preachers who express the biblical view on moral issues is the same.  These cases reflect the peculiar idea that churches have no business speaking out on abortion and homosexual behavior because those are political subjects.  In other words, the Church should stay out of politics.  But these are moral issues that the church – the moral conscience of the nation – has the right and duty to weigh in on.

What’s really going on is government has invaded the realm of the Church by politicizing moral questions.  Pastors must continue to assert the biblical perspective on moral issues and be alert for any encroachment on the right to do so.  Otherwise, the fate of John the Baptist starts looking less and less like a thing of the past.

President Scolds Supreme Court for Opinion that Helps Churches

February 17, 2010

In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama took the Supreme Court to task for its recent ruling allowing corporations to speak out about candidates for election.  What he didn’t say was that the company the Court ruled for in the case was a small to mid-size non-profit.

Citizens United sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) because it prohibited corporations from endorsing or opposing candidates for office within 90 days prior to an election.  The non-profit group filed the lawsuit because it was prohibited from offering Hillary: The Movie as a pay-per-view option on cable networks.  The Supreme said the FEC rules violate the free speech rights of corporations and are unconstitutional:  “By suppressing the speech of manifold corporations, both for-profit and nonprofit, the Government prevents their voices and viewpoints from reaching the public and advising voters on which persons or entities are hostile to their interests.”  This is exactly what the IRS has been doing to pastors since 1954 with the Johnson Amendment.  That amendment prohibits non-profit charitable organizations – including churches – from encouraging their members to vote for or against a candidate based on church teaching.  ADF has organized a Pulpit Initiative for the past two years in an effort to bring attention to this unconstitutional law, and challenge it in court.

So far, the IRS has not attempted to enforce the rule against any of the 85 pastors that have participated.  But if they do, Citizens United gives Churches a great weapon.  It will be very difficult for the IRS to argue that corporations have a free speech right to endorse or oppose candidates, but churches don’t.