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Riot Police in Egypt, one of the nations listed as violating human rights

Riot police in Egypt, one of the nations listed as violating human rights.

By Emily Conley

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) celebrated its 65th anniversary on December 10th. To mark the occasion, the Vice Chairwoman and a Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote a review of how those countries who signed, and those who abstained, score on upholding Human Rights sixty-five years later.

From Europe to the Middle East, the human right of freedom of religion for 75% of the world’s population is trampled on, even from those who agreed to the Declaration.

Why should we care how religious minorities are treated in other countries? The writers respond:

“Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.”

They give a chilling warning:

“Indeed, study after study confirms that countries that do not protect freedom of conscience produce strife and instability, including terrorism.

The United States and the entire world community have an enormous stake in upholding the UDHR’s human rights principles — including religious freedom. On this Human Rights Day, it is time to reaffirm the declaration by holding its signatories accountable.”

We would do well to learn from the rest of the world.

The United States has a long tradition of upholding the human rights of its citizens, but we are seeing our freedoms rapidly erode. The government has flatly refused business owners like the Hahns and Greens of  Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby, Elaine and Jon Huguenin of Elane Photography, cake baker Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers, Jim and Mary O’Reilly of WildFlower Inn, and many, many others their freedom to run their business according to their conscience. Students have been expelled, professors dismissed, professionals fired, and doctors sued over their religious convictions.

While these cases may pale in comparison to the violence described in the article than people around the world face, it should still be cause for our grave concern.

Read the entire article, “Human Rights Day: Still Pursuing Religious Freedom.”  And stay informed about current threats to the freedom of conscience.

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Christmas Bible

Celebrating Christmas in America is, in many ways, predictable.  The decorations go up in the retail stores, the commercials on television take a decidedly “holiday” turn, the Salvation Army bell-ringers are out in force collecting with their ubiquitous red kettles, and radio stations begin to play the Christmas favorites.  These “signs of the season” are predictable and, in many ways, welcome as we look forward to celebrating Christmas.  After all, we take comfort in the holiday traditions that reappear every year.

Yet one of the “signs of the season” that has become just as predictable, but certainly less welcome, are the battles over Christmas celebration in the public square.  Even in recent days, media reports have surfaced of a charter school banning Christmas carols at a school concert and of another school dropping Operation Christmas Child after threats of a lawsuit by atheists.  These battles have become as predictable as the lights and decorations that accompany the signs of the season.

But virtually none of these battles have to end by capitulating to the shrill demands of those who claim celebrating Christmas is unconstitutional.  The truth is that public acknowledgements of the Christmas holiday are not unconstitutional and never have been.  It is constitutional to say “Merry Christmas.”  It is constitutional to sing or perform religious Christmas carols at public school concerts.  It is constitutional to have a Christmas tree, and there is nothing in the Constitution requiring the absurd step of calling it a holiday tree.  It is also constitutional to have a nativity scene on public property, under certain conditions.

There are practical things you can do to ensure that Christ is not removed from the public square this Christmas:

1. Download this resource on seasonal religious expression to learn more about what the constitution protects, and give it to the government officials who attend your church.

2. You can also download a resource specifically targeted to school administrators and teachers.

3. Find out if your town has a public display area and have your church sponsor the display of a nativity scene there.

4. And say “Merry Christmas!” to everyone you meet.

 

As always, let us know if you hear of attempts to remove Christ from Christmas.  Our attorneys are ready to combat the nonsense of those who object to Christmas and to defend the public acknowledgment that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ.  We’ve been blessed to have success in this area, restoring Christmas carols to school concerts this season in Wisconsin and New Jersey.  And our attorneys recently sent out a letter explaining the law in this area to over 13,000 school districts across the country.

Let’s celebrate the Christmas holiday this year with the welcome, time-honored, and constitutional traditions we are so fond of.  And let’s refuse to allow those who wish to use this season to once again establish their radical agenda.  Merry Christmas to all!

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chuch with parsonage

Image Credit:Minnemom on Flickr

On Friday, November, 22, 2013, federal district court judge Barbara Crabb from the Western District of Wisconsin issued an order declaring the minister’s housing allowance in the IRS Code unconstitutional. The minister’s housing allowance is contained in section 107 of the Income Tax Code and allows ministers to exclude from gross income the value of housing. Hundreds of thousands of ministers across the country take advantage of the minister’s housing allowance and churches make the housing allowance a standard part of the compensation package for their pastors.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit claiming that the minister’s housing allowance violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because, they argued, the housing allowance only benefits ministers of the gospel and does not include atheists who are not ministers.  The Judge agreed and struck down the housing allowance as unconstitutional.

So what is the impact of this decision and what does it mean for the future of the minister’s housing allowance?

First, Judge Crabb stayed her ruling until after the conclusion of any appeals filed by the government.  This means that the ruling has no immediate effect on ministers at this point.  There will be no impact on the 2013 tax year for ministers and churches do not need to fear the consequences of the ruling at this point.

Additionally, the Judge’s ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Crabb is the same judge who declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.  That ruling was overturned by the 7th Circuit.  The same outcome is likely in the appeal of Judge Crabb’s ruling against the minister’s housing allowance.  The ruling is suspect on a number of legal fronts, including the ability of the Freedom From Religion Foundation to even bring the lawsuit in the first place, and the power of the Judge to enter an injunction against a tax statute.  These legal arguments will be raised on appeal and stand a good chance of resulting in the dismissal of this case.

Because the ruling has no immediate impact, there is no reason for pastors or churches to make any changes to their compensation packages or tax filings for this year.  The best course of action right now is to simply wait on the outcome of the appeal.  Alliance Defending Freedom is monitoring this case and will be active in presenting legal arguments to the 7th Circuit on Appeal.  We will aggressively seek to uphold the constitutionality of the housing allowance and will keep you updated on the status of this case.  There are strong arguments for why the minister’s housing allowance is constitutional and we will ensure that those arguments are adequately briefed on appeal.

Alliance Defending Freedom exists to protect the rights of churches and pastors.  That includes the rights of churches and pastors to be free from unnecessary government taxation.  If you or your church need legal assistance, contact us so our attorneys can review your case.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Cities, towns, villages, and hamlets across the country often permit a wide array of signs—especially political signs—to be placed within their borders.  Yet all too often these local governments apply different, and far more restrictive, rules to signs placed by churches.  In legal terms this is called “content-based discrimination,” and it is forbidden by the First Amendment.

Alliance Defending Freedom represents an Arizona church facing exactly this type of discrimination.  In Gilbert, AZ, the town’s sign code broadly permits the display of political, ideological, and other types of signs.  The jumble of political signs depicted below is a common sight on many street corners in Gilbert throughout the year.

While Gilbert broadly permits this dizzying array of signs, it severely restricts signs inviting people to a church’s services.  It does so by requiring church signs to be, among other things, far smaller in size and displayed for a shorter duration than other similar signs.  The graphic below (which is drawn to scale) shows the differences in size:

 

Churches also get the short end of the stick (to say the least) regarding the amount of time their signs can be displayed.  While Gilbert permits political signs to be displayed for five months, it limits church invitation signs to 12 hours before the start of the service.  And to add insult to injury, the combination of the 12-hour limit and the fact that most churches hold services on Sunday mornings results in most church invitation signs sitting in virtual darkness the majority of the time they are displayed.

Unfortunately, earlier this year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Gilbert’s discriminatory treatment of our client’s signs.  But the battle to protect the church’s religious liberty does not end there.  Alliance Defending Freedom recently asked the United States Supreme Court to hear the church’s case. We expect to find out soon whether or not the High Court will accept this case.

Please join us in praying that the High Court grants review in this important case and upholds the free speech rights of churches.  In addition, if you know of a church that is facing similar obstacles, please contact Alliance Defending Freedom at 1-800-835-523, or online via our Legal Help Form, so we can protect churches from heavy-handed government restrictions in your community as well.

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Guest Author:  Pastor Jimmy Seibert

Dear Friends,

I recently shared a message called, “Clarity and Compassion.” The purpose was to be Biblically clear about gender identity according to God’s word and create a compassionate environment to work towards wholeness.

In Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:21-24 we see God’s outline for mankind. God is the One who created us and decided we would be male and female. God is the One who initiated how we would relate to one another physically, mentally and emotionally in the purity of marriage and the uniqueness of our gender.

In Genesis 3:1 when Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden, the enemy asked, “Has God really said…?”, beginning the temptation that would eventually bring sin into the world and blind us from God’s purity, purpose, and plan.

Today, that question, “Has God really said…?” is brought up daily. As we move forward during these challenging days we, as pastors and leaders, must be clear on what the Bible says about who we really are. With great compassion, we can draw people back to the scriptures and to God’s original design. Through Jesus we have not only been forgiven of our sins, but also brought back into the wholeness that Adam and Eve had before sin entered the world.

I have spent years meditating on Genesis 1:1-3 because I believe with all my heart that if you can fully absorb God’s original intent and understand the power of sin, you will be well-equipped to navigate the issues of the day, specifically related to gender, marriage, and family.

At Antioch Community Church, we are on a journey to help people through the confusion of our culture. When we deal specifically with the issue of homosexuality, I realize there are three categories of people we are communicating with:

Category 1: Those who know homosexuality is sin and desperately want help. It is our responsibility to offer help with great compassion. At Antioch, we offer a program called Living Waters, an eight week in-depth approach to healing sexual brokenness and clarifying identity. We also have specific counseling services as well. But the core of who we are is our small groups, which we call Lifegroups, where we offer discipleship and community. The sense of belonging that comes from those relationships is really the make or break for someone coming out of any addiction, especially sexual addiction.

Category 2:  Those who are not sure if homosexuality is right or wrong.  I have found that those 30 years of age and younger are Biblically illiterate and culturally immersed. When we are speaking to that group, they are not necessarily resistant to God’s word, it is just that they don’t know what God’s word says. For those who have honest hearts and honest questions, we offer clarity on where we stand in written form, spoken communication and books and resources offered. We also offer discipleship to answer those in-depth questions such as, “How do I deal with a friend or family member?” and “How do I deal with my own struggles?”  By realizing we are re-educating a generation, we can better understand where to go and what is needed.

Category 3: Those who believe homosexuality is who they are and it is their lifestyle of choice despite any loving insight from the Bible or other believers. This is what the Bible calls rebellion. Psalm 68:5- 6 says God is a Father to the fatherless and gives a home to the lonely. The passage ends with the phrase, “only the rebellious live in a parched land.” After 25 years of ministering to people, not just with sexual brokenness but all kinds of sin issues, I find God is willing to heal and restore anyone, unless they are willfully rebellious to God, His word and His people. That rebellion ultimately keeps them from what they need.

The way I describe it to people who choose to walk another way but still want to be a part of the church, is that the church is not simply a civic organization or a social gathering. The church is a group of people gathered around Jesus Christ and the scriptures who are trying to live life according to His way and not their own. In our by-laws we have a clear doctrinal statement that clarifies what we believe about marriage and about how we live our lives. To be a member of Antioch, one must sign off on that doctrinal statement and on a Matthew 18 discipline process for those who choose sin and rebellion. There is a rare occasion where someone will go all the way through a discipline process because they obviously can choose in a voluntary organization to walk away whenever they like. What needs to be clear, though, is what God’s Word says and where we stand for discipline through the journey.

Throughout American history, and actually world history, revival has always come when we have realized our sin and brought people back to God and the scriptures.  In the midst of the brokenness of our society, we need a revival; a returning to God and His ways. As pastors and leaders, we do it with compassion, but we also do it with such clarity that people truly can come face to face with who God is, how their sin breaks God’s heart, and also destroys their own lives.  When we do that, no matter what the challenges are, we can trust that God will use us to set men and women free.  And isn’t that we are called to do? To be the rescued who in turn rescue others so God might be glorified and people might be helped.

http://antiochcc.com/sermons/clarity-and-compassion/

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