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World Magazine just published an article about how a number of pastors are “taking aim at the rule banning political speech in churches.”  The article highlights Alliance Defending Freedom’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a growing movement of pastors who believe that they have the right to speak freely from their pulpits on the issue of candidates and elections and not be punished by the government if they choose to do so.  The article quoted Bishop Aubrey Shines, Senior Pastor of Glory to Glory Ministries in Tampa, Florida:

“We should ignore political parties, and, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., measure [candidates] by the content of their character…  Let’s see if they measure up to some standard of morality that we would be comfortable with as believers in Christianity.”

Bishop Shines is exactly right.  For the first almost two hundred years of American history, pastors spoke boldly from the pulpit about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking public office. That changed with the passage of the Johnson Amendment in 1954.  But, as the World article notes, pastors are beginning to push back against this unconstitutional law that threatens their ability to speak freely on the biblical perspective of the candidates seeking office.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is coming up next year on October 5, 2014.  If you are a pastor would you consider being one of the first to sign up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014?  You can get more information and sign up at www.pulpitfreedom.org.  Join the growing movement of pastors across the country courageously standing for the freedom of the pulpit.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

By: Brett Harvey

Wars turn on single battles in key places that shift momentum, alter public perception, or redefine the nature of the entire conflict. Civil War buffs know that the fortunes of both the North and the South were changed forever on battlefields near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The infamy of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a stark reminder to the American people that remaining idle in the face of advancing tyranny does not protect people from danger. The battle on a wooden bridge in Concord, Massachusetts moved a struggle for the rights of British subjects into the American War of Independence.

The same is true for social conflicts. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a preacher’s daughter, was targeted by defenders of the South’s economic engine, but her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, solidified the anti-slavery movement and inspired Abraham Lincoln, who later penned the Emancipation Proclamation. Susan B. Anthony defied the law and cast a single vote in the presidential election of 1872.  When found guilty, she refused to pay the $100 fine and led the movement to give women the right to vote. Facing what critics called the inevitable rise of communism, Ronald Reagan stood in the center of Berlin, Germany — in the shadow of the “iron curtain” that shielded the communist bloc — and demanded “tear down this wall!”

History looks back on these momentous events with pride.  But taking a stand in the midst of constant criticism and attack, when the outcome is anything but certain, takes courage and commitment. A small town in upstate New York is taking just such a stand. Greece, N.Y. is in the bullseye of a nationwide attack challenging the right of people to offer prayers to open public meetings.

On November 6, 2013, Alliance Defending Freedom and the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher will defend this small town before the United States Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway. Opposing the town stands Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, among others.

The Supreme Court decision will be a watershed moment in a nationwide battle to define the liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. At stake is the right of volunteer citizens to decide for themselves how they pray, and the right of a town to accommodate the beliefs of its citizens. The forces arrayed against the town are demanding that the town either stop opening prayers or censor the way people pray.

Opening public meetings with a prayer is a historic and cherished tradition that predates the founding of this nation. From the landing of the Mayflower, through the deliberations of the Continental Congress, and still continued in every state at every level of government, including the U.S. Congress, Americans seek Divine guidance and blessing on their deliberations. In 1983, the Supreme Court recognized this history and noted that Congress hired paid chaplains to open its meeting with prayer while they were writing the very words of the First Amendment. Finding such prayers unconstitutional would absurdly suggest that the framers of the Constitution were violating the document as they wrote it!

Despite the historical pedigree, AU and its allies want to redefine religious liberty to give them the right to silence or censor prayers simply because they don’t want to hear the way others choose to pray. Since 2004, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed, and hundreds of towns and counties across the country have been threatened in an effort to silence or censor prayers. Many towns and counties have given up under the threats of costly litigation. Now, all of the legal firepower is aimed at the Town of Greece. The stakes are high as the outcome of this case will help shape the definition of religious liberty in America. Alliance Defending Freedom is proud to stand with the courageous people of the Town of Greece.

If you support public prayer and think this valuable tradition should continue, sign the Statement of Support for prayer.

To learn more about the case and what’s at stake, visit www.FreeToPray.com.

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By David J. Hacker

As a pastor, you see them—the signs of a new school year are all around us.  The teachers you shepherd are preparing for a new year teaching a new class of students. Yellow school buses are back on the roads, parents are taking advantage of back-to-school specials, and recently empty school parking lots are now buzzing with activity.  Your church is likely also in the swing of things, promoting Sunday school kids from one grade to the next and starting a new year of curriculum.  But with the start of school—whether kindergarten or college—comes many questions about students sharing their faith on campus.  There are things you as a pastor should know to help guide your congregation during the school year.

Religion is Allowed in Public Schools

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of students of all ages to express their religious beliefs on campus.  As the U.S. Supreme Court said nearly twenty years ago, private religious speech is not a “First Amendment orphan.”  Students can pray on campus—on their own or in groups.  Students can bring Bibles to campus and reference them in assignments (if it’s relevant to the subject matter being taught).  And if a public school or college allows students to form clubs on campus, students can form religious clubs and receive all the same resources provided to non-religious student clubs.

Students May Share their Faith in Public Schools

Of course, many students will want to share their faith with their classmates.  Whether in class or among friends, students do not need to suppress their religious viewpoints, and school administrators cannot tell them to do so.  In fact, the Constitution protects students’ rights to pass out religious flyers and materials.  This is especially true if schools already permit students to hand out non-religious materials.

Religious Freedom in Schools is Under Attack

Religious freedom is alive and well in public schools and universities, but that’s not to say it isn’t under attack.  In recent years, public schools have adopted vague and overly restrictive anti-bullying and diversity policies.  The problem is that these policies give school administrators virtually unrestrained discretion to decide what constitutes “bullying,” and all too often they define “bullying” as sharing the Gospel.  Many public schools also have adopted policies prohibiting religious flyers or proselytizing.  The thinking is that these activities violate the so-called “separation of church and state.”  But as we said above, the First Amendment protects students who want to share their faith on campus.  Finally, public schools are increasingly censoring religious student speech and prayers at football games, graduations, and other activities.  But so long as school administrators are not telling students what to say or how to pray, students speak as private individuals and may do so freely.

You would hope that public universities, the quintessential “marketplaces of ideas,” would prove to be better examples of protecting religious liberty on campus, but they are not.  Like their public school siblings, public universities nationwide use vague speech codes to punish religious students who hold views or opinions that are outside the secular campus mainstream.  These universities also try to limit student speech to “speech zones”—typically, small areas of campus where students may engage in speech, but which prevent students from sharing their faith elsewhere.  And many public universities put special restrictions on religious student organizations—telling them they cannot select leaders based on religious beliefs, or they cannot access mandatory student fees if they pray or worship.  All of these policies discriminate against students of faith and are unconstitutional.

There is Help Available

Students should not think that when they return to campus this year they must leave their faith at home.  The Supreme Court said long ago that students do not shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates.  Students may share their faith freely and boldly on campus.  But if they experience any of these threats to religious liberty on campus, they should contact Alliance Defending Freedom for free help.

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Have you ever considered the name in which you pray?  While this question might entertain a theology class, it is now the subject of a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court called Town of Greece v. Galloway.  On November 6, 2013, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments whether local clergy and others have the liberty to pray according to the convictions and teachings of their faith when delivering invocations before Town Board meetings. If you as a pastor are asked to give the invocation before any town function, this case will impact you as the outcome may pit your religious beliefs on how to pray squarely against efforts to create a state mandate on how to pray.

Since the First Continental Congress, our national legislature has opened up congressional sessions with prayer. The United States Supreme Court observed this long standing tradition in Marsh v. Chambers where the Court first took up the issue of legislative prayer. In Marsh, the Court noted “The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”

The Court pointed out that “the Continental Congress, beginning in 1774, adopted the traditional procedure of opening its sessions with a prayer offered by a paid chaplain” and that “the First Congress, as one of  its early items of business, adopted the policy of selecting a chaplain to open each session with prayer.”

The Court concluded, “Clearly the men who wrote the First Amendment Religion Clause did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment, for the practice of opening sessions with prayer has continued without interruption ever since that early session of Congress.”  And if there were any doubts as to the importance of this long standing practice, the Court put those to rest in stating, “In light of the unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society.”

But groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who filed the lawsuit to stop the prayer practice in Greece, New York, were not content to leave this ruling unchallenged.  Rather than mounting a direct attack on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Marsh, it is seeking to undermine the practice of legislative prayer by challenging how and to whom those prayers are given.  They complained that the volunteers chose to give too many prayers in Jesus name, and suggested that the Town has an obligation to limit or censor the way people pray.

We have represented the Town of Greece from the very beginning of this case, and will continue to defend them before the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is critical to religious liberty in this country that pastors be able to pray according to their own conscience, and not according to a governmental mandate on prayer.

So on November 6, 2013, the highest court in America will take up this issue.  This case will impact your town and state.  It is highly likely that your local governmental bodies open their sessions with prayer, consistent with the Founding Father’s practice.  And you might be asked to give the invocation to bring solemnity to the proceedings.  The question will become – in whose name will you pray?

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

By Matthew Sharp

Imagine that one day you receive a notice from your child’s school that a weapon or ammunition had been found on campus. Your mind would immediately turn to the frightening stories from places such as Sandy Hook Elementary or Columbine High School where innocent children were targeted by ruthless killers.

That is what one New Hampshire parent faced when she learned that bullets had been found in a restroom at Concord High School where her two children attended school. But as a devout Christian, Lizarda Urena knew that the best course of action she could take to help protect her children and all of the students and staff at the high school was to pray. And that is exactly what she did.

After obtaining permission from the school principal, Ms. Urena began going to the campus each morning about 45 minutes before school starts (and before most students had even arrived) to pray. In an isolated area of the campus, she would spend 15 minutes quietly praying for everyone’s safety. She never imposed her beliefs on anyone passing by, nor did she create any disturbance.

But when the Freedom from Religion Foundation learned of Ms. Urena’s prayers, they sent a letter to the school district demanding that Ms. Urena be prohibited from ever praying at the high school again. And unfortunately, the school caved in to these unreasonable demands.

Are the prayers of caring parents and community members banned from schools? Absolutely not. Praying for divine guidance and blessings is one of the great American traditions. Our Founding Fathers prayed that God would “look down in mercy…on these our American states” as they undertook the task of declaring independence and forming a new nation. Since then, our Presidents have consistently prayed “may God Bless America” in their public speeches and Congress has opened its sessions with prayer. Indeed, courts have repeatedly upheld activities such as See You at the Pole and the National Day of Prayer where students, parents, and community members gather to invoke God’s blessings and protections over their schools and communities.

As our students head back to school, your church has a variety of ways that it can continue this important tradition and cover the students, teachers, and schools in your community with prayer for the coming year:

1.     Encourage the students, parents, and community members in your congregation to participate in See You At The Pole, scheduled for Wednesday, September 25th, at your local schools.

2.     Support the faith-based student clubs at your local schools. Co-sponsor events with them or donate needed items to support the activities and mission of the clubs.

3.     Select a local school for your church to support. Contact the school’s principal and offer to donate school supplies to students in need. Have the members of your congregation send notes of thanks and encouragement to the teachers at the school. And pray for the school and its staff and students during your worship services.

Alliance Defending Freedom is working tirelessly to defend the right of Lizarda Urena and parents, pastors, and community members throughout the country to pray. But that right is meaningless if we as people of faith don’t exercise it regularly. So in the words of Paul, “pray without ceasing” for your students, teachers, and schools.

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