All posts from “April 2010”

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April 30, 2010

Panel Faults Obama for Lagging on Religious Freedom

The U.S. government is not doing enough to protect religious freedoms abroad, the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said Thursday in its annual report to Congress and the White House.

"The problems are above and beyond what we saw last year, and the administration must do more," said Leonard Leo, chair of the commission, which was founded by Congress in 1998.

The commission named 13 "countries of particular concern" on religious freedom violations: Burma, North Korea, Nigeria, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The panel also named 12 countries to a second-tier "watch list" that deserve close monitoring by Washington: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela. India was the only new addition from last year.

Beyond the annual list of offenders, which has remained relatively stable in recent years, commissioners chided the Obama administration and U.S. diplomats for ignoring religion in foreign policy when so many conflicts find their roots -- or justification -- in religion.

"We're completely neglecting religious freedom in countries that tend to be Petri dishes for extremism," Leo said. "This invariably leads to trouble for us."

The commission brings attention to global "hot spots" where freedom of religion is threatened by state hostility, state-sponsored extremist ideology, or failure to protect human rights.

Commissioners said the issue of religious freedom has been, and continues to be, largely ignored. "Regrettably, this point seems to shrink year after year for the White House and State Department," Leo said.

Continue reading Panel Faults Obama for Lagging on Religious Freedom...

April 26, 2010

President Obama Pays a Visit to Billy Graham's House

grahamobama.jpg

President Obama met with Billy Graham yesterday, the first time a sitting president has met in Graham's North Carolina home, according to his spokesman A. Larry Ross.

Franklin Graham, whose invitation to a Pentegon prayer service was rescinded last week, also attended the meeting. Here are the details from Ross:

Over coffee, the two men discussed a variety of topics, including their wives, and love for and similar experiences with golf and Chicago – where the President started his career, and Mr. Graham attended school and has had several significant crusades.

Like others before him, President Obama shared how lonely, demanding and humbling the office of President can be, and how much he appreciated the counsel of people like Mr. Graham and the prayers of so many citizens.

Mr. Graham presented the President with two Bibles – one for him, and other for the First Lady – after which the President prayed for Mr. Graham, who, in turn, concluded with a prayer for the President, his family and his Administration.

Obama and Graham were supposed to meet in October 2008 during the campaign, but it was canceled due to Graham's health.

"Reverend Graham has obviously been an important spiritual leader for past presidents and for the American people for decades," White House spokesman Bill Burton said. "He's a real treasure for our country. The president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home."

Graham made a rare public appearance in Charlotte last week for a ceremony at the Billy Graham Library, which reopened last week after renovations.

April 23, 2010

Arizona Gov. Signs Strict Immigration Law

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona today signed an immigration bill into law that would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime. The law would also allow power to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

The New York Times
reports that Democratic politicians are wary of taking up legislation before the fall elections. House leaders have said that the they would be willing to take up immigration policy if the Senate produces a bill first.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who also faces re-election, has pledged to pass an energy measure, and the Senate will likely hold confirmation proceedings this summer for a Supreme Court nominee.

After the jump, various evangelical groups respond to the legislation.

Continue reading Arizona Gov. Signs Strict Immigration Law...

April 23, 2010

Glenn Beck to Give Liberty U. Commencement Speech

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University's May 15 graduation.

“Beck is one of the few courageous voices in the national media standing up for the principles upon which this nation was founded,” Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of Liberty University, said in the school newspaper's story.

The baccalaureate address will be delivered by Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, whom Falwell called one of the “patriarchs of Christian higher education."

"Both speakers continue Liberty’s long tradition of commencement speakers who are making a positive impact on society in all walks of life,” he said.

In 2008, Focus on the Family pulled an interview with Beck over concerns with his Mormon faith. Christianity Today did a feature on Liberty last fall and has followed Beck's call to "leave your church" if it promotes social justice.

April 22, 2010

Graham: Army Rescinded Pentagon Prayer Invitation

Franklin Graham said in a statement provided to Christianity Today that the Army has rescinded its invitation to participate in a Pentagon prayer service on the National Day of Prayer.

On Tuesday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation objected to Graham's invitation, saying his past description of Islam as "evil" offended Muslims.

Army Col. Tom Collins told the Associated Press that the invitation was from the Colorado-based National Day of Prayer Task Force, which works with the Pentagon chaplain's office on the event. Graham issued the following statement:

“I regret that the Army felt it was necessary to rescind their invitation to the National Day of Prayer Task Force to participate in the Pentagon’s special prayer service. I want to express my strong support for the United States military and all our troops. I will continue to pray that God will give them guidance, wisdom and protection as they serve this great country."

Graham said in an interview with Fox News this morning that Muslims are "enslaved" by their religion.

"I want them to know that they don't have to die in a car bomb, don't have to die in some kind of holy war to be accepted by God. But it's through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone," Graham said. "I love the people of Islam but their religion, I do not agree with their religion at all. And if you look at what the religion does just to women, women alone, it is just horrid. And so yes, I speak out for women. I speak out for people that live under Islam, that are enslaved by Islam and I want them to know that they can be free."

Graham is president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

April 20, 2010

Oklahoma Passes Several Abortion Bills

The Oklahoma Senate has passed five abortion-related bills, including one that would require women seeking an abortion early in their pregnancies to undergo vaginal ultrasound. The Associated Press reports that the bill was earlier declared unconstitutional because it dealt with more than one subject.

The Tulsa World reports that one of the bill would require a woman to have an ultrasound within an hour of an abortion. Another bill that was passed would require women seeking an abortion to report information about themselves (such as marital status, education, reason for abortion) to be displayed statistically on a website.

The AP explains further background and more information on the other bills.

At least three states require ultrasounds before all abortions, but no other states require vaginal ultrasounds or that doctors to describe the image to women.

... [Governor] Henry vetoed the ultrasound requirement in larger bill two years ago, arguing it had no exclusions for victims of rape or incest. But his veto was overridden when anti-abortion Democrats joined with Republicans. The bill was later ruled unconstitutional because it dealt with more than one subject. The bill passed Monday also has no exceptions. Henry has not indicated whether he will sign it.

It passed 35-11 Monday with several Democrats voting with Republicans. Of the five women in the Senate, all Democrats, two voted for the bill and three voted against.

The other abortion measures would require women to complete a lengthy questionnaire before receiving an abortion, mandate certain signs be posted in an abortion clinics and prevent so-called "wrongful-life" lawsuits in cases where a parent might argue that a child with birth defects or other problems would have been better off aborted. Another bill would prohibit state insurance exchanges, created under the new federal health care law, from covering abortions.

April 15, 2010

Judge Rules National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the National Day of Prayer, observed the first Thursday of May, is unconstitutional.

In Madison, Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that brought a lawsuit against former President George W. Bush's administration. According to a 2008 Associated Press article, Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force at the time, was named in the lawsuit.

"It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement.

In 1952, President Truman signed into law a Congressional resolution establishing a National Day of Prayer. In 1988, Congress named the first Thursday in May the official date for the National Day of Prayer.

Update: The Justice Department is appealing the decision.

April 14, 2010

Nebraska Adds Abortion Restrictions

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman signed a law yesterday banning most abortions 20 weeks after conception or later. The law is the first to restrict abortions on the basis of fetal pain, according to The New York Times.

The question of fetal pain, experts said, is one of intense, unresolved debate among researchers and among advocates on both sides of the abortion question.

Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation at National Right to Life, said that scientific evidence related to the capacity for pain had not been heard by the Supreme Court, and that it opened a new legal question.

“You need five votes,” Ms. Balch said. “I think there are five on the current Supreme Court who would give serious consideration to Nebraska’s claim.”

A late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was killed in Kansas last year. The Associated Press reports that the bill is partially aimed at Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a late-term abortion provider who said he would continue Tiller's work in Nebraska.

Heineman also signed a separate law that would require health care workers to screen women for possible physical or mental risks before performing an abortion.

April 13, 2010

Repeal of Calif. Same-Sex Marriage Ban Misses Ballot

Proponents of an effort to repeal the California's ban on same-sex marriage failed to get enough signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.

Monday was the deadline for submitting the nearly 695,000 signatures needed. A San Francisco federal court is weighing whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits Proposition 8, which was passed 52 to 48 percent in 2008 vote defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman. The court case is expected to be appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Reuters.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that volunteers supporting an initiative to outlaw divorce only collected 8,000 signatures of the 694,000 needed.

April 9, 2010

Bart Stupak to Retire

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), who led an amendment to block federal funding for abortion in health care but alienated pro-life groups when he voted for the Senate version of the bill, will retire at the end of his term.

Earlier, Family Research Council Action planned to spend $500,000 and Susan B. Anthony List planned to spend $150,000 on ad campaigns targeting Stupak and other Democrats who voted for the health care bill. Stupak, who served in Congress for 18 years, told the Associated Press that attacks from groups on abortion did not influence his decision and that he wanted to spend more time with his family and start a new career.

In a Wall Street Journal column last month, William McGurn suggested the end of pro-life Democrats.

Update: FRC sent a press release praising Stupak's pro-life stance, blaming the Democratic Party for his legacy.

It is a shame that he will leave Congress remembered more for his vote on the Obama health care bill, the largest abortion promoting piece of legislation in the last 30 years.

Rep. Stupak's fall lies directly at the feet of the Democratic congressional leadership and President Obama, who pushed their support of government funding of abortion over the principles of pro-life Members of their own party. Although Rep. Stupak certainly is responsible for the decision he made to endorse the Obama plan, the severe demands his President and Party placed on him were untoward and unremitting.

April 6, 2010

Hybels, Osteen Among White House Easter Breakfast Attendees

Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels and Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen attended the White House Easter prayer breakfast where President Obama briefly addressed 90 Christian clergy and guests this morning. Obama offered his “deepest condolences, thoughts, and prayers” to the families of dead and missing coal miners in West Virginia.

He said he had offered federal assistance to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. Obama asked his guests to “pray for the safe return of the missing” and for the souls of the victims, according to the pool report.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also attended the breakfast. Here's more from the pool report:

Obama said his breakfast for Christian clergy was part of a broader effort to welcome all faiths to the White House that had included a celebratory dinner to mark the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan and a sedar as a part of Jews’ commemoration of Passover.

The President, speaking from notes, spoke in personal terms about the inspiration he drew from the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, recalling the scorn and derision heaped upon Jesus en route to his crucifixion, the “torture” of his death by the Roman Empire and the “agony of his crucifixion.” Obama said that he drew particular inspiration “that speaks to me” from Christ’s final moments on the cross when Jesus “summoned what remained of his strength” to say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Obama introduced the Rev. Cynthia Hall to deliver the first prayer as the pool was escorted from the East Room.

The WH press office released a partial list of attendees:

Pastor Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, IL
Pastor Joel Osteen, Pastor, Lakewood Church
Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Papal Nucio to Washington, D.C.,
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Bishop, A.M.E. Church
Elder Nancy Wilson, Metropolitan Community Church
Commissioner Israel Gaither, National Commander, Salvation Army
Hyepin Im, Korean Christian Community Development
Dr. Arturo Chavez, President, Mexican American Catholic College
Rev. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Fr. Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities
Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches
Dr. Julius Scruggs, President, National Baptist Convention of America
Sister Carol Keehan, President, Catholic Health Association


Continue reading Hybels, Osteen Among White House Easter Breakfast Attendees...

April 5, 2010

Obama Family Attends Easter Sunday Service

President Obama and his family attended Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast Washington on Easter Sunday, according to the Washington Post.


During one song, Obama nudged his older daughter, Malia, and tried to persuade her to dance. "Come on," he said. Then he swayed his shoulders and clapped his hands with exaggerated enthusiasm until Malia started to laugh.

Few who sat behind Obama looked as relaxed. Two Secret Service officers occupied the pew behind the first family and acted as a moving shield, standing when they stood, swaying when the Obamas swayed, sitting when they sat. Ten ushers stood in the center aisle, wearing black suits and white gloves. Secret Service agents wore headsets and kept lookout from the church balcony. Some parishioners held cellphone cameras above their heads to take pictures of the president.

Most speakers also focused, at least momentarily, on Obama's attendance. Bell, the pastor, called him "the most intelligent, most anointed, most charismatic president this country has ever seen." Then he looked at Obama and said: "God has his hands all over you."

Obama told MSNBC earlier that his family has decided not to join a church because it draws too much attention on him and his family. He said he enjoyed attending church at Camp David, but continues to visit various churches.

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