Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are active in seven states responding to damage from floods, tornadoes, and other disasters on the eve of hurricane season, Baptist Press reports. The sheer breadth of the responses—with hundreds of volunteers simultaneously engaged—is a humbling reminder of the enduring spirit of Southern Baptist service, SBDR leaders said. “When everyone else gets tired, we reload,” said Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “We’ll be here until we are not needed anymore.” In addition to Oklahoma SBDR volunteers, some 200 strong, responding to tornado damage in the Oklahoma City area, volunteers also are serving in Oklahoma from Arkansas, California, Iowa, Kansas-Nebraska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Tennessee, and Texas Baptist Men. SBDR volunteers also are serving in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, and New York.
- The FBI office charged with investigating terrorism has said it intends to question the national director of a chain of crisis pregnancy centers. The development is the latest in what pro-life activists have charged is a pattern of intimidation on the part of the Obama administration against pro-life activists. Agents of the Joint Domestic Terrorism Task Force told Chris Slattery, national director of Expectant Mother Care FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, only that they wanted to meet him “for a mutually beneficial relationship.” “In other words, if I don’t meet with them, it will not be beneficial for me,” Slattery told LifeSiteNews.com. “I’m not sure what I’m going to get out of it,” he joked. Currently EMC is poised to expand crisis pregnancy centers into 10 states, including Washington, D.C. Federal agents pressed to meet Slattery last Friday but rescheduled when he insisted that one of his attorneys be present. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice has agreed to represent him at a national level, and Christopher Ferrara of the American Catholic Lawyers Association has agreed to act as his local counsel. “I thank God for the FBI,” Slattery said, noting their good work fighting crime and legitimate terrorism. “But if the president orders them to do something, they have to do it.” “I do know they have been used by attorney generals in the past for surveillance of domestic troublemakers and communists, and now we are the communists of the modern-day, the domestic ‘people of interest,’” he said. The rate of federal questions, and allegations of surveillance, of pro-life activists have led many leaders to conclude the Obama administration is gathering intelligence on the pro-life movement. FBI agents questioned Andy Moore, the founder of AbortionWiki.org and the incoming director of online communications at Americans United for Life, last July after Southwest Women’s Surgery Center, a Dallas abortion facility, complained that Moore used a bullhorn during a peaceful protest. Moore said they raised the possibility the Obama administration might deport the pro-life activist back to his native New Zealand if he did not name the names of other pro-life activists. They also reportedly asked, “What affiliations do you have, including church groups” and other pro-life groups? Moore’s mother-in-law, pro-life leader Jill Stanek, wrote that the agents asked “inappropriate questions clearly aimed at intimidating Andy, while also launching into a fishing expedition about me.” Some say Attorney General Eric Holder has a vested interest in prosecuting the pro-life movement, since his wife and sister-in-law rented facilities to Tyrone Cecil Malloy, a Georgia abortionist accused of malpractice, Medicaid fraud, and causing a patient’s death. The Justice Department has intensified the number of cases it is prosecuting under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, something Obama’s Labor nominee, Thomas Perez, boasted about last September. Civil libertarians—and at least one federal judge—wonder if it is not part of a deliberate strategy to silence sidewalk counselors. EMC maintains a perpetual vigil at an abortion facility in South Bronx, Slattery said.
- A Vatican spokesman explained Thursday that atheists are still going to perdition despite Pope Francis’ homily last week that proclaimed all of us, even atheists, were capable of doing good, Worthy News reports. “Doing good,” the pope said, “is a duty . . . that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.” But in an explanatory note, the Rev. Thomas Rosica wrote that Pope Francis didn’t intend to spark a theological debate about the nature of salvation by his homily. Rosica advised his fellow Romans to refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to better understand the Church’s teaching on who will be saved and how. “Christ will judge with the power he has gained as the Redeemer of the world who came to bring salvation to all,” wrote Rosica. “The one Church of Christ . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. Only through this Church can one obtain the fullness of the means of salvation since the Lord has entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone whose head is Peter.” And since all salvation “comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body . . . they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her, or remain in her.” In other words, there is no salvation for anyone, including atheists and Christians of other denominations that are outside of the Roman Catholic Church. In his homily, however, Pope Francis declared that everyone, including atheists, have been redeemed by Christ so that all can work together to do good. “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ,” said Francis. “All of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” Well, perhaps not everyone, at least not according to everyone working in the Vatican.
- Iranian agents closed Iran’s largest Persian-language Pentecostal church Monday, one week after arresting its pastor during worship services, according to Fox News and Worthy News. Apparently the closing of Tehran’s Central Assemblies of God was part of the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on Christians before the presidential election in June to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “These incidents appear to be an attempt to stop worship services from being conducted in Farsi, the language of the majority of Iranians,” George Wood, general superintendent for the Assemblies of God (U.S.), told BosNewsLife, a news service that reports on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Previously on May 21, Iranian authorities abducted Pastor Robert Asserian while he was conducting services; his whereabouts are still unknown. “Before going to the church, authorities raided Pastor Asserian’s home where they confiscated a computer and several books,” Wood told BosNewsLife. “Then, they found Pastor Asserian at the church leading the prayer service, immediately arrested him and announced the church’s imminent closure.” The number of Iranian Christians, many of them converts from Islam, is estimated at only 100,000 in a nation of mostly 75 million shi’a Muslims.
- President Obama’s health care law is under attack in the courts even as the administration sprints toward full implementation, thehill.com reports. Despite surviving a stiff challenge at the Supreme Court last year, some of the law’s biggest provisions remain at risk from legal challenges. One set of lawsuits accuses the Internal Revenue Service of illegally implementing new subsidies to help people buy insurance. Separately, more than 60 lawsuits have been filed challenging the law’s mandate for health plans to cover birth control. A loss for the administration on the contraception mandate would undermine a key selling point for the law that Democrats used to court women in the 2012 elections. The challenge to the law’s insurance subsidies, while more obscure, poses a far bigger and more dangerous threat to the Affordable Care Act.
- Simon Lazarus, senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, has argued that there’s a very real chance the Supreme Court’s conservative majority would strike down the IRS’s approach to insurance subsidies if it gets the chance. Meanwhile, most voters still view President Obama’s national health care law unfavorably, and most still believe that competition will do more than regulation to bring health care prices down, according to a latest Rasmussen poll.
- Leaders of the University of Illinois at Chicago have agreed to hike student fees to help fund sex-change operations, bighealthreport.com reports. On Wednesday, trustees of the public university voted to approve a change in the students’ health insurance plan fee that includes coverage of gender reassignment surgery. The vote was 6-2, with two Republican trustees voting against the change. Students pay the health insurance plan fee unless they have another form of health insurance. The changes approved Wednesday ups the plan’s cost by about $60 per semester. Of that increase, roughly $4.50 a semester—or $9 per year—is designed to cover the costs associated with students who opt for the surgery, said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the campus, in an interview with The College Fix.
- The Supreme Court has refused to consider an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that overturned Indiana’s de-funding of abortion giant Planned Parenthood, reports bighealthreport.com. In 2011 Indiana became the first state to target funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers when its legislature passed a bill, signed into law by then Gov. Mitch Daniels, to cut $3 million in federal Medicaid funding for the abortion business. Planned Parenthood promptly sued to block the law, and in October 2012 a three-judge panel of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came to Planned Parenthood’s defense, upholding a lower court’s ruling that the funding ban violates a federal statute allowing patients in state Medicaid programs to choose their healthcare providers. In its decision the panel returned the case to the lower court, ruling that the Indiana law “excludes a class of providers from Medicaid for reasons unrelated to provider qualifications.” The funding ban has been on hold since 2011, and with the High Court’s May 28 refusal to hear the case, Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit will go back to the lower court for what appears to be a final victory for the abortion giant. Several other states have followed Indiana’s lead in de-funding Planned Parenthood, including Arizona, Florida, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Pro-life leaders speculate that the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case may impact laws in those states as well. Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, applauded the High Court’s decision. “This has been a long fight,” she said, “but one that has been worthwhile because we’ve been fighting on behalf of our patients and their access to lifesaving, preventive care such as Pap tests, breast and testicular exams, birth control, and STD testing and treatment.” Planned Parenthood’s national manager, Cecile Richards, added that the Supreme Court’s refusal “is not only a victory for Planned Parenthood’s patients in Indiana, it is a victory for the nearly three million people who turn to Planned Parenthood health centers each year across the country.”