(Middle East Concern) — Algerian Christians request prayer following several incidents in which churches and individual Christians have faced increased restrictions, raising concerns that these pressures signal a coordinated campaign of intensified action against churches by the governing authorities.
Three believers were arrested in Chlef, 200 km north-west of Algiers, during the third week of December. They were visiting from Tizi Ouzou and had arranged to meet a contact at a café. Police entered the café, found they were in possession of Christian literature, and took them to the police station where they were investigated at length by the national gendarmerie.
A local newspaper, known for its hostility to Christians, described the incident as a ‘foiled evangelism attempt’, falsely accusing the Christians of working under the cover of humanitarian activities and of alluring young Muslims to convert by means of financial and travel inducements. The three believers were released but may face charges of proselytism.
A special message from the publisher…
GREENVILLE, S.C. — A federal judge in South Carolina says that a school district’s continuing practice of including invocations and religious speech at public school graduations is a “cultural residue” left over from historical practices, and that its allowances are wrongly “continuing to color and confuse the application” of its recently revised policies intended to establish neutrality toward religion.
“As the court remarked in its prior order, ‘because of the historical inclusion of prayer and religious speech at graduations, in this school district and State, it is conceivable that the cultural residue of prior practices might continue to color and confuse the application of, even now, constitutionally neutral practices,’” wrote U.S. District Judge Bruce Howe Hendricks, appointed to the bench by then-President Barack Obama, on Dec. 12.
“Based on the evidence submitted by AHA, it appears that the historical practices of the school district are, in fact, continuing to color and confuse the application of what appears to be a constitutionally neutral prayer policy, but what, in practice, may not be,” she wrote.
As previously reported, the parents of a fifth grader contacted the American Humanist Association (AHA) in 2013 to complain that Mountain View Elementary School had held its graduation ceremony at the chapel on the campus of North Greenville University, a Christian institution in Traveler’s Rest. They also cited that prayers had been presented at the event by two students.
The prayers, according to reports, had been written by the children and were reviewed by school officials before being presented.
In response to the complaint, AHA wrote to the Greenville School District, demanding that it change the location for future events and that it discontinue the presentation of prayers at school ceremonies. The district responded by slightly adjusting its policies to ensure that any religious venue was “devoid of religious iconography,” and that any prayer was student-led and initiated.
“Prohibiting such independent student speech would go beyond showing neutrality toward religion but instead demonstrate an impermissible hostility toward religion,” it wrote. “If a student is selected to speak based upon genuinely neutral criteria such as class rank or academic merit, that student should have the same ability to decide to deliver a religious message or prayer as another student has the ability to decide to speak about an inspirational secular book or role model.”
Being dissatisfied with the response, AHA filed a lawsuit in federal court, requesting an injunction in an attempt to force an end to the practices via court order.
U.S. District Court Judge George Ross Anderson first heard the case, and reportedly scoffed at AHA’s request for an injunction against the Greenville School District, stating that it was “making a mountain out of a molehill.” The chapel aspect of the lawsuit was later dismissed, but the matter of graduation prayer remained before the court.
In 2015, the aforementioned Judge Hendricks ruled partly in favor of AHA, but did not ban Christian prayers at graduation altogether. While Hendricks opined that school-sponsored prayers are unconstitutional, she stated that “spontaneous” student prayer is allowable in that it does not “improperly tangle the State with religion.”
She also found AHA’s contentions about the venue utilized to be moot since the family who complained had moved, and the schools that their children now attended did not use Christian sites for graduation ceremonies.
The matter then was deliberated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which largely agreed with Hendricks, but also sent the case back to the lower court for further deliberation on some of the claims and to determine whether AHA still had standing to complain about the revised prayer policy since the previous complainants had moved. AHA consequently submitted affidavits from other humanist members who lived in the district.
On Dec. 12, Hendricks ruled that the district’s past use of Turner Chapel for graduation ceremonies violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“The fact that the district chose to hold the ceremony (which included school-endorsed Christian prayers) in a clearly Christian place of worship in the presence of religious iconography, including, among other things, a cross on the podium and eight stained glass windows depicting Christian imagery, only further created a likelihood that observers would perceive the district as endorsing a particular set of religious beliefs,” she outlined.
However, Hendricks also noted that “this ruling is limited to the specific facts of this case and should not be construed as a bright line rule regarding a school district’s use of a church-owned facility.”
She additionally found that AHA had standing, and expressed “grave concerns about the constitutionality of the actual practices of the school district and the revised policy as implemented, as the record now contains evidence tending to show that the school district continues to endorse certain religious activity.”
Hendricks stated that it appeared that schools within the district continue to include invocations at graduation ceremonies, and that, according to one parent, the song “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” was sung by the Wade Hampton High School Choir during both the 2015 and 2016 ceremonies.
She asked the parties to take the next 60 days to attempt to mediate the situation between themselves, considering any further policy changes that could amend the situation. If mediation is not successful, the matter will be judged by the court.
AHA has expressed satisfaction with the outcome, writing in a press release, “We are very pleased with the court’s ruling, as it properly recognizes that the government’s use of a pervasively Christian, proselytizing environment unconstitutionally exacts religious conformity from a student as the price of attending his or her own graduation ceremony. This was a flagrant violation of students’ First Amendment right to be free from religious coercion by the state.”
The district told The Greenville News in a statement that it believes that its policies “are consistent with our stance of neutrality.”
“We remain confident of our position in maintaining a legal and respectful educational environment for students from all backgrounds and beliefs,” it said.
As previously reported, throughout early America, textbooks such as Noah Webster’s “Blue Backed Speller” and Benjamin Harris’ “New England Primer” contained numerous references to Christianity, and those such as Webster were strong advocates for teaching children the ways of the Lord.
“Practical truths in religion, in morals, and all civil and social concerns, ought to be among the first and most prominent objects of instruction,” he wrote in 1839. “Without a competent knowledge of legal and social rights and duties, persons are often liable to suffer in property or reputation, by neglect or mistakes. Without religious and moral principles deeply impressed on the mind, and controlling the whole conduct, science and literature will not make men what the laws of God require them to be; and without both kinds of knowledge, citizens can not enjoy the blessings which they seek, and which a strict conformity to roles of duty will enable them to obtain.”
In 1830, Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote:
“[T]he benefits of an early and general acquaintance with the Bible were not confined to the Jewish nation; they have appeared in many countries in Europe since the Reformation. The industry and habits of order which distinguish many of the German nations are derived from their early instruction in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible. In Scotland and in parts of New England, where the Bible has been long used as a schoolbook, the inhabitants are among the most enlightened in religions and science, the most strict in morals, and the most intelligent in human affairs of any people whose history has come to my knowledge upon the surface of the globe.”
A special message from the publisher…
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that ordered Sweet Cakes by Melissa owners Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay $135,000 in “emotional damages” to two lesbian women for declining to make a cake for their same-sex “wedding” in 2014.
“[G]iven BOLI’s detailed factual findings about the effect of the refusal of service on these particular complainants—including anger, depression, questioning their own identity and self-worth, embarrassment, shame, frustration, along with anxiety and reduced excitement about the wedding itself—we cannot say that the order is so far out of line with previous cases that it lacks substantial reason,” wrote Judge Chris Garrett on behalf of the panel.
“We conclude that … the final order does not impermissibly burden the Kleins’ right to the free exercise of their religion because it simply requires their compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, and the Kleins have made no showing that the state targeted them for enforcement because of their religious beliefs,” he stated.
The ruling comes as another case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, is currently being considered by the nation’s highest court. Oral argument was heard in that case on Dec. 5, and a decision is expected in June 2018.
As previously reported, the Kleins were fined $135,000 two years ago after Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Commissioner Brad Avakian declared that they had discriminated against two lesbian women for declining to help out with their same-sex “wedding.”
The Kleins had served the women, Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, in other ways, and the women returned because the couple had treated them kindly.
“I have customers come in almost on a weekly basis that are homosexual,” Aaron Klein told reporters. “They can buy my stuff. I sell stuff. I talk with them. That’s fine. … This was not the first time we’ve served these girls.”
But because the Kleins said that they didn’t feel comfortable with fulfilling that particular order because of the event that it involved, the women filed a discrimination complaint against the bakers.
“We were being asked to participate in something that we could not participate in,” Melissa stated, outlining that the wedding cake is one of the most personal and intricate parts of the occasion.
Some Christians believe that being a part of a same-sex event violates the biblical command in 1 Timothy 5:22 not to be “partakers in other men’s sins,” as well as the command in Ephesians 5:7, “Be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
After the Kleins were declared guilty of discrimination, Cryer and Bowman submitted individual lists of just under 100 aspects of suffering in order to receive damages. They included “acute loss of confidence,” “doubt,” “distrust of men,” “distrust of former friends,” “excessive sleep,” “discomfort,” “high blood pressure,” “impaired digestion,” “loss of appetite,” “migraine headaches,” “loss of pride,” “mental rape,” “resumption of smoking habit,” “shock” “stunned,” “surprise,” “uncertainty,” “weight gain” and “worry.”
But the Kleins told the court that they too had suffered because of the attacks that they received over their desire to live out their Christian faith in the workplace. They stated that they endured “mafia tactics” as their car was vandalized and broken into on two occasions, their vendors were harassed by homosexual advocates resulting in some businesses breaking ties with them, and they received threatening emails wishing rape, death and Hell upon the family.
As a result, the Kleins had to close their business and move it into their private home. They later went out of business altogether.
In April 2015, Alan McCullough, an administrative judge with the bureau, recommended that the Kleins pay emotional damages totaling $135,000, with one of the women receiving $75,000 and the other $60,000. Prosecutors had sought damages of $75,000 each. McCullough outlined that Laurel Bowman was awarded a lesser amount because he believed that her claims were exaggerated.
“In this case, the forum concludes that $75,000 and $60,000, are appropriate awards to compensate Complainants [Rachel] and [Laurel], respectively, for the emotional suffering they experienced from Respondents’ cake refusal. [Laurel] is awarded the lesser amount because she was not present at the cake refusal and the forum found her testimony about the extent and severity of her emotional suffering to be exaggerated in some respects,” he wrote.
“Laurel ‘was a very bitter and angry witness who had a strong tendency to exaggerate and over-dramatize events,’ argued with the Kleins’ attorney and ‘had to be counseled by the ALJ to answer the questions asked of her instead of editorializing about the cake refusal and how it affected her,’ and her ‘testimony was inconsistent in severalrespects with more credible evidence,’” the appeals court also outlined on Thursday.
As previously reported, some outlets had wrongly claimed—and later apologized for publishing—that the Kleins were not ordered to pay damages for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian’s same-sex ceremony, but were rather punished for inadvertently “publishing” the women’s addresses on Facebook by uploading the filed consumer complaint—a public document that had not been redacted by the government—on their new personal page that only had 17 friends at the time. The Kleins deleted the status after being informed that the document was not redacted.
“I was just notified that the [complainants’] info was on the document I posted. Totally didn’t think about that, was a mistake and I apologize. I hope nobody used it for anything bad,” Aaron Klein posted.
The order from BOLI outlined that the complaint form that one of the women completed included a disclaimer noting that once submitted, their information would now become “subject to Oregon’s public records law.” This means that the personal address and phone number that was supplied would able to be seen by the public and the subject of the complaint.
However, the woman said that because she submitted the form via her Smartphone, the disclaimer “was not visible.”
While BOLI concluded that the Kleins were “guilty” of discrimination for declining to supply the cake for the lesbian’s same-sex event, and were willing to award the women damages for emotional distress surrounding the denial, it ultimately refused the women any additional damages for the Facebook mishap nor for the matter having been in the media.
Avakian accepted McCollough’s recommendation and ordered the Kleins to pay the women $135,000 in light of the emotional damages Cryer and Bowman listed for being denied the “wedding” cake. The Kleins then asked for a stay of the order, but were denied. As the couple initially refused to pay the damages, believing that they had done no wrong, officials moved to docket the judgment and seek permission to place a property lien against the Kleins or collect the money in other ways.
In December 2015, the state emptied all of the Klein’s personal banking accounts—including money set aside to pay their tithe. The Kleins told reporters following the incident that they had three personal bank accounts: one checking, one savings, and one account marked “God’s money” for their tithe at church. The three accounts contained just under $7,000 total.
Faced with a nine percent interest penalty for not paying the $135,000, the Kleins then opted to submit a check for the amount in full, using money donated by supporters that was not in their personal bank account. They dropped off a check for $136,927.07 after realizing that the government had seized their personal accounts.
The funds have been held in an escrow account pending the final outcome of the case. The rest of the $500,000 received in donations has been used for legal fees, according to The Oregonian.
While the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the emotional damages leveled against the Kleins, it disagreed with the lower court that the couple had violated a state law that prohibits businesses from advertising their intent to engage in discriminatory practices. It said that statements made by the Kleins in the midst of legal proceedings merely outlined what they had said on the day that Cryer asked them to make the cake for the event, and that they would fight the matter in court.
“BOLI relied heavily on statements in the [Tony] Perkins interview—taken out of context—to conclude that the Kleins had communicated an intention to discriminate in the future,” the court concluded. “When those statements and the note are viewed in their proper context, the record does not support BOLI’s conclusion that the Kleins violated ORS 659A.409. We therefore reverse that part of BOLI’s order.”
A special message from the publisher…
WASHINGTON — Prosperity and Word of Faith preacher Kenneth Copeland posted a photo to social media on Tuesday of a letter that he received from President Trump congratulating him for “50 years of ministry.”
“Melania and I send our warmest wishes as you celebrate 50 years of ministry,” began the letter, which was dated Aug. 16 but just shared this week. “For half a century, you have devoted your life to faith and humanity. Your enduring commitment to spreading the word of God has influenced the lives of people across the United States and around the world.”
“We hope your heart is filled with joy, knowing your efforts to spread a message of hope are an inspiration to people who seek the love and mercy of the Lord,” it continued. “Congratulations on this remarkable achievement.”
Copeland’s staff thanked Trump for the recognition, writing, “Thank you President @DonaldTrump for officially recognizing Kenneth Copeland Ministries for 50 years in ministry!”
As previously reported, Copeland, who has long drawn criticism for his teachings that God wants Christians to be rich, was among a group of religious leaders who prayed over Trump in 2015 prior to his election.
“[W]e ask you today to give this man your wisdom, boldly. Make sure and certain that he hears You. Manifest Yourself to him,” he prayed. “And we thank You and praise You for a bold man, a strong man and an obedient man.”
Copeland and his wife Gloria were also among those who agreed to be on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. The board includes diverse names such as Ronnie Floyd, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention; popular radio host and psychologist Dr. James Dobson; Jerry Falwell, the president of the Liberty University; and Paula White of the New Destiny Christian Center (who chairs the advisory board and is stated to be Trump’s closest religious advisor).
White delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration in January, praying, “In Proverbs 21:1, You instruct us that our leader’s heart is in Your hands. Gracious God, reveal unto our president the ability to know … Your will, the confidence to lead us in justice and righteousness, and the compassion to yield to our better angels.”
As previously reported, Trump has stated on several occasions that he identifies as Presbyterian. His wife, Melania, identifies as Roman Catholic.
“I am a religious person. People are so shocked when they find this out—I’m Protestant. I’m Presbyterian,” he said during the Iowa Family Leadership Summit in 2015, stating that his pastor was the late Norman Vincent Peale, who became known for his books and speeches on “the power of positive thinking.”
Peale led Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, which is actually not Presbyterian, but according to its website is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America (RCA).
Some believe that Peale’s teachings are partly responsible for the rise of prosperity preaching in America.
“Indeed, scholar Harvey Cox wrote concerning the prosperity gospel that ‘it owed much to the ‘positive thinking’ of the late Norman Vincent Peale,’” wrote David Jones of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “[Another] modern movement that has influenced the prosperity gospel is simply the ‘American dream,’ or materialism.”
Copeland is among the most known prosperity preachers in modern times, and teaches that man is the “prophet of [their] own life.” His lavish lifestyle has raised questions among Christians and unbelievers alike, including last year, when he raised eyebrows after sharing on his daily television broadcast that he flies on a private jet to avoid being bothered by “demon” passengers.
“Oral [Roberts] used to fly airlines,” he said. “But even back then it got to the place where it was agitating his spirit—people coming up to him, he had become famous, and they wanted him to pray for them and all that. You can’t manage that today [in] this dope-filled world, and get in a long tube with a bunch of demons. And it’s deadly.”
One of many wealth-related posts on Copeland’s Twitter page.
While he said that he didn’t want to fly with a “bunch of demons,” moments later, Copeland contended that he needed a private jet to help reach the lost.
“We’re in soul business here. We’ve got a dying world around us. We’ve got a dying nation around us,” Copeland proclaimed. “We can’t even get there on the airlines.”
Just this month, in the midst of a series on “supernatural wealth transfer,” his organization posted to social media the exhortation to make the faith confessions, “The wealth of the sinner comes to me now,” “The Lord is increasing me more and more,” and “I call in the harvest on every seed sown.”
Some reacted to the White House letter to Copeland with elation, while others vocalized their concerns about the prosperity preacher’s teachings that have been proliferated for half a century.
“That is amazing! We serve an awesome God and I pray often for President Donald J. Trump. He needs our prayers! God bless him for recognizing you and your family for 50 years in the ministry. That is a beautiful letter,” one commenter wrote.
“[A]nd people are still not checking what you teach against biblical truth in context, context, context,” another stated.
“So sad that Trump thinks this is Christianity,” a third remarked.
In Mark 8:36, Jesus asked, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
1 Timothy 6 also outlines in instructing Christians to turn away from those who assert that “gain is godliness:”
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”