A federal appeals court on Tuesday sided with Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College in a decision related to the ongoing court challenges to the Obama administration’s birth control mandate, reports The Christian Post. The court said it would hold the Obama administration to its promise to never implement the current birth control mandate and to create a new rule by August, as part of the court decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to give it updates every 60 days, beginning in February, until a new rule is issued in August. The lawsuits will be held in abeyance until that time. “There will, the government said, be a different rule for entities like the appellants,” the court wrote, “and we take that as a binding commitment. The government further represented that it would publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the new rule in the first quarter of 2013 and would issue a new Final Rule before August 2013. We take the government at its word and will hold it to it.” Sebelius first issued the rule in January. As part of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” she ruled that employers must cover contraception, sterilization, and some abortifacient drugs in their health care insurance for employees. There is a religious exemption, but the exemption is so narrow that most religious employers, including religious schools, are not exempt. There have been about 40 lawsuits related to the mandate. President Barack Obama has promised to make an accommodation for religious employers, but the only accommodation, thus far, has been a grace period for some religious employers before they will be bound by the mandate. “The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case. “The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road.” Duncan believes the decision is a major victory for opponents of the mandate because HHS is now bound by the court to never implement the mandate in its current form. “This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious nonprofits challenging the mandate,” added Duncan. “The government has now been forced to promise that it will never enforce the current mandate against religious employers like Wheaton and Belmont Abbey and a federal appellate court will hold the government to its word.” However, lifenews.com reports that on Thursday a federal appeals court ruled that the Obama administration can force a Christian-owned-and-operated business, Hobby Lobby, to obey the HHS mandate that compels it to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions for its employees.

Other news:

  • As Christmas approaches, The Christian Post notes the historical roots of Christians in the Middle East, while recognizing just how much the plight of Middle East Christians has deteriorated. Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, inspiring a faith that would spread from Jerusalem to other parts of the Levant, including territories in modern Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt. Christianity flourished as one of the major religions in the Middle East until the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. Despite Muslim domination of the region, Christians comprised an estimated 20 percent of the Middle East population until the early 20th century. Today, however, Christians make up a mere 5 percent of the Middle East and their numbers are fast dwindling. Writing in the Winter 2001 issue of Middle East Quarterly, scholar Daniel Pipes estimated that Middle East Christians would “likely drop to” half of their numbers “by the year 2020” because of declining birth rates, and a pattern of “exclusion, and persecution” leading to emigration. The “Arab Spring” has only worsened conditions for the indigenous Christians of the Middle East. Like the Kurds, Middle East Christians are a stateless minority, struggling to survive in the world’s toughest neighborhood. In Egypt, the fate of Christians lies with Mohammed Morsi, who used to be a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and who has lost no time in trying to introduce Sharia law to Egypt. Home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, Egypt also has the largest Christian population in the Middle East, totaling 8–12 million people. But because Christian Copts make up only about 10–15 percent of Egypt’s estimated 80 million people, they have for decades lived in fear as second-class citizens, subjected to attacks on churches, villages, homes, and shops; mob killings; and the abduction and forced Islamic conversion of Christian women compelled to marry Muslim men. In Lebanon, Christians represent a bigger portion of the population, so their fate is for now less precarious than that of their Egyptian coreligionists, but their long-term prospects are worrisome. In Syria, 2.5 million Christians comprise about 10 percent of the population and enjoyed some protection under the secular and often brutal regimes of the Assad dynasty. But when the Syrian civil war eventually brings down the Assad regime and Alawite rule, the past protection of Christians may be the cause of their future persecution by the next regime. In Iraq, the bloody aftermath of the 2003 invasion demonstrated how dangerous life can become for a Christian minority when a multicultural society in the Middle East explodes into sectarian violence. By 2008, half of the 800,000 Iraqi Christians were estimated to have left, rendering those remaining even more insecure. The Arab Spring threatens to exacerbate matters in much of the Middle East as Islamists now either control the government or influence it enough to persecute Christians with impunity. The one bright spot is the state of Israel, “the only place in the Middle East [where] Christians are really safe,” according to the Vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, Canon Andrew White. Home to Christianity’s holiest sites and to a colorful array of Christian denominations, Israel has the only growing Christian community in the Middle East.
  • If a minor in Belgium would like to end his life, he may soon be able to do it, reports france24.com. Belgium is considering a significant change to its decade-old euthanasia law that would allow minors, along with Alzheimer’s sufferers, to seek permission to die. The proposed changes to the law were submitted to parliament Tuesday by the Socialist party and are likely to be approved by other parties. Belgium was the second country in the world after the Netherlands to legalize euthanasia in 2002, but it applies only to people over the age of 18.
  • A California legal group says a school district may be violating the First Amendment in teaching children yoga related to Hinduism and Eastern mysticism. Parents of children attending Encinitas Union School District say schools are teaching their children Eastern mysticism during physical education. Parents are concerned that the school district is using taxpayer funds to promote Ashtana yoga and Hinduism. The parents expressed their concern during a school board meeting. Dean Broyles is the president of the National Center for Law and Policy. He described how the schools have made the yoga exercise the primary part of their P.E. program. “Unfortunately, in San Diego County, schools have replaced about 60 percent of their P.E. program with Ashtana yoga,” he said. “Ashtana yoga is a deeply religious form of yoga that has its roots and formation in Eastern mysticism, specifically Hinduism.” School officials say they have removed religious practices out of the classroom, but Broyles told OneNewsNow that the yoga incorporates many religious elements. “There have been meditations going on, to our understanding,” he explained. “They’re also being taught to say Hindu sayings to each other, like ‘Namaste,’ which means, loosely translated, ‘The divine in me,’ or acknowledges ‘the divine in you.’ They’ve been drawing mandalas in art class, which is a Hindu symbol; they’ve been doing a lot of the Hindu poses, which are understood to be worship or prayer.” Parents also say they fear their children will not get the physical exercise they need if they opt their children out of the yoga classes. A lawsuit may result.
  • As nationwide mourning over last week’s Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy gives way to debate over how to prevent future incidents, two main subjects have emerged: better gun control vs. better treatment of mental illness. Both sides have vocal advocates. And a recent survey of attitudes toward gun control suggests where evangelicals, Catholics, and other religious groups stand on the issue, reports Christianity Today. In August, Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service surveyed more than 1,000 Americans regarding their attitude toward gun control. Only eight percent of white evangelical Protestants said “stricter gun control laws and enforcement” are the most important solution, whereas 19 percent said “better mental health screening and support.” A plurality (36 percent) chose a third option: “Put more emphasis on God and morality in school and society.” Meanwhile, a plurality (41 percent) of minority Christians favor focusing on gun control, whereas 20 percent favor focusing on mental health. Only 14 percent favor focusing on God and morality. By comparison, 27 percent of all Americans favor focusing on gun control, 22 percent favor focusing on mental health, and 20 percent favor focusing on God and morality. Catholics and the unaffiliated favor focusing on gun control, whereas mainline Protestants favor focusing on mental health.
  • Texas State Rep. Dwayne Bohac has had enough. “If I hear it referred to one more time as a holiday tree or a holiday party, I’m going to throw up,” he told Fox News. So the Republican lawmaker from Houston has introduced legislation to protect traditional Christmas greetings, decorations, and displays in public schools. The bill is appropriately titled “Merry Christmas Bill.” “I’m taking these rulings by the Supreme Court and codifying them in a state law to give teachers and administrators a safe harbor to point to when drafting their policies regarding winter celebrations,” Bohac said. The “Merry Christmas Bill” would afford students and teachers the right to celebrate Christmas on school property with displays including Menorahs, Christmas trees, and Nativity scenes. It would also clarify the right of school districts to use traditional greetings such as “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Happy Holidays” on school grounds. “I think it’s sad that I have to file a bill like this,” Bohac told Fox News. “But because of the censorship going on in our public schools and the fear of litigation teachers live with—I’m trying to provide a measure of protection.” Bohac said he was inspired to introduce the legislation after a conversation he had with his first grade son. His son told him about their classroom’s holiday tree decorated with holiday ornaments. “When I asked what a holiday tree was, he told me it was the same as a Christmas tree,” he said. Bohac said school administrators told him they used the term “holiday” because they were afraid of getting sued. “I think it’s silly that we can’t refer to a Christmas tree as a Christmas tree—that public schools in Texas don’t feel comfortable putting out Nativities,” he said. “They don’t feel comfortable calling a classroom party a Christmas party. It’s time we do something about it and it’s time we put something into Texas state law.”
  • A new study released this week from the widely respected National Bureau of Economic Research has “confirmed beyond question” that the left’s race-baiting attacks on the housing market is directly responsible for imploding the housing market and destroying the economy, reports examiner.com. President George W. Bush went to Congress repeatedly for years warning them that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going to destroy the economy (17 times in 2008 alone). Democrats continuously ignored him, shut down his proposals along party lines and continued raiding the institutions for campaign contributions on their way down. John McCain also co-sponsored urgently critical reforms that would have prevented the housing market collapse, but Democrats shut that down as well, along party lines, and even openly ridiculed anyone who suggested reforms were necessary to protect their taxpayer-funded campaign contributions as the economy raced uncontrollably toward the cliff. No one was making bad loans to unqualified people until Democrats came along and threatened to drag banks into court and have them fined and branded as racists if they didn’t go along with the left’s Affirmative Action lending policies—all while federally insuring their losses. Even The New York Times warned in the late 1990s that Democrats continuing to force banks into lowering their standards would lead to this exact catastrophe. Obama himself is even on the record personally helping sue one lender (Citibank) into lowering its lending standards to include people from extremely poor and unstable areas, which even one of the left’s favorite blatantly partisan “fact-checkers,” Snopes, admits (while pretending to set the record straight).
  • Considered by many as one of the most brilliant legal minds of the 20th century, Judge Robert Bork, 84, whose nomination by Ronald Reagan for Supreme Court Justice changed the court and the nomination process, died of heart disease complications in Virginia this week. His name became a verb: To be “borked” means, as American art critic and social commentator Roger Kimball explained,  to “scruple at nothing in order to discredit and defeat a political figure.” The campaign waged against conservative Bork has never been equaled. “In vitriol, venom, and outright hate, it was obscene,” recalled a report in americanthinker.com. “Bork will be remembered mostly for his nomination fight. But in truth, he had a brilliant mind and was a leading light of the Originalist school of legal scholarship.” Writer John DeMayo commented on lastresistance.com, “If you have never read it, I highly recommend Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline written by one of the greatest legal minds of my generation, the recently deceased Robert Bork. If there was ever a book liberals would sanction burning it is this 1996 Robert Bork thesis examining modern liberalism, radical egalitarianism-individualisms effects on cultural decline in America. Bork really nailed it, spot on!”
  • At a time when the U.S. Postal Service is facing record budget deficits and defaults, they’ve found a number of their employees stealing people’s money through the mail, reports politicaloutcast.com. Recently, two postal workers pleaded guilty of stealing millions of dollars worth of government checks with the help of four others not employed by the USPS. Over 1,300 treasury checks, social security checks, tax refunds, and veteran benefits checks were stolen and cashed using fake IDs. The scheme originated in an Atlanta mail distribution center as reported by the Washington Guardian:  “Gerald Eason, 47, pled guilty to stealing more than 1,300 checks while working at the postal facility. His accomplice, mail handler Deborah Fambro-Echols, 49, has also pled guilty. The two employees pled guilty to conspiracy and theft of government money. Eason pleaded guilty to several other charges including possession of stolen Treasury checks. There’s a wide range of jail time they could be serving. Each charge carries anywhere from five to 30 years in prison.” The USPS’s Office of Inspector General tried to downplay the theft ring: “Eason and Fambro-Echols reflect just a very small percentage of employees who failed to uphold the trust and integrity placed in them. The majority of Postal Service employees are honest, hardworking, and committed to providing the timely and reliable service that customers expect and deserve.” But these two weren’t the only ones guilty of theft. They’re two of 171 employees that were arrested for theft just between April and September of this year.