Wyoming judge censured for gay marriage opposition

 
Proponents of religious liberty have expressed mixed opinions on the Wyoming Supreme Court's censure of a judge for saying her religious beliefs would prevent her from performing same-sex weddings. Judge Ruth Neely's counsel from Alliance Defending Freedom cited the court's decision not to remove her from the bench as a recognition "that her honorable beliefs about marriage do not disqualify her from serving her community as a judge." But Martha Lawley, a Wyoming attorney and former officer of the Southern ...

ERLC, LifeWay release religious liberty curriculum

 
Two Southern Baptist entities have combined efforts to produce a small-group study on religious liberty at a time when the fundamental freedom appears to be both threatened and misunderstood in the United States. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and LifeWay Christian Resources announced the release of the study—"Religious Liberty: How the Gospel Shapes Our First Freedom"—on March 7. The six-week study is available for purchase through LifeWay. The free exercise of religion guaranteed in the ...

Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein continue court fight

 
Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein took their religious liberty fight to court March 2 after they were penalized for refusing business for a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony. First Liberty Institute defended the Kleins before a three-judge panel in the Oregon Court of Appeals, promoting the couple's constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech and due process in a court session webcast online. Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty president and CEO, said after the proceedings that he hopes the court upholds the ...

Prayer for injured player leads to Freedom From Religion complaint

 
A Tennessee public school system has agreed to update employees on applicable constitutional law after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained of a Southern Baptist pastor's impromptu prayer over an injured player at a high school football game this past season. The Hamilton County Department of Education will "provide additional training to its employees on the application of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in public schools," HCDE attorney D. Scott Bennett recently told the FFRF. On Jan. 27, the FFRF ...

Ken Whitten: When freedoms are lost, church form will change

 
Lots of people are wondering what the future of the church will look like as we live in an increasingly secularized society. Count me among those. So, when I met recently with Ken Whitten, senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in the Tampa suburb of Lutz, I looked around his beautiful campus and then popped the question: What did he think the future of the universal church would look like? “The church is Jesus’ bride. We know that,&...

New ADF president has big plans for securing religious liberty

 
New Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Farris says he wants to make ADF larger than the American Civil Liberties Union and secure religious liberty in America for generations to come. Farris, a founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and Patrick Henry College, began his duties with ADF Jan. 10. He also serves as CEO and general counsel at ADF, a legal organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom. "I hope that Alliance Defending Freedom grows and prospers ...

Judge blocks HHS mandate on gender transition, abortion

 
A federal judge has blocked implementation of a controversial Obama administration rule that requires doctors to perform gender transition procedures or treatments, as well as abortions. In a Dec. 31 opinion, judge Reed O'Connor of the Northern District of Texas granted a nationwide, preliminary injunction against a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that mandates the performance of and insurance coverage for gender transitions—even on children—and abortions, even if they violate the religious or ethical ...

Congress OKs new International Religious Freedom Act

 
Congress has approved legislation promoted by religious freedom advocates that should strengthen the United States' effort to combat persecution of Christians and other faith minorities. The House of Representatives approved the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), H.R. 1150, Dec. 13 to complete congressional action on the proposal. That action came only three days after the Senate amended and passed an earlier House-approved version. Both the House and Senate endorsed the amended bill without opposition. Bill supporters are optimistic ...

SBC leaders defend religious liberty against gender laws

 
More than 20 leaders of Southern Baptist institutions have endorsed a new statement that defends religious freedom by rejecting sexual orientation and gender identity laws. The document—"Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion"—says even "narrowly crafted" sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) measures "threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable." The Colson Center for Christian Worldview released the statement on Dec. 14 with 79 original signatories. SOGI policies seek to ...

Dr. Brunson: 'I'm very much marked by my dad's generation'

 
I recently asked Dr. Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, what counsel he could provide when it comes to discussing politics and the recent election with millennials. Here was my specific question: A lot of believers, especially millennials, of which I have three, are uncomfortable with public professions of support for specific political candidates, issues or parties. What counsel would you give to them? “Well, I think that is unique to them, in a sense,&...

Supreme Court will decide if hospitals can remain as ministries

 
The U.S. Supreme Court should prevent the government from making the determination if Protestant and Catholic hospitals qualify as faith-based ministries, religious freedom advocates say. The high court announced Dec. 2 it would review lower-court rulings in cases involving religious hospitals that are being threatened with losing the ability to participate in church pension plans. Three religious health-care systems in California, Illinois and New Jersey have lost in federal appeals courts, which have ruled the hospitals are ineligible for a ...

Bivocational minister in Georgia refuses to turn over sermons

 
A bivocational lay minister and physician is refusing to give the state of Georgia copies of his past sermons in a legal suit alleging the state fired him as health director because of his religious beliefs. Eric Walsh will not comply with the district court's request for his sermons and relevant notes because he believes the court has exceeded its authority in the request, he said in an Oct. 26 press release from his counsel, First Liberty Institute. "No government has ...

Pew: Americans divided over religious liberty

 
A Pew Research Center report suggesting deep division between Americans who support religious liberty and those who support so-called sexual liberty has drawn critique for its framing of issues related to contraception, same-sex marriage and transgenderism. At the same time, the report has drawn praise as generally reflective of the cultural moment. A survey released Sept. 28 found 67 percent of the 4,538 Americans polled said employers with religious objections to contraception should nonetheless be required to provide it in their employee health ...

Internet change could threaten religious liberty

 
When the U.S. government relinquishes control of a nonprofit organization that oversees internet domain names, a California Baptist University software engineering professor says, the potential for religious liberty violations could increase. Since 1998, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has coordinated and administered internet domain names, with oversight from the U.S. Department of Commerce. But as of Oct. 1, when the government's contract expires, ICANN will be governed entirely by an independent board—a move that ...

Travis Wussow to succeed Barrett Duke in leading ERLC's D.C. office

 
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has named one of its own—international justice and religious freedom advocate Travis Wussow—to direct its Washington, D.C., office. ERLC President Russell Moore announced Wussow's appointment as the new vice president for public policy, as well as general counsel, Monday (Sept. 19). In these roles, Wussow will coordinate the commission's legislative, coalition and legal efforts. He also will continue to lead its international work. Wussow, 33, is now serving as ...

Change in California bill results in religious liberty win

 
Advocates of religious freedom in higher education gained an important victory Wednesday (Aug. 10) on a controversial California bill that retains some troubling provisions for Christian and other schools. The proposal's sponsor announced he would remove language at the heart of protests only a day after a Southern Baptist-led coalition issued a statement urging California legislators to withdraw their support. The multi-faith statement -- initiated by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) -- said the measure, SB 1146, would harm low-income, ...

New Russian religion law said to 'undercut' missions and evangelism

 
A new Russian law that prohibits evangelism and preaching outside state-sanctioned sites reminds New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor Jake Roudkovski of his days as a youth in the Soviet Union. "Baptist churches in Russia will survive" the law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin July 6 and set to take effect July 20, Roudkovski, associate professor of evangelism and pastoral leadership, told Baptist Press. Such oppression "is nothing new to them. ... They will stay faithful to the Gospel." Still, the law "...

Iowa churches counter gender identity law

 
Two Iowa churches say the Iowa Civil Rights Commission's interpretation of a state civil rights law could force them to open restrooms to members of the opposite sex and inhibit their ability to teach biblical truth about gender. One of the churches, Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines, filed a lawsuit in federal court July 4. The other, Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, sent a demand letter to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission July 5 asking the Commission ...

Mississippi religious freedom bill struck down

 
A bill that would have safeguarded the religious liberty of individuals and organizations who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings or gender identity transitions was stuck down by a U.S. district judge Thursday night (June 30), hours before the bill was slated to take effect July 1. The law "does not advance the interest the State says it does," Judge Carlton Reeves wrote in his 60-page ruling, which issued a preliminary injunction against the measure. "Under the guise of providing additional ...

'The biggest threat to Christian higher education in the history of the United States of America'

 
The religious liberty of California's faith-based colleges hangs in the balance in the state legislature. The State Assembly is considering a bill -- already approved by the Senate -- that Christian and other religious universities and colleges say would eliminate their religious freedom and that of their students. The legislation, Senate Bill 1146, affects any "postsecondary educational institution that receives, or benefits from, state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state student financial aid" and would limit a religious exemption ...

Russian law would restrict evangelism

 
A Russian law that would place significant limits on Christian evangelism has drawn opposition from the International Mission Board, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse and a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor. Passed by both houses of Russia's parliament within the past week and awaiting President Vladimir Putin's signature, the bill has been called "a step toward an Iron Curtain" by an opposition leader, The Los Angeles Times reported. According to Christianity Today, the measure would require that citizens who ...

Mosque-building satirical rumor about SBC exposed as lie

 
A rumor promulgated by satirical news-like websites and blogs that the Southern Baptist Convention and at least one cooperating state convention are building Islamic mosques is being exposed as a lie. The self-proclaimed "Christian apocalyptic … news satire and parody site" The End Times wrote perhaps the first posting of the false report as early as May 28 when it claimed the SBC had launched a "Mosques Across America" campaign "to build mosques all across the nation in order to help ...

Baptists, other faith leaders support universal religious freedom

 
Religious leaders with widely diverse views called for freedom for all faith groups, not just their own, during a May 23 panel discussion sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic, Mormon and Muslim representatives explained to an audience on Capitol Hill why their faith perspectives support universal religious freedom despite the distinctions in their beliefs. "Our differences are too important to be adjudicated by the state or to be applied through pressure," said Southern ...

Report: International religious freedom continues to decline

 
Religious liberty continued to worsen globally in the last year, according to the annual report of a bipartisan, federal watchdog. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported Monday (May 2) governments around the world and non-government forces in locations such as Nigeria, Iraq and Syria were guilty of a "serious and sustained assault" on freedom of belief. The commission cited the rampant imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, the startling increase in refugees and the ongoing bigotry toward Jews ...

Ga. fires physician for lay sermons, lawsuit says

 
First Liberty Institute has filed a lawsuit for a bivocational lay minister and physician, alleging the state of Georgia fired him because of sermons he delivered in the pulpit before his employment as a district health director. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) fired Eric Walsh a week after hiring him as a district health director for northwest Atlanta because of the content of sermons he delivered as an ordained lay minister, alleges the suit filed April 20 in U....

Cities, states ban travel to Miss., N.C.

 
At least nine U.S. cities and five states have banned non-essential travel by government employees to Mississippi, North Carolina or both, claiming religious liberty bills adopted there discriminate against homosexual and transgendered persons. A Mississippi pastor told Baptist Press he's proud of his state legislature's courage and confused by the seeming hypocrisy of some critics. Pastors in Vermont and Washington -- two states to enact bans -- said such actions are a predictable outworking of the secular worldview that ...

Ga. religious liberty veto lamented, analyzed

 
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's veto of a religious liberty bill March 28 has provoked a stream of responses from social conservatives. Despite a Clout Research poll indicating two-thirds of Georgians supported House Bill 757—the Free Exercise Protection Act—the measure fell just short of a veto-proof majority in each chamber of the Georgia General Assembly. The bill combined elements of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a First Amendment Defense Act and a Pastor Protection Act. The consensus among conservative ...

Mississippi adopts religious freedom bill

 
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed into law a bill safeguarding the religious liberty of individuals and organizations who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings or gender identity transitions. Bryant, a Republican, announced today (April 5) via Twitter that he signed House Bill 1523—the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. "I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or ...

Study shows Americans believe religious liberty is declining

 
A growing number of Americans believe religious liberty is on the decline and that the nation's Christians face growing intolerance, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. Those surveyed also noted American Christians complain too much. Those are among the findings of a new study of views about religious liberty from LifeWay Research. Researchers surveyed 1,000 Americans in September 2013 and September 2015 and then compared the results. Two-thirds (63 percent) say Christians face increasing intolerance, up from half (50 percent) in 2013. A similar number (60 ...

Southern Baptists criticize Ga. governor's decision to veto religious liberty bill

 
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's March 28 announcement that he will veto the state's religious liberty bill has provoked criticism from social conservatives, including Southern Baptists. Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told Baptist Press that Deal, a Republican, "missed an opportunity to stand for Georgia values as opposed to Wall Street and Hollywood values. We certainly respect his right to make that decision, but we also respect the right to voice our disappointment with it." House ...

NYC bathroom order called 'one-way tolerance'

 
A New York City executive order underscoring the requirement that city agencies allow transgender persons to use any restroom they choose is among the latest round of cultural challenges to which believers are responding. In other developments, Georgia's Republican governor has suggested his opposition to a bill that would allow wedding vendors to decline service to same-sex couples based on religious convictions; Hawaii legislators are considering a proposal to ban licensed counselors from attempting to help minors overcome same-sex attraction; ...

Florist who refused gay wedding gets appeal

 
The highest court in Washington state has agreed to hear the appeal of florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was found guilty of violating state laws and the constitutional rights of a gay couple when she refused to arrange flowers for their wedding, citing religious beliefs. The Washington Supreme Court will hear the appeal of Stutzman, a 70-year-old Southern Baptist grandmother who owns Arlene's Flowers in Richmond, possibly as early as its spring 2016 session beginning in May, according to the court's official ...

Religious liberty violations recounted at NRB convention

 
As followers of Christ in America experience increasing attacks against their religious liberty, Christian journalists have an opportunity to lay the groundwork for rights of conscience to prevail, an attorney and a Fox News commentator said at Proclaim 16, the National Religious Broadcasters' International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of legal advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom, said during an NRB panel discussion that ADF is contacted nearly every day by Christians whose religious liberty is ...

Charlotte (N.C.) council passes LGBT ordinance

 
After voting down a highly controversial sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) ordinance in March 2015, the Charlotte (N.C.) City Council passed a similar measure Feb. 22 requiring places of "public accommodation" to abide by a nondiscrimination policy that includes "marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression." Opponents say the ordinance allows sexual predators to visit the bathrooms or locker rooms of their choice, endangering women and children. The ordinance, which passed on a 7-4 vote, now ...

NASA bans 'Jesus' in employee emails, Liberty Institute says

 
Liberty Institute has threatened legal action against NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, charging that employees who comprise a praise group were prohibited from using the name of Jesus in emails advertising a meeting. NASA banned the praise group from using the name of Jesus after the group sent emails announcing the theme "Jesus is our life" for a meeting in a space center building, Liberty Institute and attorneys Fish & Richardson P.C. of Dallas informed NASA in a ...