The archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has been selected as the next Roman Catholic pope, reports lifenews.com. Like his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, the new pope, who will go by the name Francis, is a staunch pro-life advocate when it comes to abortion. Last year, then-Cardinal Bergoglio stated, “Abortion is never a solution. We listen, support and understanding from our place to save two lives: respect the human being small and helpless, they can take steps to preserve your life, allow birth and then be creative in the search for ways to bring it to its full development.” He once called abortion a “death sentence” for unborn children, during a 2007 speech and likening opposition to abortion to opposition to the death penalty. A document, which the new pope presented on behalf of his colleagues at the time and signed of on, said, “We should commit ourselves to ‘eucharistic coherence’, that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortion, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated. This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals.” The new pope is a staunch critic of politically progressive views such as same-sex marriage.
- While the Transportation Department warns that the sequester will lead to cutbacks causing snarled lines at airports across America, the agency is still considering a massive $5.5 billion government gamble on a high-speed train from suburban California to Vegas, Fox News reports. The total cost of the XpressWest project is $6.9 billion, with 80 percent potentially being fronted by the federal government. It would create a train that runs from Victorville, Calif., to Las Vegas and, if green-lighted, would be the largest loan of its type issued in America. But there are severe roadblocks, which skeptical lawmakers are once again drawing attention to at a time when the government is supposed to be looking for savings. “We are deeply troubled by the prospects of subsidizing another costly, wasteful and risky high-speed rail project, particularly when our nation is facing a debt crisis that threatens the well-being of the current and future generations of Americans,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on March 6. Meanwhile, Fox News reports that the National Institutes of Health awarded a Boston hospital more than $1.5 million to figure out why nearly three-quarters of lesbians are overweight—calling the disparities a significant public health issue. “It is now well-established that women of minority sexual orientation are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic, with nearly three-quarters of adult lesbians overweight or obese, compared to half of heterosexual women,” according to a description of the grant. The taxpayer money was awarded to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to study the relationship between sexual orientation and obesity. The project is overseen by S. Bryn Austin.
- The Mississippi Legislature passed a bill allowing student-led prayer in public schools with a majority vote in both the Senate and the House. Senate Bill 2633—also known as “The Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013—prohibits public schools in the state from discrimination due to students’ expression of religious beliefs. The bill, which passed March 6, has been sent to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature. Representative Mark Formby (R-Pearl River) has introduced a school prayer bill every year since 2009. He shared with The Christian Post on Tuesday his reasoning for supporting such a bill, saying, “Legislators, especially those who claim to be Christian and that represent constituencies that are predominately Christian according to polling, should make proactive moves to stand in the gap. That’s what I see this particular bill doing.” Formby, a Baptist, went on to say, “I think that it is very obvious, any casual by-stander can tell that there is an attack on religion in general, especially on Christianity.” The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi sent a letter in a separate matter to a local Mississippi school district in October demanding that there be an end “to its widespread practice of promoting religious beliefs to students, faculty and staff,” according to an official document. In spite of possible opposition, Formby expects the bill to become law soon. The State Senate passed the bill with an overwhelming majority vote of 50-1. The House passed the bill with a vote of 109-6, with 5 not voting, absent or voting present. The bill states that in addition to student-led prayer, it will provide for voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints in public schools and in class assignments. The legislation currently reads, “Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.” It goes on to say that students may not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work. Allowance is also made for students to have freedom to organize religious groups, gatherings, and activities before, during, and after the school day as well as a “limited public forum” for student speakers at non-graduation and graduation events with an opportunity to offer religious expression. The Model Policy includes provisions that allow students selected under certain criteria the opportunity to introduce football games and speak at graduation ceremonies without discrimination against religious views they hold. The bill also permits students in public schools to wear clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display religious messages or religious symbols in the same manner and to the same extent that other types of clothing, accessories, and jewelry that display messages or symbols are permitted. Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign the bill by March 18. Once signed by the governor, the act will take effect on July 1 and will be applied in the 2013–14 school year.
- Old agricultural buildings are finding new life as a Bible college. Believers, supported by Gospel for Asia, are turning 35 acres of former farmland into a training space for missionaries in northern India, reports charismanews.com. According to the Christ-followers, the land didn’t come easily. It was previously owned by a German agricultural company, but they weren’t able to grow anything; as a result, they sold the land back to the government. And that’s when the battle began. The person overseeing this project says it took 4 1/2 years to get the land, simply because the government didn’t want to give it up. One man challenged the project overseer, saying, “As long as I sit here outside your office, you will not get the land!” Believers began a 24-hour period of prayer and fasting over the situation. Soon after, the man was arrested for corruption, and another took his place. This one showed favor to the project overseer, and GFA-supported believers were able to purchase the land. They began renovating the old agricultural buildings and updating the utilities. One building became a chapel that will seat 500 people when finished, and another two became housing units for students. In a building that has now become the dining hall, an extremely large kitchen space outfitted with several ovens, stoves, and bread makers will sufficiently feed hundreds of students. Behind the kitchen, old fields and gardens aren’t going to waste. The ground has been turned over, and replanted with mustard, garlic and spinach. Cows, goats, rabbits, and chickens roam nearby. The project overseer says it will all be used to help feed hundreds of students and faculty. Any excess will be sold and the profits used for ministry work, such as literacy classes; slums’, widows’, and lepers’ ministries; or compassion services usually undertaken by women missionaries.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a “very short period of time” to decide whether to strike Iran’s nuclear infrastructure before Tehran possesses nuclear weapons, warned former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton in a radio interview March 10, WorldNetDaily reports. “Obviously in the short term Israel is focused on forming its own government,” stated Bolton. “But I think assuming it’s Prime Minister Netanyahu forming that government he has a very short period of time in which to determine whether Israel will use military force knowing that the United States will not or whether Israel is prepared to allow Iran to get to the point where it has nuclear weapons.” Continued Bolton: “I don’t know what Netanyahu’s decision will be but I do think he is very limited in how much time he has because every day that goes by allows Iran to put its nuclear capabilities beyond Israel’s powers to destroy.”
- With a 6-2 vote and absent discussion, Texas’ Senate Education Committee members moved a bill forward that would “pretty much” banish Planned Parenthood’s presence from Texas schools, rep0rts washingtontimes.com. Two committee Democrats were the dissenters in the Tuesday vote. Existing law only requires that public schools that provide sex education courses first give the public a chance to review the course materials—and that parents have the right to opt their children out of the classes, The American-Statesman reports. This new bill adds more requirements. If ultimately passed, the new bill would prohibit any individuals from providing sexual education in schools if they are members of any organization that performs abortions—or if they even have ties to any group that does abortions, The American-Statesman reports. That rules out Planned Parenthood from participating in Texas’ sexual education. And the bill, if passed, would require that parents sign a waiver for their children to participate in classes that are taught by someone other than a school district worker. This bill banning Planned Parenthood was introduced by Republican Sen. Ken Paxton. A similar version is moving in the House, from Republican Jeff Leach.
- With an increase in the arrest, imprisonment, and killing of religious and cultural minorities in Iran—approximately 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained since June 2010—Congress will hold a hearing to address the continuing deterioration of religious freedom in Iran, reports charismanews.com. The American Center for Law and Justice, which defends human rights and religious freedom, will testify Friday before the Congressional committee, focusing on the plight of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow, and Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, will testify Friday before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House, a bipartisan commission, which is co-chaired by Representatives James McGovern (D-MA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA). The commission exists to “to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.” “We have seen tremendous support from more than 100 members of Congress who understand the growing problem of religious persecution and have called for the release of American Pastor Saeed Abedini,” said Jay Sekulow. “This hearing represents a significant opportunity to elevate Pastor Saeed’s plight and to encourage our State Department and White House to engage this case at the highest levels.”
- He was burned at the stake by the church, quoting Psalms as the flames engulfed his body. And he lit a fire in the church that still burns today. It started in his country and spread outward. But as people mill about his imposing memorial statue today in Prague’s Old Town Square, many of them have no idea who John Huss is, reports Baptist Press. Huss is part of a “great legacy of faith” in the Czech Republic, said Mark Edworthy, a Southern Baptist regional leader based in Prague. “The country annually celebrates the martyrdom days of John Huss and King Wenceslas, from the Christmas carol.” Both were killed for their faith, Edworthy said. “But when I ask Czechs who these men were and how or why they were killed, I get blank stares or general answers like, ‘I think he was a priest or king or someone,’” he said. “Evangelicals comprise far less than 1 percent of the population, so Huss’ spiritual legacy is not very strong. As stated, most Czechs don’t really know his story or that he was an inspiration to Luther 100 years later,” he said. And even if they do know his story, the “tragic paradox” is that they remember him not for his faith but for the deeds his faith energized, said Preston Pearce, a Southern Baptist representative who serves with his wife Karen in Prague. They think of him as “a revolutionary against established power,” he said. However, Karen Pearce said Christian workers in Prague are starting to see a marked difference in the openness of Czechs to the gospel. “Czechs are not actively searching for spiritual truth per se right now—they are very secular and self-satisfied,” she said. “However, we . . . have seen a definite change in the past three to five years as far as openness. We can see much evidence that the spiritual climate is changing slowly but surely through the persistent prayer, witness and faithfulness on the part of God’s people who labor in this country.” They are seeing Czechs get saved and baptized “somewhat regularly,” she said, noting that it used to be “virtually unheard of.” “We praise God for that,” Karen Pearce said.
- The top U.S. immigration enforcement official has acknowledged that the Obama administration has in fact released thousands of illegal immigrants from local jails over the last month despite prior claims that the release was only in the hundreds, onenewsnow.com reports. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing, said the agency released a total of 2,228 illegal immigrants from local jails “throughout the country” between Feb. 9 and March 1 for “solely budgetary reasons.” For the first time, he explained the kinds of detainees that were sprung from local jails—he said they included detainees held on theft charges, financial criminals and drunken drivers. “In some cases, multiple DUIs,” Morton acknowledged. He also said 10 individuals labeled as “Level 1″ offenders—the most serious classification—were released, but that four have since been brought back into custody. That category can include assault cases, but Morton said the detainees were mostly in for financial offenses. Morton stressed that the releases were made on a case-by-case basis and not “willy-nilly.” “There are no mass releases of dangerous criminals under way or any plan for the future,” he said. But the subcommittee chairman, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, claimed the detainees could still pose a “risk” and questioned why ICE didn’t seek additional authority to move around its budgeted money. ICE has claimed that it was operating under a constrained budget—with a short-term budget expiring at the end of the month and the sequester kicking in March 1. But Morton’s acknowledgement that more than 2,000 were released appeared to conflict with prior claims from the administration, which said it was only releasing hundreds.