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The recent government shutdown got me to thinking; what if other entities in our society shut down?  What if there was a “Church shutdown?”  This, obviously is a far-fetched idea that would never happen given Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18 that: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  But what if we indulged the impossible for a moment and considered what would happen if, like the government, the Church were to “shut down?”

Society would feel the effects of a Church shutdown far more profoundly than any government shutdown.  The Church fulfills a function in culture and society that cannot be replicated by other entities.  Our Founders recognized this.  John Adams stated, “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. Religion and virtue are the only foundations . . . of republicanism and of all free governments.”  The churches of America are where religion is propagated.  If the Church were to “shut down,” the “principles upon which freedom can securely stand” would be gone.

Additionally, as I noted in a previous post, churches provide an intangible benefit to society in that they are in the business of making good citizens.  The propagation and acceptance of the Gospel message results in things like reduced crime rates from transformed lives, suicides prevented when people surrender to Christ, and people with destructive behavioral patterns that harm the community changing into hard-working and virtuous citizens who contribute to the well-being of the community. A “Church shutdown” would affect our society and culture in numerous intangible ways.

Finally, there is no ignoring the great outreach efforts to the “least of these” performed by the Church in America. An interesting study conducted a few years ago attempted to put a value on the economic worth of one church. The study estimated that the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia provided over six million dollars of economic value to the community, a figure that is nearly ten times the church’s annual budget.  In reality, there is no way to quantify the soup kitchens, clothes closets, homeless shelters, counseling, financial benevolence, and all the other outreach work churches do.  A “Church shutdown” would remove these valuable services from society.

It is important for us, at times, to remember the great benefits of the Church to American society and culture.  In a day when churches are frequently viewed as just another business, or as a nuisance to society, or as a pot of money to be taxed by the government, taking a step back to recognize and appreciate the role of the Church is helpful.  As the government “shutdown” affects our country in numerous ways, a “Church shutdown” would affect our country in even more dramatic ways.

Alliance Defending Freedom recognizes this fact and is working hard to protect the right of the Church to minister freely in proclaiming the Gospel and in serving the community.  We recognize that, as the liberty of the Church to “be the Church” in America is restricted, society suffers and declines correspondingly.  But as the Church remains free to fulfill its mission and role, society benefits in untold ways.  If your church faces legal restrictions that hinder its ability to minister freely, please contact us so one of our attorneys can review your situation.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Have you ever considered how vital churches are to the community? Throughout history, churches have established hospitals, founded schools, operated drug and alcohol recovery programs, supported women in crisis pregnancies, mentored troubled teens, operated soup kitchens, and many other critical services that improve lives in their communities. Churches are on mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around them, particularly the “least of these.”

So it’s mind-blowing that anyone would object to a church partnering with its city to provide a critical community service that no one else was willing to do – operate an emergency winter shelter for the homeless. But when Christ Central Ministries teamed up with the city of Columbia, South Carolina to do just that, the usual suspects (the ACLU), invoked the usual mantra (“separation of church and state”), and began saber-rattling.

Christ Central Ministries is a church with a heart for the homeless. It operates the largest homeless, inner-city poverty ministry in South Carolina, and has worked with the poor and disadvantaged for over 20 years. So when Columbia asked for volunteers to operate its temporary winter homeless shelter, the Church naturally stepped up to help. Unsurprisingly, no one else was willing to operate the shelter for the mere $500,000 offered by the city – a sum that falls nearly $1 million short of the estimated total cost to run the shelter.

Churches have every right to partner with their local, state, and federal government to provide social services to their communities. As long as churches are not using these partnerships to indoctrinate those they serve, churches and other religious groups cannot be sidelined in civic life.

Which is good news for the homeless of Columbia, South Carolina. Despite threats from the ACLU, Christ Central Ministries and the city of Columbia finalized their contract on October 4. By the time the shelter opened its doors on October 5, nearly 150 homeless individuals had pre-registered to stay at the shelter.

Churches are vital to their communities. If your church encounters obstacles in living out its faith in the community, please contact us so our attorneys can review your situation.

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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