The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday in favor of Palestinian statehood, after the Palestinians asked it to recognize a nonmember state of Palestine in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, reports Fox News. The resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember observer state at the United Nations was approved by a more than two-thirds majority of the 193-member world body—a vote of 138 to 9, with the U.S. and Israel among those who opposed. There were 41 abstentions. Real independence, however, remains an elusive dream until the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis, who warned that the General Assembly action will only delay a lasting solution. Israel still controls the West Bank, east Jerusalem and access to Gaza, and it accused the Palestinians of bypassing negotiations with the campaign to upgrade their U.N. status. The United States immediately criticized the historic vote. “Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path peace,” U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the vote “unfortunate” and “counterproductive.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the General Assembly shortly before the vote “defamatory and venomous,” saying it was “full of mendacious propaganda” against Israel. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice remarked, “The United Nations has voted to recognize Palestine. They have decided to violate international law and numerous peace agreements. The terrorist-led Palestine now has ‘non-member observer state’ status at the U.N. With this vote, the UN has endorsed a divided Jerusalem and an Israel with indefensible borders. Even more alarming, it opens the door for more false war crimes trials against Israeli citizens. Two years ago, I stood before the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in defense of Israel and two soldiers who were falsely accused of war crimes. We successfully got the ICC to dismiss those false charges, in part because Palestine was not a state as recognized by the U.N. We are continuing to defend Israel, but the road will be more difficult.”
- A proposal to limit charitable deductions would be devastating for churches, religious organizations, and other nonprofits if adopted by the federal government, says a Southern Baptist church-state expert. Leaders in both political parties have suggested further restricting charitable deductions for at least some Americans who itemize on their tax returns as a way of helping avert the “fiscal cliff” facing the country Jan. 1. Without congressional action, the tax cuts implemented under President George W. Bush will expire on that date, producing about $7 trillion in tax increases. At the same time, inaction will result in sequestration—automatic cuts to defense and non-defense spending of $55 billion each. The idea of capping the charitable deduction “is as serious a threat to religious organizations as anything the federal government has done in recent decades,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This would be catastrophic in its impact, particularly on those large gifts that many religious organizations, colleges, universities and ministries, as well as churches, depend upon for continuing operations,” Land told Baptist Press Thursday. “Everything we know from past experience tells us if they cap deductions it will seriously erode charitable giving.” In a Nov. 28 e-mail alert, Land urged Southern Baptists and others to ask their members of Congress to oppose further limits on charitable deductions.
- An Egyptian court convicted in absentia Wednesday seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Florida-based American pastor, sentencing them to death on charges linked to an anti-Islam film that had sparked riots in parts of the Muslim world, reports Fox News. The case was seen as largely symbolic because the defendants, most of whom live in the United States, are all outside Egypt and are thus unlikely to ever face the verdict. The charges were issued in September amid a wave of public outrage in Egypt over the amateur film, which was produced by an Egyptian-American Copt.
- A North Carolina community college that came under fire after they told students they could not use the word “Christmas” to promote a Christmas tree sale has reversed its decision. “It’s a misunderstanding based on a legitimate mistake we made,” said Atticus Simpson, vice president of student development at Western Piedmont Community College. In other words, the college goofed up when they changed the BEST Society’s Christmas tree sale to a Holiday tree sale. “We thought we were violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by promoting the sale of Christmas tree, which we thought would be promoting one religion over another,” Simpson told Fox News. The student group contacted Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group that handles many First Amendment issues. The ADF promptly sent the college a letter urging them to either reconsider their decision or face possible legal action. “We’re pleased the college did the right thing,” attorney Matt Sharp told Fox News. “It really is ridiculous they tried to make this club use the word holiday instead of Christmas.”
- The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who propelled the Crystal Cathedral into one of the most recognized churches in the world, lost the bulk of his multimillion-dollar claims against his former ministry in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Monday, reports ocregister.com. Judge Robert Kwan in Los Angeles ruled that Schuller, his wife, daughter and son-in-law did not provide evidence to back most of their claims. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, filed a number of claims, including a $5 million claim for breach of contract and another for an unspecified amount for copyright infringements. Kwan rejected most of the claims and instead awarded $615,625 to Schuller and nothing to his wife. “This was a complete victory for the creditors and the church,” said attorney Todd Ringstad, who represents the creditors. With the ruling, “we have a thousand-plus checks to write” to creditors who have been awaiting payment since the church filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010, said attorney Nanette Sanders.
- Christian human-rights analysts warn the expanded powers seized by Egypt’s president means more anti-Christian persecution to come, reports WorldNetDaily. In a set of legal maneuvers this week, Muslim Brotherhood-anointed President Mohamed Morsi moved to sidestep the courts and make his office immune to judicial oversight. With no constitution to restrain him, Morsi holds broad executive and legislative authority. Middle East analyst Theodore Shoebat’s concern is what Morsi’s power grab means for Egypt’s Christians. He references two regimes—one ancient, one modern—to illustrate what happens when leaders opposed to Christianity take control. “Before Nero inflicted a full persecution on the church, he at first seized full control of the Roman government,” Shoebat said. “In order for us to comprehend how Christians will be eventually persecuted under a Muslim Brotherhood Egypt, we must look to North Sudan, a country also run by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Omar al-Bashir,” he continued. “Bashir has committed a genocide of millions of Christians all in the name of jihad. And he, like Morsi, also believes that the Quran must be the constitution of his country,” Shoebat said. Meanwhile, terrorism analyst and Act for America President Brigitte Gabriel said there are U.S. troops on the ground in Jordan, reports WorldNetDaily. “We have actually positioned troops in Jordan to protect King Abdullah,” she said. “We’ve said that the Americans in Jordan are just there in case something happens in Syria so we can be close.” Gabriel also said the situation has grown more intense: “The reality is, we have placed troops in Jordan so we can protect the royal family in case of an uprising which we are now witnessing before our own eyes.” Religious Freedom Coalition President and Founder William Murray reported that aid workers with his organization in Jordan have come astonishingly close to the action. “The riots in Jordan are about one mile from our warehouse,” he said. “The Muslim Brotherhood has cut all roads between Jordan’s cities.” Gabriel, who is a native of Lebanon, said the violence is no surprise, and “the Muslim Brotherhood is rising in Jordan.” She warned that the king’s position is in danger. “King Abdullah is hanging by a thread,” she said. “He has 20 percent approval in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood sees this as their opportunity to rise up after what they saw happen in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now Syria.”
- After two decades in which gay rights moved from the margin, the Supreme Court justices will go behind closed doors this week to decide whether now is the time to rule on whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, reports latimes.com. The justices must decide whether to hear an appeal from the defenders of California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that limited marriage to a man and a woman. A federal judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 as discriminatory and irrational. In February, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that by a 2-1 vote, ruling the ban on gay marriage violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The majority relied heavily on a 1996 opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that had struck down an anti-gay initiative adopted by Colorado voters. The decision on whether to hear the case could be a hard call for both the court’s conservatives and liberals. Usually, the justices are inclined to vote to hear a case if they disagree with the lower court ruling. The most conservative justices—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito Jr.—almost certainly think the 9th Circuit’s ruling was dubious. Scalia, for example, says the “equal protection” clause, added to the Constitution after the Civil War, aimed to stop racial discrimination and nothing more. He often insists the justices are not authorized to give a contemporary interpretation to phrases such as “equal protection.” If Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joins the other three, the conservatives would have the needed four votes to hear the Proposition 8 case. They may hesitate. To form a majority, they would need Kennedy, the author of the court’s two strongest gay rights rulings. His 2003 opinion struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law and said the state could not “demean” gays by treating them as second-class citizens. Five months later, the Massachusetts high court, citing Kennedy’s opinion, became the first to rule that gays and lesbians had a right to marry. If the court were to take up the Proposition 8 case, Kennedy, 76, would likely control the opinion.
- A Massachusetts-based pro-family activist isn’t surprised that a community college in Boston would display a blasphemous painting depicting Barack Obama as a crucified Christ. The painting—called “Truth”—depicts President Obama posed as Jesus on the cross with a crown of thorns on his head. The Fox News Channel reports that the artist wanted to debut the picture nearly four years ago at New York City’s Union Square, but the event was cancelled due to public outrage. Brian Camenker, president of MassResistance, told OneNewsNow he is not surprised that Bunker Hill Community College in Boston is now displaying the painting until Dec. 15. “Bunker Hill Community College is one of the most left-wing colleges in a town full of left-wing colleges with all kinds of radical stuff that goes on there,” he said. “So it doesn’t surprise me that something like this would be there.” Camenker says the painting demonstrates the anti-Christian mind-set of the left. “If somebody were to do something that portrays Obama in a bad way, it wouldn’t be allowed at all,” he pointed out. “And there’s the tip-toeing around they do against anything that might offend Muslims. But when they want to mock traditional religion, it’s open season.” And Camenker says this display also reveals the god-like reverence the left has for Obama. “They do consider him god-like. They claim that Obama being portrayed as Jesus is ‘truth,'” he told OneNewsNow. “It’s insane. But this is the way these people think and this is the way they are.” Camenker does not believe conservatives fully comprehend just how much hatred the average liberal has for traditional values and religion.
- For the first time a federal appeals court has issued an order against the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate, reports Baptist Press. The one-page order Wednesday from a three-judge Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals panel prevents the government from forcing a Missouri business—O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC—to cover contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs in its employee health care plans as the appeals process is completed. The panel’s temporary injunction came two months after a lower court tossed out the lawsuit. It marks the fourth time this year that a federal court has issued an order or ruling against the mandate, which applies to businesses and religious organizations. There are about 40 cases nationwide seeking to overturn the mandate, which was implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services after President Obama signed the landmark health care bill into law. In other news, attorneys for Hobby Lobby asked another appeals court in its case to stop the pro-abortion mandate as well, reports lifenews.com. Attorneys with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty urged the 10th Circuit to grant identical relief in their appeal on behalf of Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned-and-operated business that in five weeks faces crippling fines of up to $1.3 million per day if they do not comply with the HHS mandate against their religious beliefs.
- Though the GOP is losing minority voters, especially Hispanics, a public policy expert asserts that legalizing illegal immigration isn’t the answer to winning them back, reports onenewsnow.com. The most recent national election showed that Republicans nationwide are losing the Latino vote. A Pew poll taken the day after the election shows that Latinos voted for President Barack Obama two-to-one, garnering him the highest percentage from that demographic for any Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1996. Ashton Ellis, the contributing editor at the Center for Individual Freedom, points out that the survey also shows that Latinos voted with economics and healthcare reform in mind and that they actually want a bigger government that provides more services. “So what this indicates is that even if comprehensive immigration reform goes through on the most favorable terms to the illegal population—meaning through the DREAM Act or even just blanket amnesty—it’s not like the Republican Party is poised to then gain a lot of new votes,” he explains. “In fact, if anything, it looks like we’re about to legalize millions of voters for a much larger government.”
- The words “bride” and “groom,” along with “husband” and “wife,” are about to become archaic language in Washington State as officials prepare to remove the terms from marriage and divorce certificates. Tim Church, a spokesman for the Washington State Health Department, told Fox News they will likely be removing those words in favor of more gender neutral terms. He said the changes are necessary in response to the same-sex marriage law that takes effect Dec. 6. “We’ve been quickly moving ahead to change our marriage certificate to make sure it fits for everyone who is going to be using it,” he told Fox News. The words “bride” and “groom” could be replaced with “Spouse A” and “Spouse B” or “Person A” and “Person B,” Church said. Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, said it’s no surprise that traditional marriage terminology is about to be censored in Washington State. “It is one sort of symbolic indication of how radical a change the legalization of same-sex marriage is,” Sprigg told Fox News. “Symbolically, they are doing away with the whole concept of bride and groom, husband and wife—at least in the eyes of the law.” Sprigg suggested that heterosexual couples could challenge the new terms by simply crossing out the new language and inserting the old. “I wonder if the state would accept that,” he asked. “If not, it would suggest this movement is intent on being even more totalitarian.”
- A dispute over a central Pennsylvania restaurant’s 10 percent discount for people who bring in a current copy of their church bulletin appears to be settled. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission recently notified the restaurant and others involved that the promotion can continue at Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen in Columbia. The commission’s settlement order says discounts have to be offered to all who bring in a bulletin, including atheists. According to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, a restaurant classified as a public accommodation. As such, restaurants are not allowed to discriminate based on religion, among other things. The discount program had been challenged by John Wolff, a retired electrical engineer from the Columbia area, who belongs to the Madison, Wis.–based Freedom From Religion Foundation. Sharon Prudhomme, who owns the restaurant with her husband, told Fox News Radio that she received the first of several letters from the FFRF in April 2011. “What freaks me out is the state of Pennsylvania is basically agreeing with this guy,” Prudhomme told Fox News Radio. “We’re just a mom and pop. We’re not some big chain like the Olive Garden.”
- In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions blasted President Barack Obama and congressional leadership for holding “secret” fiscal cliff negotiations, reports weeklystandard.com. “I rise today to express my reservations about the fiscal cliff negotiations that are currently underway,” said Sessions. “Over the last two years, Congress and the President have held an endless series of secret negotiations. There have been gangs of six and eight, a supercommittee of 12, talks at the Blair House and the White House. But the only thing these secret talks have produced is a government that skips from one crisis to the next. Everything has been tried but the open production of a 10-year budget plan as required by law and open discussions of the difficult choices.” Sessions, the highest Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, saved most of his criticism for the president. “President Obama campaigned on a tax increase of ‘only’ $800 billion,” said Sessions. “But now the White House is demanding $1.6 trillion in new taxes. Don’t the American people have a right to see these taxes and where they will fall? Shouldn’t the President of the United States, the only person who represents everybody in the country, lay out his plan, or must that remain a secret too? Will it just be revealed to us on the eve of Christmas or eve of the new calendar year? We will be asked to vote for it, to ratify it like lemmings, I suppose.” The Alabama senator insisted Obama is not serious about cutting spending—or cutting government waste.
- Time reports tragic stories of the lottery’s unluckiest winners. Said the heading, “Need a little proof that money doesn’t buy happiness? For these 10 lottery winners, cashing in turned out to have been the worst decision of their lives.” One example stated, “You’d think someone lucky enough to win the lottery twice would respect its sanctity. Evelyn Basehore hit a $3.9 million Pick Six jackpot in 1985 and then won $1.4 million in the same game just five months later, beating odds set at 1 in 15 trillion. But she couldn’t rein in her spending habits. She gave away much of it to friends; much of the rest went to support her hefty gambling habit at the slot machines in Atlantic City. ‘Winning the lottery isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out,’ she told Bankrate after she went bust around 2000 and moved into a trailer park in Brick, N.J. She recently admitted to the New York Post that she still plays the lottery from time to time. Can lightning strike thrice?”
- People demanding better cellphone service without having to look at a bunch of new towers may soon have their prayers answered. “Church steeples make an excellent location for a cell site,” said John Britton of AT&T, reports sanfranciscocbslocal.com. “You have nice location on it. It’s giving good connectivity and people don’t even see it.” Steeples are the latest place towers are hidden in plain site. They are disguised as trees. They are in trees, and even on fast food signs. Usually there is controversy no matter where they go. At Canyon Creek Presbyterian in San Ramon, Calif., the pastor said they make upwards of $30,000 a year for putting the site in his steeple, and many others are doing the same thing. They lose part of their tax exemption, but still make money on the deal. Mindy Spatt of the utility watch dog group TURN worries it could help the companies in lobbying efforts. “Churches, as independent non profits, could be unduly influenced by these contracts,” said Spatt. The utilities say they just want to provide better service . . . from up above.