Archive for the ‘Religious Freedom’ Category

Breaking: New Speak Up Church Blog

April 26, 2010

We are proud to announce a new fully integrated, socially connected Speak Up Church Blog.

The new Speak Up Church blog can be found at http://blog.speakupmovement.org/church/

*We will no longer be posting or updating https://speakupchurch.wordpress.com/*

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Screen shot of the new Speak Up Church Blog

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There Is No Such Thing As Part-Time Christianity

April 12, 2010

Recently, the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships issued recommendations to President Obama concerning the faith-based initiative.  In response, Barry Lynn has critiqued this report in two ways that show a fundamental misunderstanding of religion. 

First, Barry argues that faith-based organizations that have received government funds need to be closely monitored because they, according him, are misspending the monies.  As proof, he said “some faith-based ministries take public funding for ‘secular’ efforts while proudly proclaiming on their internet sites that they are Christ-focused 24/7.” 

In other words, a religious organization that is focused on Christ all of the time cannot accomplish secular things.  What kind of useless religion does Barry believe in?  The religion I adhere to commands us to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison.

But according to the religion Barry apparently promotes, if you are focused on Christ, you cannot feed the hungry or provide medical treatment for the sick.  According to this warped religion, if you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, then you are precluded from building a shelter for the homeless.

What this is essentially saying is that Christians can only be Christian some of the time – that there must be times in our life where we can discard our religious beliefs.  While there are some out there who would like it if they could dispose their religious beliefs when it impedes their sinning ways, this is not our calling as Christians.  Our true calling is a full-time job.  We are Christians 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  And Barry’s assertion that a faith-based organization cannot be accomplishing secular good just because it is focused on Christ all the time is simply wrong.

Thankfully, Barry’s radical view of an impotent religion is not mainstream.  To the contrary, throughout our nation’s history, Christian men and women have lead the way in charitable work, including the building of hospitals, universities, homeless shelters, youth programs, rehabilitation programs, prison ministries, adoption agencies, and the list goes on and on.

One such ministry is Heart to Heart International.  This incredible organization, founded in 1992 by Dr. Gary Morsch, brings much needed medical help to needy people all over the world.  But according to its website, this vitally needed service they are providing is not the result of some secular mindset to do good.  Rather, they “believe that each person is uniquely gifted by God to help those in need—and that acting on this belief has the power to create a healthier world.”

You see Barry, it is wrong to think that you cannot do real social good in the world if you are focused on Christ 24/7.  Quite to the contrary, you are compelled to meet the real tangible needs of others when you are focused on Christ all the time.

Next week, I will focus on Barry’s crusade to force faith-based organizations to rid themselves of their faith-based make-up.

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

Upcoming Supreme Court Case Could Greatly Impact the Church

April 6, 2010

On April 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in one of the most important religious liberty cases in years, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. Attorneys with ADF and the Christian Legal Society represent a student chapter of CLS at the UC-Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The law school recognizes a wide array of student groups, but refuses to recognize the CLS group simply because it requires its voting members and officers to share its Christian beliefs.

This case will obviously have significant ramifications for Christian student groups around the country. But what you may not realize is that it could also have significant ramifications for churches and ministry organizations.

The law school’s basic argument is that when it opens up a forum for student groups, it should have the right to ban those groups who have religious-based standards for their leaders or members (as most churches and ministries do). If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, then these types of “non-discrimination” laws will not be limited to college campuses. They could be imposed on all sorts of public forums, including public facilities where churches commonly meet. In the end, thousands of churches around the country could be left scrambling to find new homes.

It is deeply troubling that non-discrimination laws, which were initially intended to protect religious freedom, are now being used to squelch it. Please pray for our team of attorneys as they prepare for this argument, for the Supreme Court Justices as they consider the case, and for the courageous law school students who are taking a stand for their rights.

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

Don’t be Intimidated by the Playground Bully

March 30, 2010

Many of us have been there – playing on the school playground when suddenly you find yourself in the cross-hairs of the school bully.  There you are minding your own business when the bully comes up to you and perhaps demands your lunch money or just wants to pick on you to satisfy their own cruelty.  Maybe you stood there with sweaty palms and a racing heart and gave in.  Or maybe you chose to fight back.  But the passage of time gives us a perspective that perhaps many of us lacked in those playground situations.  As we get older and more experienced in life we realized that the bully was really nothing more than a weakling who made up for his own weakness by being loud and obnoxious.  Perhaps that reality dawned on you if you refused to be pushed around by the bully and stood up to him.

Whatever the case, playground bullies still exist today, and one of the organizations that gets a kick out of trying to bully churches is Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  ADF was recently the subject of an AU blog post full of bellicose bullying.  AU basically yells at anyone who listens to them, that ADF’s Pulpit Initiative is a failure and that we should just give up. 

Basically, AU’s blog post boils down to threats and intimidation by the “playground bully” of churches.  And bullying churches is something that AU is very good at.  Every election cycle, AU sends letters to churches trying to scare them into not addressing the issues of the day, and breathing threats that any church who crosses AU’s imaginary line in the sand will get reported to the IRS (put another way, “if you don’t do what I say, I’m going to tell…”).  AU also reports churches to the IRS that it believes have violated the IRS rules and regulations.  What AU doesn’t tell you, though, is that the IRS almost never acts on any complaints AU files.  And what they don’t tell you is that the only substance behind AU’s threats against churches is their own say-so, which doesn’t amount to anything and certainly is not in line with constitutional law.

AU says that the Pulpit Initiative is a failure yet they continue to yell and scream about it to anyone who will listen.  This is the classic behavior of a playground bully who knows deep down inside that his only method of control is to scare people and who actually understands a threat to their regime of fear and intimidation.

And AU is wrong.  The Pulpit Initiative has been a success.  The Pulpit Initiative is a growing nationwide movement of pastors who refuse to be silenced and who refuse to let government agents look over their shoulder and censor what they preach from the pulpit.  And whether AU likes it or not, the Pulpit Initiative has opened to door to a new day where only pastors and the church leadership determine what is preached from the pulpit – and the government has no say-so in what a pastor preaches.  AU says it is an organization dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state yet it argues to continue a system of massive government entanglement and control of churches.  The inconsistency of their arguments is laughable.

Pastors, never let yourself be intimidated by the “playground bullies” of this age.  Preach the Gospel as God lays it on your heart to preach.  As Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.”  Never let anyone scare you into silence on the vital moral issues of the day.  ADF will stand with you as we have stood with other pastors, and together we will see that the threats and intimidation by today’s bullies are nothing more than empty words.  And when we stand together, we’ll send these bullies packing.

Show the bullies you cannot be intimidated – sign up today for the Pulpit Initiative.

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch (more…)

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.

Christian preacher jailed for praying. Here’s the rest of the story …

March 26, 2010

In front of his crying children and wife, Julian Raven was sentenced to nine days in jail for praying.  Was this in communist China?  A story from the old Soviet Union?  Was he trying to pray in a Muslim country where Christianity is outlawed?  Not even close.

Julian Raven was sentenced to jail in Elmira, New York.  Here.  In the United States of America.  How can it be that in a country that was built on religious freedom, we get to the point where a man was handcuffed and led by armed police to a locked cell for merely praying?

But wait.  Surely there was something else going on.  You just don’t hear something this outrageous without thinking that there is another side to the story.  If the  person on the other end of the phone is offering a free vacation, then you just know there is a high-pressure time-share sales talk somewhere down the line.  With respects to Paul Harvey, what is the rest of the story?

While there is a rest of the story, it is not found in the facts.  No, the facts surrounding his arrest and conviction will not alleviate your shock of seeing a preacher being jailed for his prayer.  In 2007, Julian and 6 others went to a public event in a public park in Elmira.  This event was a city wide celebration of homosexual behavior.  Hot dogs were gulped down.  Bands were rocking.  Politicians were kissing babies.  There was even a drag show going on to boot!  Make no mistake about it – there was a party going on in Elmira that day, and everyone was invited.

Everyone, that is, but the Christians.

But surely Julian and his friends went into this event and were shouting hateful, spiteful speech, right?  No, in fact, Julian and his friends walked into the park silently, without saying a word, and with heads bowed.  They came in quietly, laid on the ground and prayed.  If Julian was trying to pick a fight from this fetal position, then he was sure to get whupped.  At trial, even the city’s own witnesses stated that Julian and his group were acting very peacefully.  Julian and his group were so peaceful that some people enjoyed a nice picnic lunch right next to his group, as this picture demonstrates.

So why was Julian arrested?  The technical reason for the arrest was disorderly conduct.  That’s right.  Go ahead and laugh.  In the middle of a loud festival with all kinds of commotion, including a drag show, the people silently praying were the ones acting disorderly.  What’s next, arresting Mother Teresa for hate speech?  This is like my son complaining to me that his brother’s face hit his hand.  Surely we live in a wacky, backward world when the people who  are silently praying are the ones acting disorderly.

Julian was arrested because the Christian message he was trying to deliver by his actions was not welcomed at the event.  Through his silent actions, he was communicating that there is hope in Jesus.  In fact, on his shirt were the words, Liberated by the blood of Jesus.   Julian wanted to communicate that while we are all sinners, Christ died for us and liberated us from sin through his death and resurrection.

But there is a rest of the story and it’s this –  if a preacher can be arrested for praying in a public park, how many generations away are we from pastors being arrested in their own pulpit?  How safe is the pulpit from government censorship when people can be arrested in a public park, not because their actions were in any way violent, but because others did not like the message?  How much longer will churches be allowed to freely address immorality in our world, call sin sin, and call this nation to righteousness?  And that, my friends, could be the rest of the story.

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

Have you Signed Up for the Pulpit Initiative Yet?

March 25, 2010

The Florida Baptist Witness recently posted an article about ADF’s Pulpit Initiative.  ADF has been speaking to pastors and church leaders across the country about the Pulpit Initiative, and encouraging them to sign up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday on September 26, 2010. 

The Pulpit Initiative is an opportunity for pastors to speak scriptural truth from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or control.  Something is wrong in America when we allow the government to step into the pulpit and censor a pastor’s sermon.  Whether you believe that a pastor should endorse or oppose a candidate from the pulpit is not the issue.  The issue the Pulpit Initiative was created to decide is who gets to make that decision for churches.  We believe that it is solely up to a pastor and the church leadership to decide whether to address candidates and elections from the pulpit and the government should not mandate that churches remain silent on this issue.  The Pulpit Initiative is intended to remove the government once and for all from the decison-making process of what gets said from the pulpit of a church.  It is time to remove the government from the pulpits of America.

Have you taken time to look at the information on our website about the Pulpit Initiative?  Have you prayerfully considered becoming part of this important fight?  If not, why not do so today?  become part of the movement to regain the sanctity and autonomy of America’s pulpits.  Join ADF in the Pulpit Initiative.

Montana Baptist Church Continuing to Impact the Law

March 24, 2010

Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church is a normal church in Helena, Montana, that made a very abnormal impact on the law involving a pastor’s right to speak Truth from the pulpit. 

Recently we represented Canyon Ferry Road Church in a case against the state of Montana.  Montana had required the church to actually become (and operate as) a political committee simply because the pastor encouraged his congregation from the pulpit to support the local marriage amendment and allowed volunteers to place petition sheets in the back of his church.  We sued Montana on behalf of the church, arguing that the laws violated the First Amendment.

After several years of intense litigation, the Ninth Circuit ruled, unanimously, in favor of the church.  The result was that churches up and down the Western seaboard could not be subject to election laws like Montana’s.  The case has also been used outside the Ninth Circuit to persuade courts that churches and people of faith are entitled to broad constitutional protections to speak on the pressing social and moral issues of the day. 

And the case continues to pay dividends.  Harvard Law Review recently highlighted the case in the most recent edition of its journal.  They note that a private party who opposed the marriage amendment instigated the state’s investigation of the church.  That group then sent threat letters to hundreds of conservative churches across the state, saying that they would file a complaint against any other church that supported the marriage amendment like Canyon Ferry did. 

It was pure political bullying, backed by the substantial resources of the state.  Harvard Law Review recognized what a constitutional hazard that poses for churches and other groups.  They called on legislatures to rid their statutes of laws that allow third parties to file complaints based on constitutionally protected speech. 

We also understand that another Law Review article is due this spring from Notre Dame that focuses on the case.  It’s a reminder of what a difference one church can make.  Because of a small Baptist church’s faithful commitment to fight for its rights, the law changed and all believers benefited.

Is it Biblical for Christians to go to Court?

March 22, 2010

At ADF, our clients – especially pastors and churches – often question whether it is biblical for Christians to sue the government to protect their constitutional rights. This question stems from passages like Romans 13:1-7, which commands us to “submit [our]selves to the governing authorities,” because those authorities are established by God. Would a lawsuit against the government violate this command?

Perhaps the best way of answering this is to consider who the “government authorities” are. Our system of government features a series of authorities at different levels (e.g. local, state, and federal) and of different types (e.g. executive, legislative, and judicial). Yet one authority in our system stands above all others: the United States Constitution. By using the judicial system to insist that government officials follow the Constitution, a church is not resisting authority. It is simply using the established system of government to appeal to a higher authority.

Apostle Paul, the author of Romans, frequently appealed to higher authorities to protect his rights. For example, he invoked his Roman citizenship and Roman law to force magistrates to personally release him from a Philippi prison after he had been beaten illegally (Acts 16:16-40).  He later invoked his Roman citizenship in Jerusalem to prevent a centurion from flogging him (Acts 22:22-29). Then he defended himself against charges in a Roman court and ultimately appealed to Caesar (Acts 24:10-25:12). Clearly, Paul had no trouble appealing to higher authorities when government officials overstepped their bounds or did not do justice.

So invoking a higher authority is not the same as resisting authority. A lawsuit is neither revolution nor rebellion. It is simply a way to insist that government officials obey a higher legal authority. And by doing so, it helps uphold the rule of law, preserves our Constitution, and ensures that we all can continue to enjoy our first liberty – religious freedom.

If you’re interested in exploring these issues in more depth, ADF attorney Travis Barham has written an excellent essay that I recommend to any Christians who are faced with the possibility of going to court to protect their constitutional rights.

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.