A new pastor, James Darnell, at St. John United Church of Christ in the eastern Missouri town of St. Clair doesn’t play softball, but members of his church do. Or at least they did until their pastor’s bisexuality prompted a boycott within their church league, reports nydailynews.com. When pastors at three of the churches in the league found out about Darnell, they decided their teams wouldn’t take the field against the team from Darnell’s church, saying the pastor’s lifestyle goes against their Christian beliefs. “It certainly is very upsetting, especially in , that this is an issue,” Darnell said in response Wednesday. “It’s very disappointing but quite frankly not too surprising given the nature of this community—it’s a pretty conservative area.” Many consider the United Church of Christ the most liberal denomination in America.
- Could the Ten Commandments be reduced to six? a federal judge asked Monday. Would that neutralize the religious overtones of a commandments display that has the Giles County (Va.) School Board in legal hot water? That unorthodox suggestion was made by Judge Michael Urbanski during oral arguments over whether the display amounts to a governmental endorsement of religion, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by a student at Narrows High School, reports roanoke.com. After raising many pointed questions about whether the commandments pass legal muster, the judge referred the case to mediation000with a suggestion: Remove the first four commandments, which are clearly religious in nature, and leave the remaining six, which make more secular commands, such as do not kill or steal. Ever since the lawsuit was filed in September amid heated community reaction, school officials have said the display is not religious because it also includes historical documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. “If indeed this issue is not about God, why wouldn’t it make sense for Giles County to say, ‘Let’s go back and just post the bottom six?'” Urbanski asked during a motions hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke. “But if it’s really about God, then they wouldn’t be willing to do that.”
- The Alliance Defense Fund will appeal a federal appeals court ruling striking down a New York town’s prayer policy. Greece, N.Y., opens public meetings with prayer predominantly from Christian clergy because the town is mostly Christian. They are invited through a random selection process of clergy within the town’s borders. But while upholding the prayer policy, the Second U.S. Court of Appeals has instructed the town to search other cities and invite non-Christians to lead the prayers so that people who are not Christian will not “feel like outsiders.” ADF attorney Joel Oster told OneNewsNow that prayers have been offered according to the “conscience of the speaker” since the U.S. was founded. “There is no legal reason why a town cannot engage in this practice today with people from within its own community,” he asserts. “The district court rightly affirmed the constitutionality of the town’s policy, and we will appeal the Second Circuit’s decision. Secularist groups cannot be allowed to force local governments to engage in strange hoops and hurdles that effectively eliminate prayers by making them too difficult to take place.” The lawsuit against Greece was filed by the liberal Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of two residents who objected to the prayers.
- A controversial sign at a Catholic church has prompted violent threats from critics. The staff at St. Francis Xavier in Acushnet, Mass., says police are watching the property after someone called and threatened to burn the church down, reports wtsp.com. The dispute started when a sign was put up, saying, “Two men are friends, not spouses.” The head of pastoral services put it up because “he thought it’d be a good chance to make sure everyone knew where the Catholic Church stands on the issue of same sex marriage,” explains Monsignor Gerard O’Connor. He says it was a response to President Obama going public with his support of gay marriage. “That’s what the church teaches,” says O’Connor.” We understand people disagree with us, but we do it out of love. We never said we hate anybody.”
- Amid the ongoing debate over President Obama’s support of gay marriage and following North Carolina’s recent ban of it, Virginia’s House of Delegates voted to deny a judicial nomination to Tracy Thorne-Begland, who would have become the state’s first openly gay judge, reports The Atlantic Wire. Thorne-Begland received 33 “yes” votes to 31 “nays,” in a vote held in the early hours on Tuesday morning, but needed a 51-vote majority of all the House delegates to be approved. All 31 nay votes came from Republicans, who claimed that Thorne-Begland’s lifestyle and support for gay causes would make it impossible for him to be impartial.
- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on Wednesday heard a case that has implications for religious freedom on campus, reports charismanews.com. Liberty Counsel is representing Child Evangelism Fellowship of Minnesota, the sponsor of Good News Clubs, against Minneapolis Special School District No. 1 for unfairly denying equal access and opportunity to after-school programs. CEF has been an approved member of the Minnesota Public Schools Community Partners since 2000 and participated in the after-school program from 2005 to 2009. In 2009, a school employee determined to revoke CEF’s after-school program because the Good News Club included prayer and “proselytizing.” “The law is crystal clear,” says Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, who presented oral argument on Wednesday before a panel of three judges. “Christian or other religious viewpoints are constitutionally protected. Public schools must provide equal access for Christian viewpoints and Christian clubs.” The district concedes that all 242 members of the Community Partners are private speakers, not government or school speakers. Community Partners are allowed some access after school. From this group, the district invites groups for preferred or additional access opportunities. Included in these 40 or more groups are the Scouts. The district also concedes that the Good New Club and the Scouts address character development, morals, and respect, but it claims Good News Club is different because of prayer and religious perspective. The district court sided with the school district, citing to the Supreme Court case of Good News Club v. Milford, but, according to Liberty Counsel, erroneously relied on Justice Stevens’ opinion as “concurrence,” when in fact it was a “dissent” that was explicitly rejected by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, along with every federal court to consider Good News Clubs, has ruled that Good News Clubs must be provided the same access provided to the Scouts. These courts, including the Supreme Court, have ruled that prayer and proselytizing are protected religious viewpoints. As the Court held in Good News Club v. Milford, “speech discussing otherwise permissible subjects cannot be excluded from a limited public forum on the grounds that the subject is discussed from a religious viewpoint.” “There is no constitutional basis to discriminate between Good News Clubs and the Scouts or other similar groups that address similar subject matters,” Staver says. “The First Amendment is a benefit, not a disability. Private speech endorsing religion is fully protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.”
- Dozens of faculty and staff at a Georgian Christian academic institute are resigning over a statement from school officials in which employees must pledge to refrain from activities including drug use, alcohol, adultery, and homosexuality. Known as the “personal lifestyle statement,” around 50 members of the faculty and staff at Shorter University based in Rome, Ga., have chosen to resign rather than renew their contracts at the private school. Dr. J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, which Shorter is a part of, told The Christian Post that the “lifestyle statement” is consistent with the convention’s position. “We have not taken a specific position related to the ‘lifestyle statement,'” said White, “but the history of our convention, which goes back to 1822, has approved many resolutions regarding homosexuality as a sin and alcohol use as ill-advised.” Despite the outcry from some faculty and staff regarding the statement, White did not believe the measure would be overturned.
- The recently released immigration file for Barack Obama Sr. indicates the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had doubts he and Obama’s mother were married, reports WorldNetDaily. While Ann Dunham may have sought Obama Sr. as her husband and the father of her child, the record suggests the two never lived together as a married couple. The INS file shows that Barack Obama Sr. was not faithful to Dunham, even when the two were in Hawaii at the same time. Instead, the documentation supports the conclusion that Obama Sr. and Dunham took part in a sham marriage that the Kenyan student thought might help him extend his visa and remain in the United States to continue his education.
- This past January, President Barack Obama announced his contraceptive mandate that would require all employers to obtain health insurance that would provide coverage for contraceptives, abortion drugs, and sterilization and offer it to all of their employees. The mandate was written in such a way that even religious institutions (churches, schools, ministries) would be required to furnish the controversial coverage even if it violated their religious faith. In their attempt to appease the outrage and backlash from Catholic and Protestant organizations, the Obama administration provided a religious exemption. However, the feds’ religious exemption was so tightly written that many religious institutions including colleges, universities, schools, and ministers would not be able to qualify for it. Arizona State Rep. Debbie Lasko and State Sen. Nancy Barto reintroduced HB 2625 into the Arizona legislature this year to help protect the religious freedom of a number of organizations within the state. HB 2625 broadens the religious exemption to include “any organization whose articles of incorporation state a religious motivation and whose religious beliefs play a significant role in its operations.” As Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law last week, reports godfatherpolitics.com, she said, “In its final form, this bill is about nothing more than preserving the religious freedom to which we are all Constitutionally-entitled.” Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, responded to Gov. Brewer’s signing of the bill by saying, “We’re absolutely thrilled that Gov. Brewer signed this important religious liberty legislation after many years of battling over this issue in Arizona and now across the country.” “It’s also a very good time to unite with people of other faiths on this bedrock issue. If we don’t do it now, we’re going to see much more serious erosion.”
- For three days an unidentified mob set fire to homes and vehicles in a predominantly Christian neighborhood in the Moluccas as dozens of families fled in fear of suspected Islamists, reports Worthy News. The violence began last week on Pattimura Day, commemorating Indonesian hero Thomas Matulessy, whose birthplace is contested by Christians and Muslims. That night, unknown assailants attacked a candlelight vigil in Saparua village, injuring 44 people. Although General Saud Usman Nasution said the violence was caused by radical movements, he somehow ruled out any involvement of Islamic terrorists. From 1999 to 2001 a war raged between Christians and Muslims in the Moluccas; there were thousands of victims as hundreds of churches and mosques were destroyed, resulting in nearly half a million refugees. In February 2002, a truce was signed in Malino, South Sulawesi, stopping the violence via a government sponsored peace plan, but sporadic violence between Christians and Muslims continues to erupt.
- A government crackdown on churches in southern Laos is spreading to a new district with the brief detention of two “prominent pastors” for alleged unauthorized worship and their involvement in evangelism and an order take down crosses, representatives told Worthy News. Authorities summoned Pastors Bounlerd and Adang to the police headquarters in Phin District of Savannakhet province on Friday, May 11, said the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom, which has close contacts with local Christians. Christians in the area often use one name. During the meeting at police headquarters, district authorities interrogated Pastor Bounlerd of Alowmai Church and Pastor Adang of Kengsainoi Church on several issues, including their involvement in house churches, HRWLRF explained. “Authorities questioned whether the three houses, located in the villages of Alowmai, Kengsainoi and Kapang are being used for worship meetings and whether they have obtained official approval for religious gatherings,” added HRWLRF.