The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up a case involving a New York town’s policy regarding prayers presented before public meetings, charismanews.com reports. The high court affirmed America’s longstanding practice of opening public meetings with prayer in 1983 and now has the opportunity to do so again. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, together with lead counsel Thomas G. Hungar of the Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, represent the town of Greece, N.Y. “Americans today should be as free as the Founders were to pray,” says senior counsel David Cortman. “The Founders prayed while drafting our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has ruled that public prayer is part of the ‘history and tradition of this country.’ America continues this cherished practice.” As briefs filed in the case explain, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the matter 30 years ago by affirming that the historical practice of legislative prayers is constitutional. Until relatively recently, the lower federal courts faithfully implemented that well-established rule of law. New legal attacks by individuals and activist groups claiming to be offended by the way private citizens voluntarily pray have created significant confusion in the lower courts. In this case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit suggested that the current legal complexity may cause local and state governments to abandon the practice of legislative prayer, which predates the founding of America and existed for more than two centuries without serious challenge. “We appreciate the Supreme Court’s decision to review the important question presented by this case,” explains Hungar. “The practice of legislative prayer is firmly embedded in the history and traditions of this nation. We hope the court will reaffirm the settled understanding that such prayers, offered without improper motive and in accordance with the conscience of the prayer-giver, are constitutional.” “A few people should not be able to extinguish the traditions of our nation merely because they heard something they didn’t like,” adds senior counsel Brett Harvey. “Because the authors of the Constitution invoked God’s blessing on public proceedings, this tradition shouldn’t suddenly be deemed unconstitutional. It’s perfectly constitutional to allow community members to ask for God’s blessing according to their conscience.”
- National Religious Broadcasters President & CEO Dr. Frank Wright has asked members of Congress investigating the IRS over its alleged inappropriate scrutiny of conservative and faith-based groups to focus on First Amendment protection for such organizations, The Christian Post reports. “As Congress investigates these incidents at the IRS, and others that may surface in the days ahead, I ask that you emphasize the First Amendment rights of non-profit religious organizations and churches, which gives them constitutional authority to operate free from government entanglement,” wrote Wright in a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner and other Congressional leaders, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “Pernicious targeting of faith-based organizations by any state actor must not be tolerated,” Wright added. “These IRS cases before the nation today appear to be just such entangling, oppressive, and constitutionally unsound situations that must be protected against.”
- The florist who was told by the state of Washington she must provide her services for a gay wedding is countersuing the state, saying she has served gay customers her entire career and is concerned the state’s position on gay weddings will harm religious freedom, reports Baptist Press. The countersuit by Arlene’s Flowers came weeks after Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the florist when its owner, Barronelle Stutzman, declined to design a wedding floral arrangement for a longtime customer who is gay. Washington legalized gay marriage last year. The countersuit, filed by the group Alliance Defending Freedom, says Stutzman has employed gay people and happily served gay customers, including the gay man, Robert Ingersoll, who wanted the floral arrangement. But her Christian faith precludes her from providing her services to a gay wedding, the countersuit says. “Arlene’s Flowers has never refused to sell flowers to someone simply because of sexual orientation,” the countersuit says. “But because of Barronelle Stutzman’s Christian faith, she cannot as a matter of conscience participate in or facilitate a same-sex wedding by using her creative skills to personally craft floral arrangements to decorate the wedding. The Attorney General’s attempt to use state law to compel her and Arlene’s Flowers to do so violates the state and federal constitutions.”
- A Christian law firm that defends religious freedom and the Constitution finds it suspicious that President Obama opposes independent counsel dealing with the Internal Revenue Service scandal. Hearings continued on Capitol Hill Friday as lawmakers strive to get answers about why the IRS singled out tea party groups and other conservative organizations for additional reviews during last year’s presidential election season, onenewsnow.com reports. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents 27 tea party organizations who were targeted, says it is ridiculous that IRS officials continue to claim that they were not politically motivated to strictly audit the conservative groups to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. “To say that you can target groups that are all conservative, but it’s not politically motivated—how Washington speak is that,” he poses. “How could you possibly target one side of the political argument and say that that targeting isn’t done for political purposes?” Sekulow adds that President Obama’s refusal to appoint an independent counsel to look into the IRS scandal is problematic. “If we know that the president knew about this six months before, well, that certainly changes the equation,” the attorney asserts. “And is that why he doesn’t want a special counsel appointed here and instead would like his lackey, Eric Holder, who is a friend? It makes it look like he’s hiding something.” The ACLJ director concludes that the IRS scheme to target conservative groups because of their thoughts and ideological positions is both unconscionable and intolerable, and his organization is prepared to take action.
- A consortium of plaintiffs led by 54 of Colorado’s 62 elected county sheriffs filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state Friday in an effort to overturn two new gun control bills that are set to go into effect on July 1, dailycaller.com reports. The plaintiffs have in their sights one law that effectively bans all firearm magazines, and one that requires a background check for every gun transfer when the gun will be in the possession of someone other than the owner for more than 72 hours. “On one hand, I’m proud to be part of this historic case,” said Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, who spoke on behalf of 18 sheriffs who attended a press conference announcing the suit. “But on the other hand, it saddens me that we have to be here at all,” he added. “It should never have gotten to this point in the first place.” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the laws are not only unconstitutional, but also confusing and unenforceable. For example, the ban on magazines was discussed by its Democratic sponsors as applying only to those that hold more than 15 rounds, in response to mass-shooting incidents in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. But the law also outlaws any magazine that can be easily converted to hold more than 15 rounds, which applies to practically all magazines with a removable base plate that can be replaced with an after-market extender. After July 1, the owners of such magazines cannot sell them, loan them or give them away. In effect, it means that even if they give their weapon to someone else for safekeeping—or, in the case of one wheelchair-bound plaintiff who spoke Friday, to hold momentarily as he gets in and out of his chair—they will be breaking the law. The background-check requirement is also unduly burdensome, the sheriffs say. Maketa gave as an example a neighbor of his who, under the new law, would have to perform a background check on his fiancé if he left his firearm with her when he deploys with the military. Maketa said he has better things to do than check up on people like his neighbor. “It’s not a matter of whether I choose to enforce it or not. It’s unenforceable,” he said.
- A Texas doctor sued the U.S. over President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms on claims the U.S. Supreme Court overlooked when it upheld the Affordable Care Act last year, bighealthreport.com reports. Steven Hotze of Houston claims the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, violates the U.S. Constitution’s origination and takings clauses, which weren’t part of arguments before the Supreme Court. The high court upheld the act by a 5-to-4 vote. Hotze’s suit, filed today in federal court in Houston, targets the “shared responsibility payment” business owners will be required to pay the U.S. under the act if they choose not to provide government-approved minimum health coverage for their workers. That penalty kicks in on Jan. 1. “Obamacare has become a redistribution of wealth scheme, where people are compelled to pay money to other people,” Hotze’s lawyer, Andy Schlafly, said in a telephone interview. “The government isn’t allowed to order one private party, a business owner, to pay money to another private party, an insurance company.” This feature violate the Constitution’s origination clause because the measure didn’t originate as a “revenue-raising bill” in the U.S. House of Representatives and was instead crafted from a gutted Senate bill, according to the complaint.
- North Korea has sentenced an imprisoned American tour operator to 15 years hard labor for “attempting to topple the Kim regime as part of a Christian missionary plan that began in 2006,” reports Worthy News and Gawker. A report by the Korean Central News Agency identified Kenneth Bae of Nation Tours as the leader of “Operation Jericho,” according to a translation by NKnews. Although Christianity is strictly banned in North Korea, a community of foreign evangelicals is allowed to operate aid organizations from within the country, but they’re prohibited from distributing Bibles or publicly praying. However, the more militant Voice of the Martyrs evangelizes by sending balloons with religious materials and radio broadcasts of Bible passages across the 38th Parallel. “A new religion coming in is not just a religion,” Todd Nettleton, the director of media development for VoM, told Gawker. “It literally undermines the very foundation of the government. North Koreans who accept Christ aren’t just accepting a religion; they’re committing a treasonous act.”
- Evidence provided by former workers at a Texas abortion clinic may support what pro-life advocates have been asserting—Kermit Gosnell is not alone, Baptist Press reports. Douglas Karpen, a Houston abortion doctor, has regularly killed babies after their late-term deliveries at his clinic, according to eyewitness testimony from three of his former employees. Their descriptions on video of some of those killings outside the womb are at least as gruesome as those of the slayings by Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor who was convicted May 13 of first-degree murder in the post-delivery deaths of three infants. In the video released May 14, the former workers describe deaths of born-alive babies that involved the doctor twisting babies’ heads off their necks, stabbing instruments into their stomachs or the soft spots of their heads, inserting his finger through babies’ throats and severing their spinal cords. Gosnell, who has been sentenced to three life sentences without parole, killed hundreds of children at least six months into gestation after induced delivery by a technique he called “snipping,” according to a grand jury report. “Snipping” involved jabbing scissors into the back of a living baby’s neck and cutting the spinal cord.
- Leaders of 80 state and national groups concerned with morality have endorsed a letter asking Congress to block the Federal Communications Commission from weakening the enforcement of the broadcast decency law, reports Baptist Press. The Parents Television Council and Morality in Media drafted the letter asking key Congressional committees to oppose the FCC’s effort to allow television and radio stations to broadcast before 10 p.m. Eastern the type of nudity and/or expletives normally reserved for cable TV, according to Dan Isett, PTC director of public policy. Among the signers is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The FCC is considering permitting “isolated expletives” and isolated “non-sexual nudity” on broadcast TV, something that currently could draw a fine. “This is one of those issues that brings people together from across the aisle and all the way across the aisle,” Isett told Baptist Press. “I think that there’s an awful lot of people concerned about what’s happened at the FCC both in terms of the simple process of it and the change of policy that seems to have been implemented.” The FCC has opened the issue for public comment, as required by law, and has extended until June 19 the comment period originally set to expire May 20. Isett encourages concerned citizens to comment. “If the American people think that standards of decency mean something, that it’s important to protect children at certain times of day on the airwaves that we own, then they must file a public comment, and it’s really easy to do so on the FCC website,” Isett said. While the FCC is seeking permission to change its standards in judging what is allowable for broadcast during hours targeting child viewership, Isett said the FCC has already invoked a new standard in dismissing about a million backlogged cases between September 2012 and April.