Christian and pro-life groups are decrying President Obama’s order that health care plans must cover abortion-causing drugs and that everyone receive free birth control, notes Baptist Press. The Department of Health and Human Services did make one concession: It will grant an extra year for compliance with the rule to nonprofit employers who presently refuse to cover contraceptives in their insurance plan because of their religious beliefs. Those employers will have until Aug. 1, 2013, to abide by the requirement. The rule goes into effect Aug. 1 of this year for most other health plans. Pro-life and religious freedom advocates found no solace in the one-year delay. Friday’s announcement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius followed months of protests against an interim final rule issued Aug. 1 2011. Under that guideline, HHS said the controversial 2010 health-care reform law—titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but dubbed “Obamacare” by its critics—would require health plans and insurers to provide no-cost coverage of FDA-endorsed contraceptives, including ones like “ella” and Plan B that have the ability to cause abortions, and the intrauterine device. Sebelius said Friday she believes HHS’ approach “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” but critics of the rule and the religious exemption did not agree, saying the religious exemption provided in the rule will not protect the conscience rights of such faith-based organizations as schools, hospitals, social service programs, and some churches. “This is bad news for freedom of conscience and for respect for the freedom of religion protections guaranteed in the American Constitution,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Secretary Sebelius is stating that people who have religious convictions against contraceptives or particular types of contraceptives that are abortifacients will have a one-year reprieve before they will be forced to pay for health insurance for that which they find unconscionable. It’s analogous to giving a man on death row a one-year stay of execution. You can follow your conscience for one more year,” Land said. “This is outrageous. And I am sure it will lead many people to hope and to pray that there will be a new secretary of Health and Human Services and a new administration to provide a reprieve from this squelching of conscience before the deadline arrives.”

Other news:

  • A newly appointed state director of an atheist activist group said he will fight two national Christian-based organizations for what he alleges to be proselytizing at public schools while “targeting the impressionable minds of our children.” Al Stefanelli, former president of United Atheist Front and currently the Georgia state director for American Atheists, Inc., said he will take action against Child Evangelism Fellowship and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes this year. Both groups conduct after-school and break-time activities on school campuses throughout the United States with the approval of school officials. When asked by The Christian Post as to what actions he would take, Stefanelli said, “I cannot get into specifics at this time, as we are still in the planning/strategizing stages. You can be confident that we will, as always, operate within the law, using peaceful means.” Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund says that First Amendment rights protect Christian groups as well. “Just as atheists are free to challenge any government action they believe is improper, the Alliance Defense Fund has the same right to oppose them and to stand with those who believe free speech is for everyone, including Christians,” says ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The U.S. Constitution permits religious tracts and fliers to be distributed at school by students or by outside groups if the school has opened a forum for such materials. While certain atheists may not like the freedoms that the Constitution grants, they certainly have no problem taking advantage of them,” Cortman says. He added, “ADF will be on the lookout for any attempts by atheists who use threats of litigation to bully schools into conforming to an anti-religious agenda.” A spokeswoman for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes says her group is aware of Stefanelli’s plans to target the organization and provided CP with a statement about ministry access in public schools.
  • Some Christians are hoping that New York City’s ban on churches meeting in school buildings will end up having positive results, reports Baptist Press. “I personally believe this is the beginning of great things that God wants to do in New York. I think this is not a setback. This is a major opportunity for the church to strengthen within as people kind of rally together and depend on God like never before and to renew and reignite our passion to reach the city like never before,” said Ray Parascando, pastor of Crossroads Church, Staten Island, N.Y. Effective Feb. 12, the New York City Department of Education is banning the use of public schools by religious organizations, citing a need to protect the minds of “impressionable youth.” The ban on churches meeting in schools, Parascando said, is a bad idea in several ways. For one, it’s unconstitutional. “You can’t say that a soccer team can use the school but a church can’t. You can’t say Girl Scouts can meet there but the church can’t. It’s unconstitutional to single out one group over another,” he said. “If it was done to any other faith—for example if this was happening to Muslims—this would be a major national issue. There would be major pushback on it,” Parascando said. Further, he says a New York Times opinion piece contained misinformation when the writer portrayed churches as using public schools for free. In reality, churches pay between $1,500 and $2,000 per month to meet in schools. “Economically, it doesn’t make sense for the city of New York to do this,” Parascando said. “They cry about their lack of budget to pay teachers. They cut the custodial budget every year. . . . This is bringing money into the system.” More importantly, the pastor said, New York’s ban sends a message that this sort of regulation is acceptable. He fears that this will serve as a precedent for further restricting churches’ access to public facilities as well as for school boards in other states adopting the rule for their districts.
  • Some 98,000 federal workers, including those in Congress, the postal service, military, and the executive branch, owed $1.3 billion in back taxes in 2010, reports While the number of employees owing back taxes dropped from 2009, the amount owed was up by $32 million, according to The Washington Post’s blog Federal Eye. Congressional Republicans have introduced legislation that would authorize the firing of employees owing taxes under certain circumstances. However, those in Congress are not immune. According to IRS statistics, about 4 percent—or 684 employees—of the 18,000 congressional staffers, are in arrears, owing $10.6 million, The Post reports. Of the 1,800 workers in the Executive Office of the President, just 36 employees out of 1,800, or 2 percent, owe just over $800,000. Civilian employees of the Defense Department were the worst, with some 25,000 owing $225 million, and of those in the military, 2 percent of active duty and 2 percent of reservists owed nearly $340 million, according to The Post. Over at the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, less than 1 percent owed back taxes. Comparatively, Americans in general were $114.2 billion in arrears, according to The Post.
  • Louisiana is the most pro-life state in the country, according to the latest rankings by Americans United for Life, reports Baptist Press. It was the second time in three years that Louisiana has held the top spot on a list based on the states’ policies on life issues such as abortion and physician-assisted suicide. Last year Louisiana was the runner-up to Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Americans United for Life ranked Washington, California, and Hawaii as the three “least life-affirming states” for the third consecutive year. Released Jan. 19, AUL’s seventh annual ratings show these states in the top 10 behind Louisiana: (2) Oklahoma, (3) Pennsylvania, (4) Nebraska, (5) Arkansas, (6) Missouri, (7) Texas, (8) South Dakota, (9) North Dakota, and ( 10) Indiana. Joining Washington, California, and Hawaii in the bottom 10 were (41) Nevada, (42) Connecticut, (43) New Jersey, (44) New York, (45) Oregon, (46) Montana, and (47) Vermont. The most-improved states, according to AUL, were Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, and Utah. It was a record-breaking year for state regulations of abortion. AUL reports that more than 70 “life-affirming, abortion-related” bills were enacted. Earlier this month, the Guttmacher Institute said states adopted 92 restrictions on abortion, far surpassing the previous high of 34. In all, 47 states considered more than 460 abortion-related proposals, according to AUL. The rankings show “tremendous gains in defending life in law,” said Charmaine Yoest, AUL’s president.
  • Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund asked a federal court Tuesday to halt a Maricopa Community College policy that puts what they call unconstitutional burdens on visitors, if they wish to engage in free speech on the Arizona system’s campuses, reports The motion stems from a Dec. 29 lawsuit in which ADF attorneys argued that charging fees, requiring an insurance payment, and demanding a two-week advance notice is unconstitutional. The lawsuit arose after Mesa resident Ryan Arneson was unable to express his Christian beliefs on the campus of South Mountain Community College because of the college system’s burdensome requirements, ADF attorneys said in a statement. “Free speech is protected by the First Amendment, which means it can’t come with a price tag and a burdensome waiting period,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “Christians visiting public college campuses shouldn’t be deterred from expressing their beliefs because of cumbersome, unconstitutional policies.” The policy requires private individuals and groups alike to pay a minimum $50 fee, pay for insurance and submit a request form and proof of insurance 14 days prior to visiting campus. The motion for preliminary injunction filed Tuesday asks the court to suspend the MCC policy while the lawsuit moves forward.
  • A pastor who was threatened with arrest for handing out gospel literature on the campus of a Minnesota college will be allowed to return to campus after WorldNetDaily asked the school for a comment on the dispute. Pastor John Chisham, a campus leader for Change Collegian Network, told WND he had been ticketed for handing out gospel tracts and business cards and issued a “trespass order” telling him to stay off the campus of school. Officials at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn., were contacted by WND for comment, and university security official Michael Munford declined to speak about the issue. Another official, Bill Molso, told WND there was no conflict, insisting the pastor was just issued a citation for violating a policy on “advertising.” He also said Chisham was not banned from campus. Munford reached out to Chisham within just a few minutes of WND’s inquiry, and the pastor then reported that Munford “has agreed to allow the pastor and a co-leader back on campus with the stipulation that [his group] will not hand out any material that has not been approved.” He continued, “When material is approved, CCNSMSU will be given a time, place, and location where the ministry is allowed to hand out the material. CCNSMSU will be free, according to the verbal agreement, to return to campus and have open and free discussions with any student willing to participate. “This is not the ideal solution we were searching for, which is the free distribution without restriction of gospel literature,” Chisham said. “But it does get us back on the campus immediately. We are praying for more student leadership and involvement so that they can take up the mantle and evangelize their campus freely.”
  • In one of the lesser-known manipulations of U.S. law to advance the pro-abortion agenda, the president’s Department of Justice has for several years been availing itself of a statute originally written to stop violence to instead seek massive fines and injunctions against peaceful pro-life advocates who offer alternatives to women on public sidewalks, reports The Christian Post. But this politicization of the law in favor of abortion yielded a mixed record this past week. In Holder v. Pine, the U.S. Attorney General brought a legal attack against Mary Pine of West Palm Beach, Fla., a pro-life advocate. Pine’s alleged federal offense is that she “offer[s] information and literature about ‘life-affirming’ alternatives to abortion” to people entering and leaving abortion centers. One single time, according to the Attorney General’s complaint, Pine approached a car entering the abortion facility driveway that crosses the sidewalk, and she slightly, momentarily, may (or may not) have been there before the car was, so that the Department of Justice claims she blocked the car. But she “immediately” walked to the car’s side, where the participants talked to her at length, wanting to hear her message. The very next day, several DOJ representatives were at the abortion center to “investigate.” The abortion center keeps a video camera running, yet the DOJ agents decided not to copy the video, and instead let it be destroyed. The judge called this “rather curious” and “hard to believe,” making him wonder “whether this action was the product of a concerted effort between the government and the PWC, which began well before the date of the incident at issue, to quell Ms. Pine’s activities.” Pine’s attorneys with the pro-life firm Liberty Counsel filed a motion for summary judgment, which the federal court granted last week. The judge declared that the DOJ had failed to follow the law in stretching the text of it to cover this “innocuous incident,” and that no jury could find that Pine had the required motive, actual obstructing activity, and actual interference with someone getting an abortion, as the law requires. The Court rejected the Obama administration’s contention that merely wanting to convince people to choose life instead of abortion qualifies as an illegal motive to “obstruct” abortion under FACE, and ruled instead the First Amendment thoroughly protects Pine’s desire.
  • The Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, a think-tank organization dedicated to helping Christians understand and witness to those of other religions, has come up with a program that includes DVDs and a workbook designed to help ex-Mormons more easily transition to Christianity. The United States is currently in what some have called the Mormon Moment, a time when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is gaining attention due, in part, to the popularity of Mormon celebrities and politicians. However, nearly 70,000 people left the Mormon Church in the U.S. in 2007, according to the Mormon Social Science Association via the first Transitions DVD. Some of those thousands have turned to Christianity, which is why WIIS created Transitions: The Mormon Migration from Religion to Relationship, a six-part program that helps “immigrants” to Christianity address both personal and doctrinal issues. “We created Transitions with the needs of the transitioner in mind, first and foremost. . . . It’s a resource that helps them address all of those issues so they can successfully immigrate into more traditional forms of Christianity,” John Morehead, director of WIIS, told The Christian Post.
  • For most Americans, the day the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court handed down its decision was a day to mourn the loss of tens of millions of unborn children, lost to a world that values choice over compassion. It was a day to mourn the damage abortion does to women—the medical problems, the mental health issues, the damaging of relationships with friends and family, and the destruction of relationships with God, says However, President Barack Obama released a statement celebrating the Roe vs. Wade decision that allowed for 54 million abortions. LifeNews says, “Obama has done everything in his power to advance abortion and continue that pro-abortion legacy of the Supreme Court, including naming two more pro-abortion jurists in Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. He has also expanded that 54 million abortions by authorizing abortion funding in various instances and decreasing funds for abstinence education.”
  • National Marriage Week USA (Feb. 7–14) is growing fast in just its third year, says ChristianNewsWire. For one week each year, thousands of marriage classes are offered across the nation and collaborative efforts are built, all in an effort to strengthen marriages, reduce divorce, and increase the marriage rate, which in turn curtails poverty, benefits children, and builds financial stability for the U.S. and for individuals. “Rebuilding our economy is tied to rebuilding marriages,” said Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week USA. “Taxpayers spend at least $112 billion a year for divorce and unwed childbearing. Marriage brings vastly more financial stability to individuals,” she continued. “The economic cost of marriage breakdown is huge—only one example is prisons. Most prisoners come from broken homes or have grown up without a father in their lives. In 2009, California judges ordered the state to release 27 percent of its prisoners due to overcrowding,” Weber continued. “And women and children are more likely to become impoverished through divorce. Research shows that virtually all of the growth in child poverty in the United States since 1970 can be attributed to the nation’s retreat from marriage.”