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Gary McCaleb has a column running on Townhall.com that is worth your attention.

Gary’s column looks at the effort to limit Christians’ religion freedom to the confines of their homes and churches.

Titled, “Putting Faith Under House Arrest,” the column also looks at the effort to remove Christian texts from public view as well.

It can be viewed here
“The bottom line is that your choice as to whether you can worship God and live out your faith as a free citizen is, at this very moment, being shaped by the demands of leftists and proponents of the homosexual agenda who have sworn fealty to the force of law rather than theology.”

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We recently received an exciting update on a previous situation ADF assisted with in Northern Arizona. Based on some confusion about the First Amendment, the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) Area Agency on Aging told all of its service providers, including Meals on Wheels, that they were no longer permitted to allow any collective prayer before the meals they served at area senior centers. For many years, seniors at the centers had been saying a short, voluntary prayer together, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, prior to eating the lunch provided by Meals on Wheels.

ADF offered to provide assistance to NACOG free of charge and drafted a new policy on prayer and religious expression. We recently received word that NACOG adopted the policy and sent it out to all of their service providers.

Kudos to NACOG for correcting its policy and protecting the First Amendment rights of the senior citizens it serves!

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When it comes to college basketball, Lexington, Kentucky is “Title Town USA.”   With its precision offense and shot-blocking defense, the home-town University of Kentucky Wildcats won another NCAA national championship a few weeks ago.

But away from the basketball court, some folks in Lexington refuse to acknowledge that religious freedom ranks No. 1 in the Bill of Rights.

Some folks like the local Gay & Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO).  If they get their way, religious freedom will be dealt a huge defeat like those served on so many of the Wildcats’ basketball opponents.

Alleging “discrimination,” GLSO is demanding the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission slap a technical foul on the Christian-owned business Hands On Originals.

Blaine Adamson, co-owner of Hands On Originals shirt shop, declined GLSO’s request to print t-shirts for a “pride” parade celebrating homosexual behavior.  The co-owners of Hands On Originals sincerely believe in the inspired Word of God, and they strive to live by its commands in their personal and public lives.  They disagree with the message served by these “pride” parades, and they exercised their right to be obedient to God.

In retaliation, GLSO is urging large customers of Hands On Originals – including the University of Kentucky – to boycott the shirt shop, which could be forced to lay off employees if business revenue drops substantially.

Blaine Adamson joins a growing list of Christian business owners facing legal attack in the clash between the free exercise of religion – the first liberty affirmed in the U.S. Constitution – and the homosexual legal agenda.  The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) and our allies have successfully defended many of them, but other costly legal battles rage on.  In New Mexico, Elaine Huguenin awaits appeal of a similar “discrimination” charge – for declining to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony.”  If convicted, she may have to close her photography business.

This issue brings two vitally important questions into play for believers.  How should the Body of Christ respond to these predatory assaults on religious liberty?  And, are pastors free to scripturally equip their congregations on how to respond to attacks on religious freedom?

It’s crucial for Christians to understand the serious legal risks they face in the public square as they strive to uphold their biblical beliefs.  Pastors also need to understand the attacks against their congregants and how to lead in a time of hostility toward religious freedom.

Pastors can take an important step in leadership by participating in the ADF Pulpit Freedom Sunday October 7th when hundreds of pastors will preach the full counsel of scripture on the issue of candidates and the election to equip their congregations and to counter a challenge to their own free speech.

They do so knowing Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) will bluster and complain.  This radical group is threatening pastors with intimidating letters warning them to refrain from speaking on some of the moral issues which will help their congregations.

This bullying has been happening since Congress hastily approved the “Johnson Amendment” in 1954.  The act modified the Internal Revenue Service tax code and overturned 178 years of free speech for America’s pastors, who now risk loss of tax exemptions for applying scripture or church teaching to the issue of candidates and elections.

For instance, if Blaine Adamson’s pastor urges the congregation to vote for political candidates who will uphold religious liberty, AU will file a “complaint” (really just a tattle-tale letter) with the Internal Revenue Service demanding the church lose its tax exemption.

The Alliance Defense Fund and our allies are protecting churches willing to courageously challenge this unjust tax law.  While we’re not encouraging pastors to become political commentators, we are urging them to determine the content of sermons on their own.  For too long, pastors self-censored their messages and essentially enabled the IRS to determine what can and can’t be said in the pulpits of America.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday pastors are forwarding recordings of their sermons to the IRS in hopes of drawing investigations.  When IRS officials attempt to whistle a church for a flagrant foul, ADF will sue the IRS in an attempt to overturn the Johnson Amendment.  Our goal is to regain complete freedom for America’s churches.

Please pray for victory in the battles for religious freedom in Lexington, in New Mexico, and across America.  Pray for free speech for our pastors

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Equal treatment is easier to preach than practice – particularly when tax dollars are at stake.

Aldersgate United Methodist Church, a small congregation in the coastal city of Rockland, Maine, applied for a property tax exemption on its church building, parking lot, and surrounding grounds, but the City refused to exempt the parking lot. Why? Because the applicant is a church.

The City of Rockland is enforcing Maine’s tax exemption statute to the distinct disadvantage of churches, and costing at least one congregation thousands of dollars annually in additional taxes – taxes which other charitable organizations do not pay. Rockland justifies demanding those additional tax dollars, first, by playing on Maine’s flawed statutory scheme and, second, by interpreting “charitable” to the exclusion of churches.

Maine’s tax exemption statutory scheme is fundamentally flawed. The statute broadly exempts property owned by and used for not-for-profit groups, including charities, hospitals, fraternities, child care centers, and veterans groups. The parking lots of these organizations are tax-exempt, no questions asked. But the statute treats “houses of religious worship” differently: they are limited to the exemption of their church building, furniture, burial plots, and a portion of the parsonage.  No other not-for-profit is similarly limited. Such an unseemly dicing of religiously-owned property could be overlooked – if the broader charitable exemption were available to all charitable organizations equally.

But in Rockland, Maine, not all charities are created equal.

The City of Rockland admitted that all of Aldersgate’s property – including the parking lot – would be exempt if Aldersgate met the criteria of a charitable institution. Charities operate for the public benefit, train the hearts and minds of their hearers, relieve suffering, and, in sum, lessen the burden on the government. The City insists that Aldersgate does not meet these qualifications. But if this church does not qualify, the City would be hard-pressed to find an organization that does.

Aldersgate, like most churches, is a place of worship, instruction, and education, and seeks to train the hearts and minds of all who choose to attend. Attendees are taught how to live moral and healthy lives as productive citizens of the Rockland community, thereby lessening the burden on the government. Aldersgate offers financial support and counseling to the downtrodden, hurting, and hopeless. It relieves the distress of the indigent and hungry, sending volunteers to work in soup kitchens and build homes for the homeless. Aldersgate provides community services such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. It makes its church building and parking lot available free of charge to numerous public groups, including local orchestras, addiction-recovery societies, and community festivals. Any one of these factors alone would be sufficient to exempt a secular institution.

The social and intangible benefits a church provides to society are incalculable, as discussed here. But unwarranted taxation drains church coffers and decreases the services churches can provide to their communities. The law should be no respecter of persons, or charities. Aldersgate should enjoy at least the same tax treatment and benefits granted to similar not-for-profit charitable organizations.

ADF is representing Aldersgate United Methodist Church as it speaks up against discrimination in tax treatment. It is time for Maine to end its uncharitable discrimination and put equal treatment into practice.

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How deep are your religious convictions?  Are religious beliefs merely a colorful veneer decorating the exterior of an individual’s life, or are they more akin to a rudder guiding the course and direction of the whole person?  Questions such as these might be ones that we ask ourselves individually as we wrestle with the role of faith in our own lives.  But they are also being debated at a societal level.  And the worldview of government officials specifically on these questions affects their willingness to either protect religious freedom or to disregard it.  Stated simply, our leaders believe either that religious faith is something that shifts and changes with the times like uneducated opinions, or they believe that religious faith forms the very identity of who we are as individuals and must be protected at any cost.

This issue surfaced with a ferocity unseen in American history when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that religious organizations and employers provide coverage for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans.  As most of you are aware by now, the “HHS Mandate” as it is popularly known, has sparked a defiant outrage among people of faith who are being forced by the government to violate their deeply held religious beliefs. For many religious organizations and employers, there is no escape from this mandate.  They either comply or are punished.

The starkest example of the worldview of our governmental leaders was on display in the remarks of Kathleen Sebelius, the head of HHS, when she announced the implementation of the HHS Mandate.  Ms. Sebelius stated: “Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law….  This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.”

Did you catch that?  According to the head of HHS, religious beliefs can simply be adapted if given enough time.  Put simply, Ms. Sebelius is telling religious organizations that they have a year to drag their timeless and unchanging religious beliefs into the 21st century and to change them to fit the times. But what she really means is that religious beliefs must conform to a government official’s view of the world; that religious beliefs must evolve to fit the times as the government sees them.  Her message was unmistakable – either get with the program and make your religious beliefs flexible or we will mandate this on you anyway.  Either comply or be punished.

Such blatant disregard for the depth of religious convictions has not been seen in American history.  Never before has government attempted to force people of faith to either violate their religious beliefs or be monetarily punished if they choose to abide by them.  The framers of our Constitution, who made the free exercise of religion our “first freedom” by placing it in the First Amendment, would be appalled at the utter disregard shown to people of faith by Ms. Sebelius and the HHS Mandate.

This is where the Church in America must speak out.  Our government is experimenting with actions that, if left unchecked, will result in the destruction of the free exercise of religion.  John Murray, a Presbyterian preacher of the 20th century once stated, “The church lives in the world and it lives within the domain of political entities. If it is to be faithful in its commission it must make its voice heard and felt in reference to public questions.”  The greatest public question facing the Church today is whether government will respect religious freedom or exercise its power to destroy it.  The importance of the outcome of this debate cannot be overstated.  The future of religious freedom in America depends largely on the Church making its voice heard loudly, clearly, and forcefully on this important issue.

Although the HHS Mandate does not directly affect churches because churches are exempted from the mandate, it does affect every church member and most religious ministries and organizations.  The Church must protect those within its ranks subjected to the mandate.  If the Church is the conscience of the nation, which it is, then it must stand against this unconscionable act.

One way that can happen is by participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  On October 7, 2012, hundreds of pastors will unite their voices against the government’s desire to control religion.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an excellent opportunity for the Church to come alive and speak boldly to government.

The Church must stand united to protect religious freedom.  Faith is timeless and forms the bedrock foundation of our lives.  It does not change with the culture or by the whim of the government.  And that’s a message our governmental leaders need to hear loud and clear.

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If you are a pastor, go to www.pulpitfreedom.org and sign up to participate this October 7.  The website contains resources and answers to questions you may have regarding Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  And if you are not a pastor, please get the information about Pulpit Freedom Sunday to as many pastors as you can.

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