Police arrested New York City councilman and pastor Fernando Cabrera, a fellow pastor, and five others Jan. 5 on charges of “criminal trespassing,” reports Baptist Press. Their alleged trespass was kneeling and singing two hymns outside the doors of the New York City Law Department. The protest was part of an ongoing effort to overturn the city’s ban against religious groups’ use of public schools for worship services, scheduled to go into effect on Feb. 12. Before they knelt, the seven were standing with more than 50 people holding signs outside the building. Police then held them in custody for three hours. Bill Devlin, pastor of Manhattan Bible Church who was arrested, said the ban assaults freedom of religion and speech. Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, added that the case is based on a fundamental misinterpretation of the Constitution: He argues that forbidding private speech because it’s religious is not protecting the separation of church and state; rather, it suppresses freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Devlin, whose church has 30,000 square feet of space to use, is fighting for the 160 congregations likely to be homeless if the ban isn’t overturned by Feb. 12. Those congregations that need meeting space now pay rent to financially strapped schools. The rationale for banning religious groups’ use of public school space includes the notion that “impressionable children” might think that government is endorsing religious belief. Lorence and Devlin are concerned that the school-use ban will eventually become a broader ban against religious organizations meeting in any state-funded building, including university auditoriums that house worship services of large churches. For example, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York pays rent to hold services at Hunter College. Lorence said the ban reflects an irrational and anti-religion sentiment in New York, one that portrays religion as “dangerous and something that must be kept entirely out of the public square.” He added that the ban suggests that churches and religious groups are “piranhas and parasites,” even though they often house community-friendly ministries to the poor. “Our city is trying to do away with faith,” Lorence said. “We can tolerate everybody but religious viewpoints. That’s pretty scary.”
- About 130 people formerly attended services at Abundant Life Church’s old space in a Brooklyn public-school building. On Sunday, the number nearly tripled to almost 400 in a new location the church was forced by federal courts to find, reports The Wall Street Journal. Abundant Life was one of 160 congregations scrambling to find new homes after a 16-year legal battle over what sorts of religious events can be held in New York City public schools came to an end last month. The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to hear a Bronx church’s appeal of a lower federal court’s ruling allowing the city to bar worship in school buildings. Abundant Life Church found new space about two miles away from its old spot in P.S. 91 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It held its first Sunday service in the Hope Empowerment Center in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. Pastor Karim Camara, a state assemblyman, said hundreds more congregants turned out Sunday to support and celebrate the new location. Mr. Camara said the new space will cost more than the school, but churchgoers have been telling Camara that the new location is better because it’s closer to more subway lines. “It’s a blessing in disguise,” Camara said, adding that there was “a period of uncertainty” before he found the new location. Churches have until Feb. 12 to leave the public-school buildings they rented from the city and find new locations.
- The head of Nigeria’s Christians said Saturday the killing of dozens of faithful in attacks blamed on Islamists suggested “ethnic and religious cleansing” reminiscent of the start of the 1960s civil war, reports Updated News. Christians would “do whatever it takes” to defend themselves, Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said after a meeting of church leaders. More than 30 worshipers have been shot dead in northeast Nigeria since Wednesday, many while praying in churches, after the expiration of an ultimatum by an Islamist sect for Christians to leave the country’s mainly Muslim north. Nigeria’s 160 million people are roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, but followers of both faiths have for years co-existed in the different regions. The escalating attacks, however, have raised fears of reprisals. Eleven worshippers were killed Friday evening at a church in Adamawa’s state capital Yola, and around 20 others were shot dead in Mubi town in the same state. On Thursday evening, gunmen stormed a church in Gombe city and opened fire as worshippers prayed, killing six people, including the pastor’s wife. President Goodluck Jonathan a week ago placed parts of northeast Nigeria under emergency rule in a bid to halt escalating violence after 49 people were killed on Christmas Day. But in fresh attacks over the last few days, the Islamist sect Boko Haram has targetted more Christians and a regional police headquarters.
- Less than a year after the all-American comic book Archie announced it was adding a homosexual character to the cast of Jughead, Veronica, Betty, and the gang, a new issue is hitting newsstands celebrating that character’s same-sex marriage, reports WorldNetDaily. “Life with Archie No. 16″ hits newsstands next week, featuring the same-sex wedding of character Lt. Kevin Keller, an American soldier wounded in Iraq, and Clay Walker, the physical therapist who helped him recover. Archie Comics CEO Jonathan Goldwater told CNN it’s part of a concerted effort to make Archie Andrews’ universe mirror the diversity and complexity of today’s world. News of the same-sex wedding has been glowingly received by several organizations, including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which trumpeted pressing the issue in Archie, long perceived as a more traditional, mid-American comic book. But Peter Spriggs of the Family Research Council told Fox News, “It’s unfortunate that a comic book series usually seen as depicting innocent, all-American life is now being used to advance the sexual revolution. I think whatever boost in sales might come from the novelty or curiosity factors will be more than offset by the number of both kids and parents who will be turned off by this storyline and its obvious social and political agenda.”
- The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in its most significant broadcast indecency case since 1978, and conservative groups are warning the justices that if the television networks win, profanity and nudity will flood TV broadcasts, reports Baptist Press. At issue is whether the Federal Communications Commission has the constitutional authority to set rules governing what is permissible on the airwaves and to fine stations that cross the line. One example is the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident in 2004 and the FCC’s ensuing fine of CBS and CBS stations. Lower courts overruled the fine, and CBS has yet to pay. Meanwhile, onenewsnow.com reports Hollywood took in 4.5 percent less revenue in 2011 than in 2010, selling the least amount of tickets since 1995. Are consumers simply fed up with what Tinseltown has to offer? Dr. Ted Baehr of MovieGuide says it depends on the film in question. “The spin is that people want more R-rated films, but the actual truth of the matter is that there were more R-rated films last year than there were the year before, and there were more than the year before that,” he explains. Two years ago, 44 percent of the films were rated R. Now, 51 percent of films carry that rating. At the same time, however, films that are rated G, PG, and even PG-13 are outperforming the movies for restricted audiences. There was a study out from the Los Angeles Times that 74 percent of the young women [and 58 percent of the young boys] don’t want to see sex, violence, nudity, [or] profanity in films,” Baehr cites. Since “consumers don’t want to see R-rated films,” he wonders who filmmakers are making them for.
- Most parents don’t know that many health organizations and schools are offering websites and texting services to reach adolescents with information about sex, reports onenewsnow.com. Smaller school budgets and other factors have reportedly inspired the creation of sites and services like Sex-Ed Loop or the Planned Parenthood-run text-chat program, ICYC (In Case You’re Curious). These texting and web services provide young users with information on sexual acts, diseases, and contraception. While critics say the information only promotes unsafe sex, advocates claim research proves the contrary. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council says he is troubled by the fact they are set up to elude parental scrutiny. “Even beyond that, these sources of information do not have the kind of oversight that schools might have,” he notes. “Certainly we have problems with some of the sex education that goes on in public schools, but at least there is a certain amount of vetting that takes place there. If their children have their own cell phone with texting capability, or particularly with Internet capability, then I’m not sure they [parents] can protect them,” he laments. To counteract the barrage of risk reduction-only messages, Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association hopes her organization will kick off its own online service by next year.
- Social conservative leader Gary Bauer endorsed Rick Santorum at a campaign event in South Carolina on Saturday, reports The Christian Post. In a Sunday press release, Bauer said, “The main ‘pillars’ of Senator Santorum’s governing philosophy—smaller, constitutionally-based government, lower taxes, a strong and confident American role in the world to keep our nation safe, a commitment to defending America’s families and defending the sanctity of life—is exactly the blueprint to put America back on the right track.” Bauer was previously president of the Family Research Council and helped build that organization into the top advocacy organization and think tank representing social conservatives. Bauer also served in the Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan. Currently he heads Campaign for Working Families and American Values. Bauer was reportedly among the conservative leaders who met in Texas on Saturday to discuss how they might be able to unite behind a single candidate to win the nomination against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Social conservatives are, generally speaking, splitting their votes among former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum. If social conservative voters threw their weight behind one of those three candidates, that candidate would have a better chance of winning the nomination. Romney is said to be not opposed to social conservative positions. He is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage. Many social conservative leaders worry, however, that he would be too soft in promoting those policies in the public square. Santorum lost to Romney in the Iowa caucus by only eight votes. Romney is expected to win Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. Santorum is hoping for a big win in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. Polls show Romney is currently leading there and received the endorsement of the state’s governor, Nikki Haley.
- “Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday will again be observed this year throughout the United States, notes Mission Network News. Johnny Carr with Bethany Christian Services explains, “This year, the fourth Sunday in January, which is the 22nd, is the actual anniversary date of the Roe v. Wade decision–January 22, 1973. The important thing is that we take a Sunday in January and actually bring into focus what it means to talk about Sanctity of life.” Since 1973, more than 15 million unborn children have died in legalized abortions. Abortion denied them the first and most basic of human rights and freedoms, and in their absence, society feels the loss of worth and dignity of an individual. In observing Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, people are not only raising awareness about the issue, but also providing solutions. More than ever, pastors are teaching not just Biblical principle, but also responsibility. “God says, ‘I knew you before I formed you. I have a plan for your life, and it’s a very focused and a very direct plan for your life.’ So we talk about that and bring into focus biblical principles, for churches to be aware of what’s going on.” Heightened social justice awareness means that believers are beginning to respond to the cause. Carr says, “One of the things that we can do is to emphasize the importance of adoption. If a young lady chooses life for her child but she is not able to parent that child, then we need to be there as the church.”