Could you imagine going to jail for your faith? A recent report warns that it could happen, according to CBN News, which investigated the growing wave of hostility to Christianity in America that’s led to hundreds of court cases. Angela Hildenbrand was cited as one example. She faced the very real possibility of going to jail for her faith. The trouble began when a federal judge ruled that no one at her Texas high school could pray or even use words like “prayer” or “amen” during the 2011 graduation ceremonies. As class valedictorian, Hildenbrand felt God deserved the praise, even if it meant jail for her. “I was definitely preparing myself to have to make that sort of tough decision and mentally prepare myself for what well could be coming next,” she told CBN News. Hildenbrand’s case is just one of more than 640 cases of religious hostility cited in a new report by the Liberty Institute. General Counsel Jeff Mateer, who takes on many of these cases, helped put the survey together. “The atheists and the secularists are well-organized and they’re well-funded,” the Liberty Institute attorney told CBN News. “The rate of hostility to people of faith is overwhelming,” he said. “It’s increasing. Every day, we’re getting calls.”
- Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christian and a prominent speaker, led a nontraditional marriage ceremony this past weekend, according to The New York Times, Christianity Today reports. Held at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Md., this ceremony included “traditional Christian elements,” but no bride. And the groom—one of them—was McLaren’s son, Trevor McLaren. The Times reports that Trevor McLaren “wed” Owen Ryan Saturday in Washington, D.C., followed by the afternoon commitment ceremony. Brian McLaren, who formerly was chair of the board for Sojourners, is among a minority of evangelical progressives who advocate that the church should abandon heterosexism and move toward reconciliation with homosexuals.
- In a move decried by a progressive Catholic group, the German bishops’ conference last week issued a decree, saying it was “worried” about the Catholic Church’s dwindling numbers and wanted to stem the drop, reports The Telegraph. Confession, the Eucharist, confirmation in the Church, or anointing of the sick—unless the patient’s life is in danger—are now out of bounds for anyone who leaves the Church, stated the decree, which took effect Monday. Becoming a godparent is also off limits, it said. Germany has had a system in place since the 19th century asking residents to either officially declare their religion and pay a church tax, or to be classed as “non-religious.” A change in status from being a member of a religion requires a formal procedure to “leave the Church,” as an increasing number of Germans have done, mostly from the Catholic Church but also from Protestantism. A report in April 2011 showed that pedophile priest scandals in Germany had contributed to a 40 percent rise in the number of Catholics leaving the Church a year earlier. Although the new decree permits a religious marriage for anyone who has left the Church, it stipulates two conditions—permission from the local religious authorities and a promise to keep the faith and uphold the religious education of any children in the Catholic faith. However, the bishops’ decree said, “If the person who has left the Church has not displayed any regret before their death, a religious burial may be refused.”
- France is set to ban the words “mother” and “father” from all official documents under controversial plans to legalize gay marriage, reports The Telegraph. The move, which has outraged Catholics, means only the word “parents” would be used in identical marriage ceremonies for all heterosexual and same-sex couples. The draft law states that “marriage is a union of two people, of different or the same gender.” It says all references to “mothers and fathers” in the civil code—which enshrines French law—will be swapped for simply “parents.” The law would also give equal adoption rights to homosexual and heterosexual couples. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told France’s Catholic newspaper La Croix: “Who is to say that a heterosexual couple will bring a child up better than a homosexual couple, that they will guarantee the best conditions for the child’s development?”
- On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the UN assembly with heated rhetoric, despite a warning by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon against incendiary speech, reports CBN News. “Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists,” Ahmadinejad said. “We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end, and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end. While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously.” He also sought to delegitimize Israel’s historic ties to the Middle East and the country’s political and military power in the region and the world, saying that Israelis “do not even enter the equation for Iran.” Monday’s comments prompted a walkout by the Israeli delegation. In addition to not recognizing Israel’s sovereignty, Ahmadinejad denied that Tehran is providing weapons or training to the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad. He also restated that his country’s uranium enrichment project is only for peaceful purposes and a matter of dialogue between his country and the United States, stressing the importance of fairness, dialogue and respect for others. It was the Iranian president’s eighth visit to the U.N. gathering held each September. He said this would be his last trip to New York as president of Iran, because his term is ending and he is barred from seeking a third consecutive term. President Barack Obama was also in New York, Monday. However, his first stop was for an appearance with first lady Michelle Obama for a taping of ABC’s The View. Critics have accused Mr. Obama of being more concerned about his re-election effort than talking directly to other world leaders. Meanwhile, Fox News reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that a new world order needs to emerge, away from years of what he called “American bullying and domination.”
- Mitt Romney, in a joint Fox News interview with running mate Paul Ryan, accused the Obama administration of failing “to level with the American people” about how the U.S. Consulate in Libya was attacked, leaving the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead. “Look, we expect candor from the president and transparency, and he continues to refuse what is said by the other members of his administration: This was a terrorist attack. We were attacked apparently by Al Qaeda and it is a very troubling development,” Romney said during a campaign stop in Ohio. Romney’s comments underscored complaints made by Republican lawmakers, who question the administration’s shifting explanation, starting with claims that the Sept. 11 strike was “spontaneous” violence tied to protests over an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. Obama officials gradually walked back that description, and Obama acknowledged Monday that it clearly “wasn’t just a mob action”—though he did not go as far as to call it a terrorist attack. Fox also reports that Libyan President Mohamed Magarief said the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, which also resulted in the deaths of three other Americans, was pegged to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, not the video.
- A church has won the right to build a place of worship and a school on land it owns in a suburban New York town, after a 14-year battle with the town’s officials, reports thomson-reuters. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a trial judge’s August 2010 opinion that the town of Greenburgh had violated the 175-member Fortress Bible Church’s land use rights and constitutional rights. The church and its pastor, Rev. Dennis Karaman, had sued Greenburgh in June 2003, complaining that officials had taken measures preventing the church from carrying out its plans. After a bench trial in 2006 and 2007, U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson in White Plains concluded the town had acted in bad faith. He ordered the town to issue a building permit to the church and take various other measures. Greenburgh appealed the decision by Robinson, who is now in private practice. Before the purchase, the pastor told the town about his plans and said he would not buy the land if the site was unsuitable for a church and school, according to the decision. The church’s proposal triggered New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act, requiring decisions about the potential environmental impact, such as effects on traffic and access to the property. At one point in the discussions between the parties in July 2000, Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner asked the church to donate a fire truck or make some other payment in lieu of taxes. The church, which is tax-exempt, declined to make any such donation.
- A Georgia-based Presbyterian Church (USA) seminary will allow same-sex student couples to live in campus housing designated for married students following a yearlong effort by gay-rights advocates, reports The Layman. A housing task force at Columbia Theological Seminary recently established the following new policy: “Students, their qualified domestic partners (e.g. those in civil marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships as established by the laws of any state, the United States or a foreign jurisdiction), and their children are eligible to live in campus housing. Appeals may be made to the CTS Housing Committee.” The change comes following the seminary’s denial of a housing request last spring to a lesbian couple. The ensuing protest led to a discussion among student councils, the administration and the school’s board of directors and culminated in an e-mail sent to students by President Stephen Hayner on April 20, 2012, stating: “The decision was made not to change the policy at this time.” “Faculty were upset. Students were upset. Alumni were upset,” wrote blogger Patrick David Heery. “People started organizing discussions, letter writing campaigns, and prayer vigils,” he added. Hayner sent another e-mail three days later stating that a process of discussion would continue. At the center of the debate stood Imago Dei, Columbia’s “gay-straight student alliance.” The group claims that some people decided not to attend Columbia due to the old housing policy. Imago Dei urged students to circulate a petition. According to Heery, the petition “only led to an eruption of hurt and anger” and an appeal to the school’s student government council “broke into a divisive debate and further hurt.” Heery said that in 2011, Imago Dei “gave [the administration] a year” to address the policy but did not state what the organization had planned if the policy had not been changed. The organization urged students to send letters and e-mails in favor of a same-sex policy to seminary officials. The group also urged members to organize churches and other seminaries as well as LGBT organizations to advocate the change. According to the PCUSA-backed Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, five other PCUSA seminaries allow same-sex couples to live in campus housing: Austin, McCormick, Louisville, San Francisco, and Princeton.
- Evangelical leader and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed is back with a major new push designed to get religious voters into the booths on Election Day reports newsmax.com. Using a highly sophisticated, micro-targeted database of religious voters in key battleground states and district, Reed is launching his get-out-the-vote effort just as early voting has begun in North Carolina and other states, according to The New York Times. Reed formed the Faith and Freedom Coalition three years ago and began assembling what he calls the largest-ever database of reliably conservative religious voters, according to The Times. In the coming weeks, some 17.1 million registered voters in 15 key states will receive three phone calls and at least three pieces of mail. Seven million of them will get e-mail and text messages. Two million will be visited by one of more than 5,000 volunteers. Over 25 million voter guides will be distributed in 117,000 churches. White evangelicals are a crucial voting constituency, 26 percent of the 2008 electorate and overwhelmingly Republican in recent presidential cycles, exit polls show. With so few truly undecided voters left, bumping up evangelical turnout in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio would almost certainly help Romney, The Times reports.
- The American Civil Liberties Union teamed up with the Service Employees International Union and a few other interested groups to sue the Michigan Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, over her addition of a check box to ballot applications, asking voters to confirm they are U.S. citizens who legally have the right to vote. ACLU’s Michigan executive director, Kary Moss, described this as a “cynical voter suppression tactic.” “No, this is not a joke or satire,” remarked a story in Human Events: “The ACLU actually thinks a check box asking voters to confirm that they’re legally entitled to vote constitutes ‘suppression.’ The mad scramble to protect vote fraud operations had degenerated into this level of absolute lunacy. Devoid of anything approaching a logical argument, vote fraud defenders are down to describing a simple Yes or No’ question on ballot applications as a ‘roadblock’ that will ‘confuse’ and ‘intimidate’ minority voters.”
- The Romney campaign and other Republicans say polls showing President Obama with a significant lead over their candidate are inaccurate, reports thehill.com. They argue many mainstream polls skew in Obama’s favor because of sample sizes that base turnout projections on 2008, when Democrats—and Hispanics, blacks, and young voters in particular—turned out in record numbers. “I don’t think [the polls] reflect the composition of what is going to look like,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said in an interview. Frustration that polls are skewed in favor of Obama has escalated among some on the right in recent weeks. One website, www.unskewedpolls.com, recently began re-weighting the mainstream polls to closer track the demographic assumptions of conservative polling outlet Rasmussen Reports. The re-weighted polls all show Romney ahead in the race, with leads of between 3 and 11 percentage points.