Churches in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts have grave concerns about a new anti-discrimination law that could force congregations to accommodate the transgender community – under the threat of fines and jail time.
The law, which goes into effect in October, does not specifically mention churches or other houses of worship. However, the attorney general, along with the government commission assigned to enforce the law, have a different point of view.
Attorney General Maura Healey wrote that places of public accommodation include: “auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls, houses of worship, and other places of public gathering.”
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the commission responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination law, reinforced that interpretation in a document titled, “Gender Identity Guidance.”
“Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public,” the document states. “All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation.”
The Massachusetts Family Institute has launched a petition drive to repeal the law – warning that pastors and parishioners could find themselves in serious legal trouble.
“The law bootstraps the idea of gender identity onto existing Civil Rights laws,” MFI president Andrew Beckwith tells me. “Even having a sign in your church that says “This Bathroom is for Biological Women Only” could subject the pastor of the church to up to 30 days in jail.”
Beckwith said under the law, the sign would be treated the same as if it had said, “Whites Only.”
He said the MFI reached out to the attorney general’s office for clarification on the law and they were instructed to “get an attorney.”
“Churches are left not knowing whether it applies to them or not,” he said.
So who is going to be deciding what is and what is not a secular event?
“It shows a religious tone deafness on the part of whoever is writing these regulations,” Beckwith said. “Any pastor talk to is going to say their services and ministries and programs are open to the general public. That’s the whole point – to spread the Gospel and minister to the whole community.”
That’s a fact.
I’ve seen revival break out over the potato salad – during a dinner-on-the-grounds at a Baptist church in Mississippi.
Beckwith said he hopes churches will join their campaign to repeal the law – warning that “it’s going to have very real consequences on religious liberty.”
“If the church doesn’t defend itself from these attacks on religious liberty, they are going to cease having the ability to make the pastoral decisions they need to be able to make,” he said.
I reached out to the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination and they told me Commissioner Sunila Thomas George said there’s really no need for alarm.
“By and large, places of worship are not held to the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination statutes that deal with places of public accommodation,” she said. “We are not by any means saying that the anti-discrimination laws absolutely apply to them.”
But, they could.
“There are circumstances where places of worship hold activities at their facilities or in their buildings that are purely secular events,” she said.
Among the activities that the state considers secular are soup kitchens, day care, housing, and polling places.
“In those circumstances, places of worship could be seen as open to the public,” Ms. George told me. “The operative word is ‘could.’”
So let’s use MCAD’s example of a church spaghetti supper. Under the state’s guidelines, that supper could fall under the anti-discrimination law.
I asked MCAD what the church would need to do to comply with the law.
“You would want to make sure that people are treated with regard to their gender identity and treated fairly and equitably,” Ms. George told me.
So what, specifically, does that mean?
“As long as people who are transitioning or who have transitioned are able to use a restroom they identity with, I think you are complying with the law,” she said. “You would want to make sure they are accommodated.
In other words, churches that hold spaghetti suppers would have to let men who identify as women use the same bathrooms as the little Sunday school girls.
The Baptist Convention of New England is among the religious groups in the region opposing the law – warning that it’s an attack on the First Amendment.
“Any attempt by a small vocal activist group to strip churches of that right should be vehemently opposed by all people,” executive director Terry Dorsett told Baptist Press. “If they can take a church’s right to practice their faith away, imagine what else they can do.”
For starters, they can tell good churchgoing folks what they can do with their spaghetti and meatballs.
I hope you will make plans to join me for my second annual Fall Getaway Nov. 11-13 at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina! I can’t think of a better way to unwind after the 2016 presidential election — and it’s cheaper than a therapist!
We had such a wonderful time last year – worshiping together and studying God’s word. Lots of laughter! Lots of great food! And lots of new friends!
Our Bible teacher this year is Dr. Don Wilton, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, SC. He is also Billy Graham’s personal pastor! You are going to love Dr. Wilton and his powerful teaching.
We also plan on having a special panel discussion to break down the election and what it means for Christians in America.
I’m also excited to announce our musical guests!
You are going to fall in love with the Mylon Hayes Family – one of Southern Gospel Music’s most popular groups. Mylon and Wendy and their three wonderful children are insanely talented and their tight harmonies are simply breathtaking!
And brace yourself for a return engagement by the Voices of Lee! I think it’s safe to say they received top marks from all of our attendees in 2015. Voices will lead us in worship and entertain us with their mind-blowing and jaw-dropping vocal arrangements!
And we’re also going to get Aunt Lynn to play the piano during our Saturday afternoon Hymn Sing at the Billy Graham Chapel!
If you’d like to reserve your spot at the getaway call 1-800-950-2092. You don’t have to pay the entire amount upfront — just a deposit.
As for costs – it’s an all-inclusive price. That means your meals and lodging and conference fees are all included in the price (along with a special gift from Todd).
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is a religious symbol and must be removed because it violates the state’s constitutional ban on using public property to benefit a religion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The court said the Ten Commandments chiseled into the 6-foot-tall granite monument, which was privately funded by a Republican legislator, are “obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths.”
The 7-2 ruling overturns a decision by a district court judge who determined the monument could stay. It prompted calls by a handful of Republican lawmakers for impeachment of the justices who said the monument must be removed.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt had argued that the monument was historical in nature and nearly identical to a Texas monument that was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Oklahoma justices said the local monument violated the state’s constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.
“Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong,” Pruitt said in a statement. “The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law.”
Pruitt said his office would ask the court for a rehearing and that the monument will be allowed to stay until the court considers his request. Pruitt also suggested the provision in the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the use of public money for religious purposes may need to be repealed.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, said Pruitt’s suggestion and the calls for impeachment amounted to sour grapes.
“I think the idea that you go about amending the constitution every time you lose a court battle is a dangerous precedent for anyone to engage in, but in particular for the state’s highest attorney to do so,” Kiesel said. “And the calls for impeachment represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how an independent judiciary functions within our system of democratic government.”
Cub Scout Troop 766 got quite an eyeful last month at a California state park when the boys stumbled upon a nude beach during a nature hike.
“I was nauseated because I’ve never seen just a bunch of nude people walking around holding hands, strange people that I don’t know,” chaperone Diane Lekven told CBS 8 in San Diego.
The local television station reported there were dozens and dozens of buck-naked beach-goers on the “clothing optional” stretch of sand.
Mrs. Lekven said the pack master knew exactly where he was taking the boys.
“When I got up there I said, ‘Hey what are you doing? We’re in the middle of a nudist beach,’ He said, ‘this is a naturalist beach, and my family and I go through here all the time. It’s not that big of a deal.’”
Mrs. Lekven told the television station she got “really angry.” Later, she and her husband filed a complaint with the Boy Scouts.
The Boy Scouts released a statement admitting the Cub Scout pack had “encountered some individuals who were inappropriately dressed.”
And by inappropriately, they mean they weren’t dressed in anything except their birthday suits.
The Boy Scouts said the hike was “quickly rerouted to protect the youth.”
The San Diego Imperial Council and pack leadership determined the pack master did nothing wrong.
“Together we concluded that proper protocol had been observed and appropriate steps were taken in this matter,” the statement read.
But some parents still took issue with the fact their boys were taken to a beach filled with bare bottomed bathers.
“I don’t think it’s OK for somebody to not disclose that they’re going to put other people’s children in an environment like this,” she told the television station. “I think it’s wrong.”
“Accidents” like that could be one of the reasons why parents are pulling their sons out of the Boy Scouts. Last year there was a 7.4 percent decline in membership. In 2013 there was a six percent drop.
Meanwhile, a faith-friendly alternative to the Boy Scouts has grown by leaps and bounds since its creation in 2013.
Bible unburned in spite of fire. The Word will never lose it's power. Eglise Vie Abondante, Harobanda. Niamey, Niger. (Danette Childs)
Neal and Danette Childs knew they were in danger.
From their compound in Niger’s capital city they could see three churches burning. The smoke was filling their home.
“We immediately started packing a trunk, putting in our valuables, our documents, and we loaded up the car,” Neal told me. “There were concerns our family would be targeted.”
The Childs family had every reason to be alarmed. A rampaging mob was attacking Christian houses of worship, and Neal was the prominent leader of a Christian ministry in the mostly Muslim country.
“Our immediate response — there is that little bit of panic,” he said during a telephone conversation from the West African nation of Niger. “We were ready. We were on guard.”
It was Jan. 16 and by the week’s end Muslims had set fire to at least 45 churches and looted the homes of a number of Christian ministers. Ten people were killed. Followers of Christ fled for the lives.
The protests were over the cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad that were published by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The horrors of that weekend did not generate all that much press coverage. There were no solidarity marches for Niger’s tiny Christian community. There was no wall-to-wall cable news coverage. Nor could I find any mention of the burnings on the White House website.
The Associated Press account was a mere four paragraphs.
The New York Times published a dispatch from Reuters that appeared sympathetic to the mob. The story included quotes from a Muslim explaining why they were angry — but there were no quotes from the Christian victims.
Likewise, USA Today’s coverage lacked any commentary from pastors or priests. But they did find an imam who reminded the newspaper’s readers that the Islamic faith is peaceful.
“Don’t forget that Islam is against violence,” he told USA Today as the ruins of 45 Christian churches smoldered across the nation.
But the story of what really happened during that terrifying weekend deserves to be told. And it needs to be heard.
Neal and Danette Childs have been Christian missionaries in Niger since 1998. Neal oversees Reaching Unreached Nations, a ministry of 36 churches across the country.
Two of those churches were destroyed. The mob also attacked the parsonages — leaving two ministers and their families homeless.
“Both of their houses were burned and completely looted,” Neal told me. “One of our pastors lost everything.”
That pastor has a pregnant wife and three children. They are now living with Neal and his family.
But something rather remarkable happened when the mob attacked the other pastor’s house.
“While the mob was burning the front of the house, his neighbors came in through the back and they hauled out clothes and everything they could get through the back window,” Neal said.
The Christian pastor’s neighbors are Muslim.
“They helped to save the pastor’s property while the crazy mob was burning everything,” Neal said.
The following day Neal and his wife ventured outside to survey the ruins of the church house.
“It was still smoking and warm with ashes,” he told me. “As we were looking through the rubble my wife came across the Bible.”
The Bible was charred but not destroyed, and it caused a stirring in the hearts of the Christian couple.
“It was an emotional moment as you see your church in ashes,” Neal said.
Danette took a photograph of that Bible, and it ended up in the hands of Franklin Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Graham posted the photograph of the Bible on his Facebook page, along with a sobering thought.
“Can you imagine the international outcry if this were the Koran?” he asked.
“I read that,” Neal told me. “That would be huge if it had been a Koran.”
Could you imagine the international outcry if Christians had burned 45 mosques?
But that’s not what happened in Niger. The Christian community did not retaliate. They did not respond with angry voices.
“That’s because we are people of mercy and grace and faith,” Neal told me. “We don’t react in the flesh and we don’t react out of anger.”
Indeed, Christian leaders in Niger held a press conference and announced they forgave those who burned down their churches.
“The church is recognizing this is something to be joyful over — the church and their faith have been proven,” Neal said. “Jesus said rejoice and be exceedingly glad when men persecute you, for great is your reward in heaven.”
The Muslim mobs may return, but that’s OK with Neal.
“We are preaching the Gospel and living as an example before the people,” he said. “It was demonstrated in our response. It is not our nature to be aggressive or violent. We forgive those that attack.”
Good words spoken by a man with a deep and abiding faith in our Lord.
And yet I still can’t seem to get over the image of that charred Bible found in the ashes of that church house. I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture from the Old Testament.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
Julie retyped the message and the same red-lettered warning appeared.
“We together figured out that the word God was the problem,” Julie said.
Sure enough, when they removed the word “God” from the post – the Disney Channel approved Lilly’s message. And then – Julie contacted me.
So, I gave it a try, too. I tried posting what I was thankful for on the Disney Channel website.
And just like Lilly and Julie, Disney prevented me from posting any message that included the word “God.”
I reached out to Disney for an explanation. Their people tell me that God was not intentionally blocked from the channel’s website however at this point, they aren’t quite sure why it happened but they assured me they had a team working on it.
Julie is not very happy, though.
“I’m not at all anti-Disney but to shame a ten-year-old, to tell her to ‘please be nice’ for thanking god and sharing her faith with others is what is upsetting to me as a mother,” she said.
Disney certainly seems to be implying that thanking God is not nice. Well, neither is blocking the Almighty from a website.
Julie said her daughter is a very loving and accepting child who was raised to understand that not everyone believes in God.
“We’ve always told her that inevitably there would come a day when she would be discriminated against for her faith but we never thought Disney would be the source,” she said.
I do wonder what sort of message the Disney Channel is sending when they tell children that mentioning God in public is bad manners.
“I want my daughter, and all children of faith, to know that it is OK to share God and Jesus with their peers,” Julie told me. “I want her to know that she doesn’t have to be silent about her faith. I want her to be strong and soldier on.”
Well said, ma’am. Well said.
It sounds to me like the folks over at the Disney Channel have gone looney tunes.
The fine folks who run the school system in Lincoln, Nebraska are on a campaign to make their classrooms gender inclusive and that means teachers will no longer refer to boys and girls as boys and girls.
Instead, they want kids to be referred to as purple penguins. Educators tell the Lincoln Journal Star understanding transgender issues. They provided teachers with documents to help them deconstruct and reconstruct the notion of what constitutes a boy and what constitutes a girl.
They’ve also been told to ask kids if they have a preferred pronoun. Back when I was in school, teachers only asked if we went by our first name or middle name. But that was back in the Dark Ages when there were just two genders.
That, dear readers, is a glimpse into what they’re teaching kids in public schools these days.
While we’re on the subject, what’s a gender neutral term for morons?
Arkansas State University called an audible and decided to reverse its decision banning memorial crosses that football players had placed on their helmets to honor two fallen teammates.
The team had been ordered to either remove or modify the small cross decals, honoring former player Markel Owens and former team equipment manager Barry Weyer, following complaints that the cross violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“It is the university’s position that any player who wishes to voluntarily place an NCAA-compliant sticker on their helmet to memorialize individuals will be able to do so,” the university announced in a letter.
Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty issues, had given the university until Wednesday to reverse its decision or face a possible lawsuit. They represented one of the ASU football players.
“This is a great victory for the players of Arkansas State University,” said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute. “The university officials and the Arkansas Attorney General did the right thing restoring the religious liberty and free speech rights of the players to have the original cross sticker design if they so choose and we commend them for doing so.”
However, (and this is a big however), the university maintains they had a rock solid reason to ban the crosses in the first place. They denied they violated anyone’s constitutional rights.
The decals on the helmets “were not student speech,” ASU legal counsel Lucinda McDaniel wrote in a letter to Sasser. “Rather, the decals constituted government speech.”
The crosses drew the ire of a Jonesboro, Arkansas attorney along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist group.
“The crosses appeared to confer State’s endorsement of religion, specifically Christianity,” the FFRF wrote. “The inclusion of the Latin cross on the helmets also excludes the 19 percent of the American population that is non-religious.”
The team had worn the cross decals for two football games – without any complaints. And to the best of my recollection, the decals did not spark a Billy Graham-style revival meeting nor did fans bombard the field during halftime seeking to be baptized.
To make matters even worse, perpetually offended FFRF co-presidents Annie Lauire Gaylor and Dan Barker went so far as to suggest alternative ways for the football players to mourn.
“Many teams around the country honor former teammates by putting that player’s number on their helmets or jerseys, or by wearing a black armband,” they wrote in a letter to the University. “Either of those options, or another symbolic gesture free from religion imagery, would be appropriate.”
Fearing a potential lawsuit, McDaniel suggested the cross be modified into a makeshift mathematical plus (+) sign — because apparently nothing says “In Memoriam” like applied mathematics.
Liberty Institute claimed the cross memorial was perfectly legal and had been designed by students. However, ASU said the design was in fact created by the head coach. The memorial was jointly approved by members of the team’s leadership council as well as members of the coaching staff — and paid for with public funds.
And here’s the biggest oops — the coaching staff did all that without consulting with the university’s legal department.
“When this was brought to the attention of ASU’s administrative and legal officials, the decals were modified so that they were a single, horizontal bar that continues to bear the initials of the former students,” McDaniel wrote. “This was done, of course, to avoid Establishment Clause concerns.”
In the university’s opinion, the memorial stickers were “officially sponsored.”
“At no time was it ever our intention to limit the free speech of our student-athletes,” McDaniel wrote. “The university strongly believes in the rights of our students to freely express their beliefs.”
Sasser concedes the coaching staff messed up. Nevertheless, he’s glad ASU is going to let the players honor their fallen teammates.
“The correct solution is for Arkansas State University to get out of the way and let players place the stickers on the helmets if they so choose,” he told me.
How sad, though, that we live in a nation where it is against the law for a university football coach to design a memorial that includes a religious icon.
To wrap things up in Jonesboro, Arkansas – the kids could have the stickers affixed to their helmets by Saturday’s game. And the university made it abundantly clear that not a single penny of public money will be used to fund the memorial.
“The display of these stickers will be totally voluntary and completely independent of university involvement,” McDaniel wrote. “The university will not procure the stickers, purchase them or affix them to the helmets.”
How about that for a bucket load of Grade A legalese?
While they’re at it, maybe they can procure a spine and affix it to some of those intellectual eggheads.