Photo by Alliance Defense Fund

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a former Eastern Michigan University student has the right to present her religious discrimination suit to a federal jury, reports Christianity Today. Julea Ward was expelled  from the university’s graduate counseling program in 2009 after she asked her superiors to refer a gay client to another counselor. She said her Christian faith prevented her from affirming the homosexual lifestyle, but that she would be willing to counsel gays and lesbians on other issues. In 2010, CT reported that a district court judge had ruled in Eastern Michigan’s favor, arguing the university has “a rational basis for requiring its students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values.” Friday’s decision from the Sixth Circuit sends the case back to that court and gives Ward the chance to present her case before a jury. In its opinion, the Sixth Circuit clarified that the fact that Ward asked to refer her client to someone else is what separates her case from a similar case in the 11th Circuit. In December, the 11th Circuit upheld a ruling in favor of a Georgia university that insisted a graduate counseling student keep her beliefs about homosexuality private. Jennifer Keeton sued Augusta State University in July 2010 for violating her First Amendment rights after she was put on a remediation plan in order to comply with the counseling program’s guidelines regarding homosexual clients. A federal court ruled in Augusta State’s favor, saying the university only wanted Keeton to learn to not let her personal views affect her counseling services to gay and lesbian clients, in compliance with the ACA’s code of ethics. Keeton had expressed intent to use conversion therapy on her gay or lesbian clients, whereas Ward planned to refer them to other counselors.

Other news:

  • Chuck Colson has come out warning that the Obama administration is restricting religious freedom, reports The Christian Post. Said Colson, “I warned you that the Supreme Court’s decision to grant religious groups a ‘ministerial exception’ in hiring, while important, does nothing to halt the Obama Administration’s relentless crusade to restrict religious freedom. Just Friday, the Administration announced it would not expand exemptions for religiously affiliated organizations when it comes to insurance. So, a Catholic hospital, for instance, will be forced to purchase insurance for its employees that would provide free contraception and sterilization services. Now, in case you didn’t know, the Catholic Church teaches that using artificial contraception or undergoing sterilization are grave sins. . . . Which of our religious convictions will we be forced to abandon one day? Will our religiously affiliated groups be forced to hire people who oppose our faith? Will the government force a curriculum upon our schools and homeschoolers?” In other news,  Shaun Casey, the religious affairs adviser to presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, said at a discussion on Tuesday about “God and Politics” that the demise of religious society in the United States is a good thing, reports “I, frankly, am glad American civil religion is dying,” said Casey, who is an associate professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
  • Atheists are using a music video that celebrates the burning of churches and synagogues to promote an upcoming atheist-themed festival at Fort Bragg. “Rock Beyond Belief” is scheduled to be held on the parade field at Fort Bragg in March. The event was created in part as a response to a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association event that was held last year. Justin Griffith, who organized “Rock Beyond Belief,” said he was personally offended that a Christian evangelical event like “Rock the Fort” was held on the base. “We felt it was entirely inappropriate for anyone to say your current religion is wrong,” Griffith told Fox News & Commentary. “We view all soldiers as already spiritually complete. Whatever their current religious preference is has no bearing on how fit they are as a soldier or anything related to military business.” Griffith confirmed the lineup includes atheist speakers, a rapper who raps about evolution, and a “kiddy pool” where boys and girls will be able to scientifically walk on water. There will also be a number of bands performing, the most famous of which is Aiden. They are featured in a video on the “Rock Beyond Belief” website that includes images of burning churches and bloody crosses.
  • For 25 years, math teacher Bradley Johnson at Poway High School near San Diego took advantage of a 30-year school policy and hung patriotic posters with sayings such as “God bless America” in his classroom. Then school officials ordered Johnson to take down the banners, even though other teachers were allowed to keep anti-religious slogans such as John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Buddhist prayer flags, and images of Black Muslim leader Malcolm X. So he went to court, and now the case is on its way to the highest court, reports WorldNetDaily. Poway officials told Johnson that his banners violated the establishment clause of the Constitution because they advocated a “Judeo-Christian worldview.” Johnson pointed to what other teachers displayed, but the district dismissed his concerns. Thomas More Law Center represented Johnson, and he won the first round in California federal district court, where Judge Robert Benitez said the teacher was within his First Amendment rights. Benitez extolled the virtues of education while concluding Johnson doesn’t lose his liberties after walking through the school house doors. “May a school district censor a high school teacher’s expression because it refers to Judeo-Christian views while allowing other teachers to express views on a number of controversial subjects, including religion and anti-religion? On undisputed evidence, this Court holds that it may not,” Benitez wrote.
  • Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is encouraging Christian voters studying the candidates to pay attention to how they talk about God and the Bible, reports The Christian Post. “We’re hearing from some of the candidates today [about] what they believe and what they care about. We should take that seriously,” he said ahead of the debate held Thursday night in Florida. “If they don’t ever get around to talking about the Lord and about biblical principles and about their determination to defend those things in the culture, then we better find another candidate.” Notably, Dobson interviewed Rick Santorum on his radio ministry Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk in December, during which Santorum and his wife, Karen, did not discuss politics but talked extensively about their faith and how their disabled daughter shaped the former Pennsylvania senator’s pro-life beliefs. The stakes in the presidential election are high for evangelicals and Christian leaders who fear the incursions of the health care reform law and disagree with President Barack Obama’s positions on same-sex marriage and abortion. Several influential evangelicals and Christian leaders have endorsed Santorum as the most consistent social conservative. Dobson, who told listeners Thursday that he is not endorsing a political candidate, praised Santorum during his December interview for “standing up for righteousness.” He told listeners there is no such thing as 100 percent certainty when picking a candidate, and urged them to pray for whoever Americans select.
  • A New York State Senate committee has stepped in on behalf of churches that soon will not be allowed to meet in public schools in New York City. Sponsored by assistant Senate Majority Whip Martin J. Golden, the bill would “prevent school districts from excluding groups from meeting on school property because of the religious content or viewpoint of their speech, including allowing religious worship services.” If S6087A, approved by the committee Jan. 24, does not pass, New York City would become the first major city nationwide to ban churches from meeting in public schools.  In December, the New York Department of Education told about 60 churches they have until Feb. 12 to find alternative meeting spaces. Several peaceful demonstrations protesting the policy have taken place. Ray Parascando, pastor of Crossroads Church in Staten Island, N.Y., which has met in a public school for four years, commended the Senate committee for moving the bill forward. “It shows that it’s not isolated to churches and pastors that think this is unconstitutional,” he told Baptist Press. “It shows that local elected leaders, regardless of their spiritual affiliations, think this is unfair.”
  • The church-made film Courageous is once again surprising the pundits, thanks to strong DVD sales that have made it the No. 1-selling DVD nationwide, reports Baptist Press. Made by Sherwood Baptist Church, Albany, Ga., Courageous was the top-selling DVD for the week ending Jan. 22, according to Nielsen. With a budget of only $1 million—pennies by Hollywood standards—Courageous, grossing $34.3 million, bested several movies with much larger budgets: No. 2. Ides of March ($37 million budget), No. 3 Abduction ($35 million) and No. 4 Moneyball ($50 million). Each film by Sherwood Baptist has grossed more than its predecessor. The church, which gets only a portion of the total gross, also made Fireproof (2008) and Facing the Giants (2006). The movie follows the story of five men—four of them police officers—as they strive to become better fathers.
  • Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell challenged Alaskans to “build a culture of life” by supporting adoptions, caring for women who find themselves in crisis pregnancy situations, and working to enact pro-life legislation, reports He spoke Jan. 20 at the State Capitol in Juneau during a rally to mark the 39th year since the U.S. Supreme Court Decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. In a written transcript of Treadwell’s speech he described the pro-life movement as an “equal rights movement” on par with the historic fight to end slavery in the 1860s. He also compared the movement to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He noted that more than 55,000 Alaskans have been aborted in the past three decades. “As a citizen of this state and nation, I’ll say it right now—I’d like to see the day when the government entirely ceases to fund abortion,” Treadwell said. “We do so much to protect life—from seatbelts in our cars, EMT’s in our firehouses, support for our hospitals, search and rescue, air traffic controllers, firemen and policemen and much, much more. We do all that, and then, do just the opposite for the unborn.”
  • The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force held its first “Creating Change Lobby Day” on Capitol Hill on Thursday, where activists met with lawmakers to call for legislation to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, reports Other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the Service Employees International Union also joined the Task Force to advocate for employment nondiscrimination, pay equity, anti-bullying, and safe school laws for the LGBT community. As part of the NGLTF’s “24th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change,” the activists started with a “training session” in Baltimore, Md., before being bused to the nation’s capitol to lobby Congress.
  • A jury on Sunday found an Afghan father, his wife, and their son guilty of killing three teenage sisters and a co-wife in what the judge described as “cold-blooded, shameful murders” resulting from a “twisted concept of honor,” reports The jury took 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. After the verdict was read, the three defendants again declared their innocence in the killings of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia’s childless first wife in a polygamous marriage. Their bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home to Montreal from Niagara Falls, Ontario. Prosecutors said the defendants allegedly killed the three teenage sisters because they dishonored the family by defying its disciplinarian rules on dress, dating, socializing, and going online. Shafia’s first wife was living with him and his second wife. The polygamous relationship, if revealed, could have resulted in their deportation. The prosecution alleged it was a case of premeditated murder, staged to look like an accident after it was carried out.
  • A bill has been introduced by Congressman Lamar “SOPA” Smith of Texas. This bill, if passed, will create a national database, reports By law, every employer will have to submit the applicant’s name and Social Security number into this database. The database will then tell the employer if it is legal to hire this person. Writer Gary North says, “This is an assault on our liberty by the federal government. If passed, it will be an extension of the National ID card that the Department of Homeland Security will impose on the states in less than one year. The DHS will also enforce this law, if passed. It’s a back-door ID card, despite official denials. This bill, if passed, will add another layer of regulation on small businesses. With 8.6% unemployment, we do not need more regulation of business. It would slow down hiring. That is not what desperate unemployed people need. They want work now. Why is it the federal government’s task to decide who gets hired?”
  • North Korea has threatened to punish anyone using a cell phone as a war criminal, reports Reports from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea indicate that the threat of famine is forcing more and more people to flee the country into South Korea, where an estimated 23,000 defectors are already located. North Korea has long relied on a total restriction of information to maintain control over its isolated citizenry, and in this crucial time of transition between Kim Jong Il and his successor, Kim Jong Un, it appears that the state is clamping down even tighter than usual for fear that information about uprisings like the Arab Spring could trigger unrest, or that outside communication could assist anybody attempting to flee the country.
  • Recent gestures by Burma’s political leadership offer a glimpse of optimism for future reform, reports Christianity Today. Still, many Burmese remain cautious as fighting continues in ethnic minority regions where most of the country’s Christians are located. The nation’s military-backed leadership reached a cease-fire agreement in January with a major ethnic Karen army and freed hundreds of political prisoners. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released last year from 15 years of house arrest, plans to run in a parliamentary election in April. “You can see evidences of people being joyful,” said Vision Beyond Borders founder Patrick Klein, who has seen photos of Suu Kyi on billboards and t-shirts and businesses opening in Burma. “Because so much of the world is watching Burma, it’s going to be a lot harder to have a sham election.” Since 1999, the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom report has listed Burma, which now calls itself Myanmar, as a “country of particular concern,” one of a handful of countries that “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”