Religion

Cross targeted by atheists will remain standing on Florida public property

A 78-year-old cross on public property in Florida targeted by atheist groups will remain standing after a victory in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled Wednesday that the Bayview Cross in Pensacola, which was built ahead of World War II as a place for the community to gather, does not violate the Constitution. “The Supreme Court has now made clear that religious symbols are an important part of our nation’s history and culture,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement. The federal appeals court ruled the cross is constitutional, noting it has become “embedded in the fabric of the Pensacola community” and that removing it could “strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.” Four individuals, represented by the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued the city in 2016, demanding the cross be torn down. Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson celebrated the ruling. “Pensacola is a historic city with a rich and diverse history. The Bayview Cross is an important part of that history as a symbol of our community’s coming together during a national crisis,” Robinson said. “Today the citizens of Pensacola will celebrate our long-awaited victory and the preservation of the Bayview Cross.” The decision came after the June 2019 Supreme Court’s landmark religious liberty case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, in which First Liberty Institute successfully defended the World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg, Md. “The Supreme Court made clear in The American Legion decision that the days of governments roaming the land to scrub all public symbols of faith are over,” Mike Berry, general counsel to First Liberty Institute, said. “We’re thrilled to see our victory in that case already making an impact and protecting religious freedom across the country.” Monica Miller, American Humanist Association legal director and senior counsel, said the group is exploring all their options, calling it a “devastating blow” to the Establishment Clause.

Oh WHAAAA Monica!  This is an OUTSTANDING decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and one we should ALL be celebrating.  It is a clear and decisive victory for our religious freedoms.  Despite what these whining atheists would have you believe, the 1st Amendment only says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”  Our founders who wrote that had fled religious persecution in Great Britain where there was an official national religion.  So, they wanted to make sure that there was no official religion of the United States.  BUT, our founders didn’t want religion (especially Christianity) banned from the public, or from our public schools…which is where that second part comes in.  In other words, we have freedom OF religion, but not freedom FROM religion.  Thank God.

Texas churchgoers are training to fight off attackers wielding guns

Beneath the Christmas lights still hanging in the church’s fellowship room, Jack Mills pointed a Glock handgun at his enemy’s chest and pulled the trigger. A loud crack rang out as a shell casing flew from the weapon, but the man facing the gunfire didn’t fall. Instead a red light on his high-tech vest began blinking, signaling a hit from the laser in Mills’ gun. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Mills began designing the equipment a year ago to help armed churchgoers learn how to confront a gunman. Shooting a paper target is one thing, Mills said. Firing at a real person is another. “If you haven’t shot somebody in the face, how do you know you can?” he said. Mills is part of a growing cottage industry in Texas that uses police-like tactics to train churchgoers who fear the next attack could target their house of worship. Requests for help spike after each tragedy, businesses said. The most recent came in December, when a man opened fire during Sunday service at a White Settlement church and killed two worshippers, before he was fatally shot by an armed congregant. There’s no official count of how many congregation members pack heat in Texas churches. But security businesses said the number is growing thanks to recent changes by the Legislature that make it easier for worshippers to carry guns in church and form teams of armed protectors. With few industry standards, however, the training offered in Texas runs the gamut from active shooter drills, to programs that demand congregants pass a psychological evaluation and train for hours in life-like scenarios. One Texas firm has a trainer walk the church halls shooting blanks, so parishioners learn what approaching gunfire sounds like in their own sanctuary. “What’s driving it is an awareness,” said Carl Chinn, president of the national Faith Based Security Network. “We were under some illusion that because we had a cross on the roof and a name over the door that we were somehow immune from these kinds of attacks.” Still, congregations grapple with whether to welcome guns in the door. Just under half of 1,000 Protestant pastors nationwide reported arming their members, according to a survey released in January by Lifeway Research. Roughly 6% of the pastors said they hire police or armed security during services, a step that can be out of reach for smaller churches that don’t have the funding. Some critics warn that letting congregants carry guns without any training could lead to catastrophe if a firefight erupts in a crowded church. It can be a delicate balance stationing armed congregants at the church doors, while still maintaining an atmosphere inviting to newcomers.

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Jeffress: Trump is right to hit back against Pelosi, Romney on ‘phony’ faith remarks

President Trump was right when he ripped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney for their comments on faith surrounding the impeachment trial at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning, First Baptist Church pastor Robert Jeffress told Fox News. “[Trump] absolutely hates phoniness…and the president thinks there’s something inherently phony about saying that you’re praying for him while you’re working 24/7 to destroy him,” the author of “Courageous: 10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World,” told “Fox & Friends” Friday. “And, by the way, the Bible supports his skepticism,” the Dallas pastor added, quoting James: “We shouldn’t be blessing and cursing at the same time.” At Thursday’s prayer breakfast after being acquitted by the Senate, Trump, referring to Romney and Pelosi, said, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong, nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you’ when they know that that’s not so.” Pelosi, who was four seats away when Trump made the comment, responded during her weekly press conference. “He’s talking about things he knows little about — faith and prayer,” Pelosi said. After someone told Trump that Jesus commands us to “love our enemies,” he asked Jeffress what the pastor thought about it. “I said, ‘Mr. President, to love your enemies means to want God’s best for them, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be unified with them. Truth divides people.” “As long as this president speaks truth — especially about the sanctity of life, religious liberty — the Left is going to continue to hate him,” he said. “They’re going to continue to try to destroy him, and they’re not going to be holding hands with him singing kumbaya.” On Romney, who became the first senator in U.S. history to vote in favor of removing a president from his own party from office, Jeffress said, “I can understand why the president would think the decision was based more on self-promotion and bitterness than it was prayer.” “Mitt Romney has had vitriol against this president for years,” he explained. “It’s obvious he’s bitter that the American people rejected him two times for president and President Trump was able to do something he wasn’t.” Trump’s evangelical support, a key part of his conservative base, is steady with a 71 percent approval rating, according to the latest Fox News poll. “This impeachment process has really mobilized his evangelical base,” the pastor said, predicting a “landslide” in November. “I believe that evangelical turnout will be greater than even the historic turnout in 2016.”

Kudos to President Trump for calling out Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) for their nauseating, self-serving, self-righteous, and brazen hypocrisy….and hiding behind religion for their own self-serving reasons.  And, extra kudos to Pastor Jeffress for having the courage to support Trump in that regard.  It’s about time we had people of faith calling it as they see it.  Excellent!        🙂

The Mormon Church Amassed $100 Billion. It Was the Best-Kept Secret in the Investment World.

For more than half a century, the Mormon Church quietly built one of the world’s largest investment funds. Almost no one outside the church knew about it. Some of that mystery evaporated late last year when a former employee revealed in a whistleblower complaint with the Internal Revenue Service that the fund, called Ensign Peak Advisors, had stockpiled $100 billion. The whistleblower also alleged that the church had improperly used some Ensign Peak funds. Officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormon Church, denied those claims. They also declined to comment on how much money their investment fund controls. “We’ve tried to be somewhat anonymous,” Roger Clarke, the head of Ensign Peak, said from the firm’s fourth-floor office, above a Salt Lake City food court. Ensign Peak doesn’t appear in that building’s directory. Interviews with more than a dozen former employees and business partners provide a deeper look inside an organization that ballooned from a shoestring operation in the 1990s into a behemoth rivaling Wall Street’s largest firms. Its assets did total roughly $80 billion to $100 billion as of last year, some of the former employees said. That is at least double the size of Harvard University’s endowment and as large as the size of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the world’s largest tech-investment fund. Its holdings include $40 billion of U.S. stock, timberland in the Florida panhandle and investments in prominent hedge funds such as Bridgewater Associates LP, according to some current and former fund employees. Church officials acknowledged the size of the fund is a tightly held secret, which they said was because Ensign Peak depends on donations—known as tithing—from the church’s 16 million world-wide members. The church is under no legal obligation to publicly report its finances. But the whistleblower report—filed by David Nielsen, a former Ensign Peak portfolio manager—has heaped pressure on the church to be more transparent about its finances, something the church has avoided for decades. The firm doesn’t tell business partners how much money it manages, an unusual practice on Wall Street. Ensign Peak employees sign lifetime confidentiality agreements. Most current employees are no longer told the firm’s total assets under management, according to some of the former employees; few employees understand what the money is intended for. In their first-ever interview about Ensign Peak’s operations, Mr. Clarke and church officials who oversee the firm said it was a rainy-day account to be used in difficult economic times. As the church continues to grow in poorer areas of the world like Africa, where members cannot donate as much, it will need Ensign Peak’s holdings to help fund basic operations, they said. “We don’t know when the next 2008 is going to take place,” said Christopher Waddell, a member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak known as the presiding bishopric. Referring to the economic crash 12 years ago, he added, “If something like that were to happen again, we won’t have to stop missionary work.” During the last financial crisis, they didn’t touch the reserves Ensign Peak had amassed, church officials said. Instead, the church cut the budget. A former employee and the whistleblower in his report said they heard Mr. Clarke refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ as part of the reason for Ensign Peak’s existence. Mormons believe before Jesus returns, there will be a period of war and hardship. Mr. Clarke said the employees must have misunderstood his meaning. “We believe at some point the savior will return. Nobody knows when,” he said. When the second coming happens, “we don’t have any idea whether financial assets will have any value at all,” he added. “The issue is what happens before that, not at the second coming.” Whereas university endowments generally subsidize operating costs with investment income, Ensign Peak does the opposite. Annual donations from the church’s members more than covers the church’s budget. The surplus goes to Ensign Peak. Members of the religion must give 10% of their income each year to remain in good standing. Dean Davies, another member of the ecclesiastical arm that oversees Ensign Peak, said the church doesn’t publicly share its assets because “these funds are sacred” and “we don’t flaunt them for public review and critique.” Mr. Clarke said he believed church leaders were concerned that public knowledge of the fund’s wealth might discourage tithing. “Paying tithing is more of a sense of commitment than it is the church needing the money,” Mr. Clarke said. “So they never wanted to be in a position where people felt like, you know, they shouldn’t make a contribution.” Some members are now asking why details about the fund have been tightly held for so long, what the money is for, and whether tithing so much to the church should still be the standard practice.

A fair question..  For more, click on the text above.

Founding fathers never discussed wall of separation between church and state

School civics classes teach that the Constitution guarantees the right to remain silent, freedom of speech, equal protection under the law, and a wall of separation between church and state. Except the founding document never actually talks about a wall. “It’s something that the courts and anti-religious groups created to keep religion out of our public square,” says John Bursch, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom. Like so much of founding-era wisdom, the concept of separation of church and state sprung from the mind of Thomas Jefferson — though he was not part of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, nor was he in that first Congress that drew up the amendments that would become the Bill of Rights. The third of those 12 amendments sent by Congress to the states for ratification included the admonition that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Only 10 of the 12 amendments were ratified at the time — the first two didn’t earn enough states’ approval — which is how the third amendment became the First Amendment in late 1791. Enter Jefferson a decade later, in early 1802, now in the White House and being battered by his political enemies, the Federalists. Publicly pious and eager to show it, they promoted days of fasting and prayer and wanted Jefferson to follow John Adams’ lead and proclaim them from the newly opened White House. He fired off a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, in which he laid out his vision of “a wall of separation between church and state.” The Library of Congress in the 1990s decided to try to figure out more about what was behind Jefferson’s letter. They roped the FBI into helping out, and the bureau used its state-of-the-art lab facilities to recover the rest of Jefferson’s original draft. The draft reveals that Jefferson originally wrote of a “wall of eternal separation between church and state.” And the draft also reveals that Jefferson had no intention of it being “a statement of fundamental principles; it was meant to be a political manifesto, nothing more,” James Hutson wrote for the Library of Congress. Indeed, he says, two days after he wrote the letter, he attended a prayer service held in the chambers of the House of Representatives. Jefferson would attend similar services “constantly” throughout his presidency, Mr. Hutson wrote. Rob Natelson, a leading constitutional scholar who now heads the Independence Institute’s Constitutional Studies Center, said turning to Jefferson for wisdom about the Constitution would be like asking someone on the political fringe today. “If you want to understand the Constitution, you’re much better off looking at people like James Wilson,” he said. The letter to the Danbury Baptists was obscure for decades, only gaining new attention when Jefferson’s writings were published in 1853 and reprinted in 1868 and 1871, Mr. Hutson wrote. But some important people took notice. In 1879, the Supreme Court, in a case dealing with a Mormon who cited his religious duty as a defense against bigamy charges, cited Jefferson’s letter to the Baptists as the guiding light of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. “Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured,” wrote Chief Justice Morrison Waite for the unanimous court. “Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.” In 1947, the court for the first time would extend that separation to the states, ruling that the “wall must be kept high and impregnable” — yet also ruling that New Jersey could provide busing for Catholic school students and not run afoul. In the 1980s, then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist would complain that the court had bungled things by citing Jefferson as the expert, calling the wall language a “misleading metaphor.” And the high court has repeatedly struggled to figure out what the wall looks like and when its impregnability is threatened.

And that’s precisely because there is no so-called separation of church and state.  As this article properly points out, it is NOWHERE to be found in any of our founding docs; certainly not in our Constitution or our Bill of Rights.  It was a phrase coined by Jefferson in a letter to a group of Baptists in Connecticut.  That’s it!  Don’t believe me?  Then pick up a copy of “The Myth of Separation” by Dr. David Barton  (www.wallbuilders.com).

Group sues Boston for banning Christian flag, approving 284 others

The city of Boston, Mass. is being sued for religious discrimination for banning the Christian flag while permitting 284 others, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week. Hal Shurtleff, the director and co-founder of Camp Constitution, asked the city to fly the Christian flag, an inter-denominational symbol, as part of Constitution Day on Sep. 17, 2017, for a one-hour event. But the city banned its appearance, saying no non-secular flags could be flown. “There’s no question that it is an unconstitutional act and originally said it was a violation of the First Amendment, which I find ironic,” Shurtleff told Fox News. “I’m optimistic the lawsuit will go our way.” Shurtleff said the city would have accepted it if they had called it the Camp Constitution flag instead of the Christian flag. The group was planning an event with pastors encouraging racial reconciliation, freedom in the United States, and celebrating the link between Christianity and the United States, ending with the presentation of the Christian flag. But after the city’s rejection, the event was canceled. Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom law firm representing Shurtleff, slammed the city for the decision, which they made again in 2018. “Censoring religious viewpoints in a public forum where secular viewpoints are permitted violates the First Amendment,” Staver said in a statement. “Boston city officials may not ban the Christian flag as part of a privately-sponsored event when they allow any other flag by numerous private organizations. It’s time for the court to stop the city’s unconstitutional censorship.” A federal court and appeals court previously ruled against Shurtleff, but the new lawsuit has new “key facts” that Liberty Counsel believes will “compel a result in Camp Constitution’s favor.” One is that the city allowed the Turkish flag — with its Islamic star and crescent — to be raised on city hall flagpoles 13 times since 2005, according to the suit. The city has also allowed the Communist Chinese flag to commemorate the anniversary of the Chinese Communist revolution, Cuban, and Vatican flags to fly along with transgender and LGBTQ flags, which were not mentioned in the lawsuit. “Yet, despite all of these many flag raisings containing religious symbols and imagery, and the City’s allowing the official flag of the Catholic Church, Camp Constitution’s proposed flag raising was denied because it was ‘religious,’” the suit states. “There can be no dispute that the City’s denial impermissibly discriminated between religion and non-religion, and discriminated between religious sects. Both violate the Establishment Clause.”

Exactly!

About 80 percent of world lives in areas where religious freedom is ‘highly restricted,’ report says

Pastor Andrew Brunson, jailed in Turkey, was released. Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, was set free. But sadly, their stories are not the norm — religious persecution is on the rise around the globe, according to a new report from the U.S. government that points to Iran, Russia, and China as some of the worst abusers. The Trump Administration puts religious freedom as a big part of its foreign policy, and Pompeo announced the State Department elevated the Office of International Religious Freedom, along with the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, within the organization, giving them more staff and resources. Pompeo called the 2018 International Religious Freedom Report “a chilling array of abuses committed by oppressive regimes, violent extremist groups, and individual citizens.” While there have been significant improvements, the majority of the world is facing rising religious persecution, with nearly 80 percent of the world’s population living in areas where the right to religious freedom is highly restricted. “For all those that run roughshod over religious freedom, I’ll say this: The United States is watching and you will be held to account,” Pompeo said. “History will not be silent about these abuses but only if voices of liberty like ours record it.” While some countries have shown improvements, like Uzbekistan, which for the first time in 13 years is no longer designated as a “country of particular concern,” persecution in other countries has grown. “In Iran, the regime’s crackdown on the Baha’is, Christians, and others continue to shock the conscience. In Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were absurdly and abhorrently branded as terrorists, as authorities confiscated their property and then threatened their families. In Burma, Rohingya Muslims continue to face violence at the hands of the military. Hundreds of thousands have fled or been forced to live in overcrowded refugee camps,” Pompeo said. “And in China, the government’s intense persecution of many faiths – Falun Gong practitioners, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists among them is the norm. The Chinese Communist Party has exhibited extreme hostility to all religious faiths since its founding. The party demands that it alone be called God.” The Trump Administration launched the International Religious Freedom Fund, which has received millions of dollars to support victims of persecution. “We will not stop until we see the iron curtain of religious persecution come down,” said Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. At the same time, the United States could not secure religious freedom alone, he continued, “we need everyone’s help; everyone has a stake in the fight.” Pompeo said he hopes conditions improve leading up to the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, where 1,000 leaders have been invited.