Category Archives: The Daily

Freedom Under Fire

“This is a sad day for the cause of freedom. When the Supreme Court cannot clear their calendar to hear a case of this magnitude, then our freedoms are in jeopardy. Such censorship and discrimination should not be permitted in America.”
John W. Whitehead,
The Rutherford Institute

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a high school valedictorian whose microphone was turned off by school officials after she began speaking about the part her Christian beliefs played in her success in life. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had asked the Court to hear the case of Brittany McComb, charging that school officials violated McComb’s free speech rights and engaged in viewpoint discrimination when they censored her speech because of its Christian content. The Court issued the order denying the petition without additional explanation.

“This is a sad day for the cause of freedom,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “When the Supreme Court cannot clear their calendar to hear a case of this magnitude, then our freedoms are in jeopardy. Such censorship and discrimination should not be permitted in America.”

In the spring of 2006, Brittany McComb was one of three valedictorians chosen based on their grade-point averages to give a speech at Foothill High School’s annual commencement ceremony. Each valedictorian was provided with “suggestions” for crafting their speeches. However, school officials neither encouraged nor forbade the students to include or exclude religious content from their speeches. In her speech, Brittany reflected on past experiences and lessons learned at school and wrote about the emptiness she experienced from accomplishments, achievements and failures in her early high school years. She then mentioned the fulfillment and satisfaction she later came to experience in something greater than herself, namely, in God’s love, and Christ.

Upon receiving a copy of Brittany’s draft speech, school administrators proceeded to censor her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to “the Lord” and the only mention of the word “Christ.” Believing that the district’s censorship of her speech amounted to a violation of her right to free speech, on June 15, 2006, Brittany attempted to deliver the original version of her speech in which she talked about the role that her Christian beliefs played in her success. The moment Brittany began to speak the words, school officials cut off her microphone. Despite extensive jeers from the audience over the school officials’ actions, McComb was not permitted to finish her valedictory speech.

With the assistance of The Rutherford Institute, Brittany McComb filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Foothill High School officials in July 2006. In June 2007, the U.S. District Court for Nevada rejected the school district’s second attempt to have the case dismissed and affirmed that the lawsuit raises substantial claims of infringement of McComb’s right of free speech. School officials subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case, holding that McComb had no right to give her speech, which it deemed to be “proselytizing.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the McComb case, John Whitehead points out that the battle is far from over. “As we see our freedoms constantly under attack, be reminded that The Rutherford Institute continues to defend those whose freedoms are in jeopardy,” stated Whitehead. “In fact, we have two more cases on appeal before the United States Supreme Court. In the first, Nurre v. Whitehead, the courts have ruled that public school students cannot perform Christian music at a graduation ceremony, even without spoken words or printed lyrics. In the second, Busch v. Marple Newtown School District, the courts have affirmed that a Christian mother cannot read a passage from the Psalms to her child in kindergarten, while other parents are permitted to read whatever they choose.”

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit legal and educational civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or been violated.

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Clothing Line Addresses Hunger Issues

Break the Chain® Apparel and the Marion-Polk Food Share have joined together to bring awareness to the hunger issues in Oregon’s Marion and Polk counties. They have designed and produced a t-shirt that will serve as a fundraiser for the Food Share. The shirt’s slogan, “Because No One Should Go Hungry… End Hunger Now” is a powerful message that the organizations expect will bring positive attention to the hunger plight.

“In light of the recession, the Food Share and its network more than 80 member charities are being called on to provide food boxes for an all-time record average of 6,500 families a month. That is an 11 percent increase from the previous year or, put another way, it is 631 more families who are hungry in an average month than a year ago at this time,” says Ron Hays, president of the Food Share.

The Marion-Polk Food Share approached Break the Chain Apparel in the spring of 2009 with the idea of creating a shirt to address local hunger issues. Break the Chain Apparel designs and produces “clothing with a voice,” t-shirts that speak out against social issues, relaying messages of strength and hope. “We loved this idea,” says CEO and domestic violence survivor Tammi Burns. “This is a simple concept that allows us to make a difference in the lives of families in our region.”

Five percent of the proceeds of the End Hunger Now t-shirt will go back to the Food Share program to help get food to families in need in the Marion and Polk County region. The t-shirt is designed with both the Break the Chain Apparel logo and the Marion-Polk Food Share logo on the back. “It is created in such a way that if other food banks want to use this fundraising concept, we can easily swap one food share logo out for another. We’ve got the design now; why not use it as a tool to help address hunger issues across the country?” says Tammi.

About Break the Chain® Apparel

Break the Chain Apparel was founded in 2006 by domestic violence survivor Tammi Burns. Tammi is a social entrepreneur whose team aspires to make positive changes in the lives of others by creating “clothing with a voice.” The company’s wares display messages that address social ills and inspire social change. Tammi’s vision is twofold: to use apparel as a tool to help fund social programs, and to inspire change by making messages against violence and addiction in-style. “These messages speak so you don’t have to,” says Tammi. “It allows the person wearing the clothing to speak out while remaining non-invasive.” For more information, visit www.breakthechainapparel.com or call Tammi at 503.859.5555.

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Rethinking “Evangelism”

During graduate school I worked each summer in the maintenance department of a large financial services company helping to maintain its landscaping and beautiful rolling lawn. Early on I could tell that the guys on the maintenance crew weren’t real thrilled with having a “pastor-in-training” on their team, but their misgivings only strengthened my resolve to reach out to them and convert them to Christianity. My first week on the job I adopted the guys on my crew as my spiritual “project.” I remember praying, “Jesus, when I leave this place I want every person on my team to be a Christian.”

By that time in my spiritual journey I had already proved myself to be a fervent evangelist, so I assumed my goal would be easily attained. The first part of my strategy was to set myself apart by living a morally noticeable life. I worked harder and longer than everybody on the team. I refused to join in when they told dirty jokes and swore, and whenever we were in the locker room I made sure never to look at the pictures of naked women hanging on the walls. The second part of my strategy was to insert spiritual ideas into our conversations to provoke discussions about God and faith. Some would have called this “picking a fight,” but at the time I called it “witnessing.”

I zeroed in almost immediately on one man named Andrew. He was in his early forties, and just moved to the states with his family from Poland. Andrew could barely speak English, so most of our conversations revolved around Andrew pointing to something and asking, “Brian, what English word for…?” I figured Andrew would be the easiest to reach on our team, so I chose every assignment I could get that involved working with him. I discovered Andrew was a former Catholic and had little interest in spiritual matters. However, this didn’t deter me in the least. With the zeal of a pushy door-to-door salesman, I forced spiritual matters into just about every conversation Andrew and I had.

Near the end of the summer I was talking with Andrew and casually asked, “Andrew, we’re friends, right?” He took me by surprise when he answered, “No.” Shocked, I said, “What do you mean? We’ve been working together an entire summer.” He answered, “Brian, what you call people…you know…you talk with them…you work with them…they are nice people…you go home and don’t see them until you go to work again? I said, “Acquaintances?” He said, “Yes, acquaintances. I have many acquaintances.” Then he said, “In Poland, our word for friend is special. In Poland, when we call a person friend, it means that we share hearts with that person. So, to answer your question: In America, I do not have any friends yet.”

Before I knew it the summer came to a close and I returned to school full-time, but when I returned the following summer I was a different person. I had spent most of the school year doubting the existence of God and sorting out an excruciating crisis of faith. I started my first day on the job thoroughly broken. I was still a believer, but I felt as if I had just come out of surgery and my soul was still bandaged. Gone was the spiritual bravado and pushiness from the summer before, replaced by a few things that were new to me: empathy, respect, and patience. I think Andrew was puzzled by the change in my persona because late one afternoon he asked if I still believed in God. I looked at the ground and slowly said, “Yes, Andrew, I still believe in God, but my faith in myself has been shaken.” Andrew wisely responded, “That might be good thing, no?”

As Andrew and I spent time together that summer I found myself listening more and talking less, and because of that I was amazed at what I learned about him. I discovered that Andrew was a lawyer in Poland, and that he couldn’t practice law here in the U.S. because he didn’t have the money or time to go back to school. I discovered that Andrew had a wife of twenty years named Eva, and two children. I also found out that Andrew was a brilliant man. He spoke four languages, studied philosophy, and had a fanatical interest in soccer. As Andrew talked and I listened, he initiated profound spiritual conversations and asked probing questions for which I had few answers.

Over time, the more we walked around the grounds, cutting the lawn and working on the building, the more ashamed I became of the way I acted the previous summer. I was afraid that I had single-handedly turned Andrew off to spiritual matters completely. Fortunately that didn’t seem to happen. It struck me as odd at the time, but it appeared that the more Andrew watched me struggle and the more I was honest with what I was feeling, the more spiritual interest he showed. There was something very authentic and natural about the way our relationship unfolded each day.

On my last day at the company, something happened that will always hold a special place in my heart. After I said goodbye to everyone on my team, none of which had become Christians, Andrew followed me out to my car. He placed both hands on my shoulders and said something I will never forget: “I will miss you, Brian Jones, my friend.”

brian-thumb Brian Jones is an author and the Senior Pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley, an innovative community of faith he and his wife helped start in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Brian’s first book, Second Guessing God, was his attempt to help people wrestle with the question, “Why does God keep allowing really bad stuff to happen in my life?” In his second book, Getting Rid of the Gorilla, Brian explored the difficult issue of forgiveness, why he’s not very good at it, and how an unforgiving heart can make you do some pretty hurtful things in life if you don’t deal with it.

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Are Religious Freedoms Steadily Eroding?

Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, issued a statement today in response to the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act:

“Today President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill extends federal hate-crime laws to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

“The bill is named after Matthew Shepard, a homosexual 21-year-old college student who was killed in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., reportedly because of his sexual orientation. Byrd was an African-American lynched in Texas in 1998. Members of Shepard’s family were in attendance at the White House signing today.

“Critics of the bill contend that its language creates the potential for federal prosecution of anyone whose speech (or sermon) ‘incites’ an act of violence against someone who is, or is perceived to be, homosexual, and that religious ministers and teachers may face possible prosecution if someone who commits a crime claims to have heard a religious leader speaking against homosexuality.

“Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, said although he doesn’t believe there will be ‘immediate’ prosecutions of pastors and churches for teaching the biblical injunction that homosexual behavior is sinful, ‘I think the effect on speech and religious speech is nonetheless real.’

“Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a supporter of the bill, told the media after the Senate’s passage of the bill, 68-29, that religious leaders can continue to express their beliefs on homosexuality as they wish. The bill, he added, applies only to bias-motivated crimes of violence and includes strong protections of speech and association.

“Although we don’t know the full ramifications of this bill as of yet, my staff and I will be watching closely for any possible infringement on the rights of our members and pastors to speak out against the sin of homosexuality based on the Word of God (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27, and 1 Cor. 6:9).

“We live in difficult times, when the traditional moral and religious foundations of our country are being slowly but steadily eroded. In the days ahead we may face persecution because of our pronouncement of the truths of Holy Scripture, God’s revealed, inspired, inerrant, infallible Word. Meanwhile, the LCMS, in deep humility and repentance, strives to remain faithful and steadfast in our calling to, ‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.’ (2 Timothy 4:2).”

The St. Louis-based Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, founded in 1847, has 2.4 million baptized members in 6,170 congregations and more than 9,000 pastors. The church body, which ranks as one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, owns and operates KFUO radio, two seminaries, and 10 colleges and universities. Its congregations operate the largest Protestant parochial school system in America. The LCMS has relationships and active mission work in 88 countries around the world and is in full doctrinal fellowship with 34 other confessional Lutheran church bodies on six continents. Also, the LCMS is a founding partner of Lutheran Services in America, a social ministry organization serving one in every 50 Americans. For more information, visit www.lcms.org.

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