A pastor’s withdrawal from President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony has left Christians lamenting over what they see as a new era of religious intolerance. More specifically, anyone who holds the view that homosexuality is a sin is being forced out of the public square. Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian, put it this way: “When it is now impossible for one who holds to the catholic Christian view of marriage and the gospel to pray at a public event, we now have a de facto established state church. Just as the pre-constitutional Anglican and congregational churches required a license to preach in order to exclude Baptists, the new state church requires a ‘license’ of embracing sexual liberation in all its forms.” Louie Giglio, founder of the Passion conferences and Passion City Church in Roswell, Ga., had been invited to deliver the benediction during Obama’s inauguration ceremony on Jan. 21. He accepted the invitation and told The Christian Post earlier this week that he was honored to lead the nation in prayer. But the pastor began to face criticism when the liberal blog Think Progress pointed to an “anti-gay” sermon Giglio delivered almost 20 years ago. In that sermon, Giglio affirms homosexuality as a sin, says Christians must respond to the “aggressive” homosexual agenda, and stresses that all are sinners and in need of the healing power of Jesus. Gay activists quickly labeled the pastor as a bigot and denounced his participation in the presidential inauguration. Just a day later, Giglio announced that he would pull out, saying his participation “will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”

Other news:

  • An attorney for Oklahoma City–based Hobby Lobby says the company has found a way to delay providing insurance coverage for abortifacients that is required under the Obama federal health care law, reports news9.com. Peter Dobelbower said in a statement that the company will shift the plan year for employee health insurance that will delay by several months the Jan. 1 effective date of the requirement. Hobby Lobby sued to overturn the mandate on grounds that it violates the religious beliefs of founder and CEO David Green and his family. The Greens say requiring insurance for what is known as “morning-after” and “week-after” pills forces them to either violate their religious beliefs or face hefty fines. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied the companies’ request for an injunction while the lawsuit is pending. In contrast, Christianity Today reported that judges ruled 2–1 that a construction company’s Catholic owners had established “a reasonable likelihood of success on their claim that the contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden on their religious exercise,” and noted “the burden will be on the government to demonstrate that the contraception mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.” The contradictory rulings raise questions about the First Amendment rights of businesses, a question that arose during the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2009. In that controversial ruling, the court voted 5–4 that the government could not ban financial contributions by corporations to certain political campaigns, citing the First Amendment’s protection of political speech. By extension, some courts are asking, can businesses enjoy another First Amendment protection: free exercise of religion?
  • Persecution of Christians is rising in at least eight African countries, according to the latest Open Doors USA list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, reports Christianity Today. “Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century, now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest,” the group noted. On the 2013 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where Christians face the most religious persecution, Mali has skyrocketed from being unranked to No. 7 this year, joining Somalia (No. 5) and Eritrea (No. 10) among the top 10. “Mali used to be a model country. . . . Christians and even missionaries could be active,” said Jerry Dykstra, spokesman for Open Doors. “[But] currently the situation in northern Mali is somewhat similar to Saudi Arabia. Christians are simply no longer allowed to be there.” Other African nations new to the list include Tanzania (No. 24), Kenya (No. 40), Uganda (No. 47), and Niger (No. 50). Ethiopia was one of the countries that rose the most on the list, from No. 38 to No. 15. (Africa has 17 nations on the list in total, including Sudan [No. 12] and Nigeria [No. 13].) Yet the world’s worst persecutor of Christians remains unchanged, just as it has for the past 11 years: North Korea. “Intense persecution has continued under new leader Kim Jong-Un,” stated Open Doors in a press release. “The number of defectors to China greatly decreased in 2012 and half of those who try to defect do not make it” China dropped from No. 21 to No. 37, continuing its descent since being ranked in the Top 10 only five years ago. “The government still considers the church to be a political movement and wishes to be informed of all Christian activity,” noted Open Doors. “However, house searches, arrests, and the confiscation of Bibles and Christian books no longer occur on a large scale.” But other news-making nations made significant jumps. Syria leaped from No. 36 to No. 11 (the largest increase of any country other than Mali), thanks to jihadist rebels fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Iraq moved up from No. 9 to No. 4, and Ethiopia from No. 38 to No. 15 (also one of the largest increases). Dropping off the list entirely were Chechnya, Turkey, Cuba, Belarus, and Bangladesh.
  • The nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, reports it received $542 million from government sources in 2011–2012 while performing 995,687 abortions from 2009 to 2011, reports The Christian Post. In 2011 alone, its clinics performed 333,964 abortions. When broken down on an approximate annual basis, that means Planned Parenthood receives around $1,622 in government funds per abortion. From a time perspective, it translates to one abortion every 94 seconds. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, along with Board Chair Cecilia Boone addressed some of the challenges faced by the abortion giant in the past year, including the drama surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s temporary withdrawal of support. “The past year will also be remembered as one when Planned Parenthood faced some of its most daunting challenges in our history—and once again emerged stronger than ever,” Richards and Boone wrote in their joint statement. However, several pro-life organizations that consistently battle with Planned Parenthood were less enthusiastic about the group’s perceived success, saying abortions are not a viable form of health care for women. “While government subsidies to Planned Parenthood have reached an all-time high, so too has the number of lives ended by this profit-driven abortion business,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “Destroying nearly one million children in three years is not health care and does not reflect a concern for vulnerable women and girls. As Planned Parenthood’s funding goes up, abortions increase and real health services for women go down.”
  • As Vice President Biden wrapped up a week of meetings Friday as he prepared to finalize his plan to curb gun violence, the National Rifle Association claims the meetings are just a show, while the administration presses ahead with new gun-control measures, reports Fox News. The NRA, which sat down with Biden’s task force alongside other gun-owner groups Thursday, said it was “disappointed” with “how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment.” While the administration has said the task force will look at a range of issues to address gun violence in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting—from mental health to the entertainment industry—the NRA said Thursday’s discussion focused “on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners—honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans.”
  • President Barack Obama’s administration played favorites on clean-energy loans while improperly blocking a carmaker and a related technology company from receiving millions in aid, according to two lawsuits, reports newsmax.com. XP Vehicles and Limnia filed complaints against the U.S. and the Energy Department in two federal courts in Washington, seeking damages for what they say were abuses of the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program. XP Vehicles, which has dissolved, and Limnia are asking for $450 million in a case filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and at least $225 million in U.S. District Court. “Defendants used the ATVM loan program as nothing more than a veil to steer hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to government cronies,” according to the district court complaint. The lawsuits are the latest challenge to clean-energy loan programs administered by the Energy Department, which has come under scrutiny over a $535 million loan guarantee to now-bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra. “While the department does not comment on pending or potential litigation, multiple investigations spanning almost two years and involving millions of pages of documents show that decisions made on the department’s loan program were made solely on the merits after careful review by the department’s technical experts,” Damien Lavera, an Energy Department spokesman, said in an e-mail. The companies are being represented by Daniel Epstein, executive director for a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group. He previously worked for a foundation started by Koch Industries Inc. Chief Executive Officer Charles Koch, a billionaire contributor to Republican-leaning causes. He was also counsel for Republican U.S. Representative Darrell Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is leading a probe of the department’s loan programs.
  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Pentagon would respond to a “perfect storm of fiscal uncertainty” by making plans for furloughs and massive cuts at the Pentagon, reports thehill.com. The beginning of budget cuts from sequestration, the looming debate on Capitol Hill over the debt ceiling and a critical vote on the defense appropriations bill for fiscal 2013 are all set to come crashing down on DOD next month, Panetta warned. “We have no idea what the hell is going to happen,” he said. The secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said they have ordered service leaders and combat commanders to begin taking “precautionary” cost-cutting measures in anticipation of sequestration. The measures include unpaid furloughs to the department’s civilian workforce and near-term reductions to critical DOD accounts that fund operations, training and maintenance of weapons and equipment. The sequestration planning from Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also calls for cuts to major acquisition programs and various research and development efforts that are underway at DOD.
  • A high school teacher in South Carolina is under investigation and has been placed on long-term administrative leave after he allegedly threw an American flag on the floor and stomped on it in front of his students, reports conservativebyte.com. Scott Compton, an English teacher at Chapin High School in Chapin, S.C., reprised the unpatriotic deed in three classes over the course of one day, reports local NBC affiliate WIS. One parent, Michael Copeland, said he heard his teenage daughter discussing the incident and asked her to tell him the whole story. “He drew a couple of symbols, like one of them was a cross, and he said, ‘What does this represent,’ and everybody said, ‘Christianity,’” Copeland explained to WIS. “Then he proceeds to take down the American flag, and said, ‘This is a symbol, but it’s only a piece of cloth. It doesn’t mean anything,’ and then he throws it down on the floor and then stomps on it, repeatedly,” Copeland continued.
  • Rick Santorum is determined to do what he can to thwart the appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, reports nationalreview.com. “We shouldn’t be confirming policy people to those very important positions who are to the left of [and] more wrong than the President on some of the most important national security threats of the day,” Santorum said in an interview. In the past he says, he’s given “very broad latitude to presidents to pick their cabinets,” generally voting for the nomination of cabinet appointees during his time in the Senate. But this time around, Santorum plans to use his platform—and his organization, Patriot Voices—to promote opposition to Hagel’s confirmation. Hagel’s views on the Middle East, particularly on Iran and Israel, have Santorum concerned that Hagel isn’t the right person to lead the Defense Department. “It’s one thing if the President was going to pick somebody who shared his points of view on these issues and was going to work in line with the President,” Santorum remarks. “I would expect a nominee like that. I wouldn’t like a nominee like that, but I wouldn’t oppose a nominee like that.” He also doesn’t think opposition to Hagel should be seen as a party-driven matter. “This isn’t a left-right issue,” Santorum says. “Everything I did on Syria and on Iran and on Israel, I did in conjunction with Barbara Boxer and with Chuck Schumer and  whole bunch of other folks. So we’ve had bipartisan agreement on that, and the president has been out of step with that. Chuck Hagel is more out of step with that.”