Congratulations to Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) and his wife Suzanne who were awarded the Wilberforce Award at the Valley Family Forum’s annual “Salute To The Family” dinner Friday night. A heartfelt thanks to the hundreds who turned out for the dinner to hear Bishop E.W. Jackson speak and to advance family values in the Shenandoah Valley and Commonwealth.
Archive for the ‘Faith And Religion’Category
As if the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals isn’t busy enough this week. Not only will it decide on ObamaCare, it got the above question, too, in a case in which The Family Foundation filed an amicus brief last year. Now asked, another three judge panel will decide the constitutionality of the prayer policy of the Forsyth County, N.C. — but with national implications.
The policy, drafted by the Alliance Defense Fund, allows for anyone of any faith to pray before county government meetings on a first come, first serve basis. The content of the prayers are not reviewed by government officials. Plaintiffs represented by the ACLU contend that, because most of the “prayers” at the meetings over an eighteen month period were “sectarian,” the policy is unconstitutional. According to ADF attorneys, plaintiffs have argued in briefs that any prayer before public meetings is unconstitutional.
Judges Harvie Wilkinson, Paul Niemeyer and Barbara Keenan comprise the panel. If their questioning of attorneys arguing the case is any indication of where they stand on the issue, Judge Keenan is clearly in the ACLU camp. Appointed to the court by President Obama, she was particularly hostile toward ADF’s arguments and clearly favored the idea of “inclusive” prayers if there were going to be any prayers at all. Judge Niemeyer appeared much more favorable toward public prayer, stating that prayers without mentioning a specific deity are “just words.” Judge Wilkinson seemed like the swing vote, questioning both sides on multiple issues throughout the hour and ten minute hearing.
The details of this case date back to March 2007 when the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit against North Carolina’s Forsyth County Board of Supervisors, stating:
[the Board] does not have a policy which discourages or prohibits those whom [the Board] has invited to deliver prayers from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.
As ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson, who argued in favor of the policy, aptly pointed out, “An invocation according to the dictates of the giver’s conscience is not an establishment of religion. If it was, you’d have to argue that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution were violating the Constitution in the prayers and invocations that they themselves offered.” (Mike Johnson testified, at Family Foundation request during the 2009 General Assembly, on behalf of the rights of state police chaplains to pray in Jesus’ name. See video.)
A primary issue in the case is whether or not a voluntary prayer before a government meeting is “government” or private speech. If private, it is clearly protected by the First Amendment. But by the ACLU’s logic, anything said at a government meeting by a private individual is government speech just by virtue of saying at that meeting.
Several Virginia legislators also signed on to an amicus brief in support of religious liberty in Joyner v. Forsyth County. They include Delegates Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg), Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), and Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown); and Senators Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27, Winchester).
We were very blessed that the respected historian David Barton taped a video for us last fall, while here to keynote our Pastors Summit, to promote this year’s Call To Prayer in Colonial Williamsburg on June 1. Little did we know, coincidentally, that he appeared on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart yesterday, the day after we debuted the video here and via e-mail, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to tens of thousands of people (see it here).
As an avid student of history, especially the Founding period of America, and with a degree in history and English from one of the commonwealth’s well thought of institutions of higher learning, I always thought of myself as pretty well informed on early American history. Not that I knew it all, but with a life-long study of it, I thought I at least knew the major points pretty well. But then I started my association with The Family Foundation and got my first exposure to Mr. Barton, the founder of WallBuilders.
What a breath of fresh air! Not only does he give voice, reason and fact to what I always instinctively and academically believed was our Founding Fathers’ actual intent regarding religious liberty, he also has thousands of original period documents which prove the point — that nowhere in the constitution can it be construed that government is hostile to religious expression, whether in private or public. No one in America has done more research from original sources on this topic than David Barton and he can quote from them faster than I can items from a fast food menu. It’s hard to imagine a more informed person on this subject — anywhere.
He also points to hundreds of events from the period, long neglected in the classroom, that flesh out principles by which these Founders lived, argued, fought and died. Actions do speak louder than words, even words on paper, and the same men who put those words to paper participated in events that today would have them fined, suspended, fired or kicked out of club, association, job or public position. Go figure. In the end, though, no one is better than simply explaining the simple or basic elements of an already straightforward document: Congress shall establish no law . . . how does that translate to prohibiting a prayer to Jesus at a high school graduation? Or state police chaplains praying in Jesus’ name? Or a city council opening its session with a prayer? How are public acts of prayer a Congressional law establishing a religion? Maybe if secularists just read the constitution they would come to understand this themselves. Otherwise, we are left to think they have a blatant disregard for it and are intent on nothing less than to “transform” America.
No one exemplifies this misguided, misinterpreted, contorted, secularist slant on the constitution in pop culture more than Jon Stewart. I give him credit for inviting Mr. Barton on his show (at the insistence of another guest, former Arkansas Governor and another friend of The Family Foundation, Mike Huckabee). But it was nothing more than mismatch, a true learning moment for Mr. Stewart.
Learning curve: David Barton taught Jon Stewart, a William & Mary grad (and not his real name), a good deal Wednesday night on The Daily Show. (Part 1 is mainly introductory talk.)
It’s unfair debating a left-wing celebrity type, but instructive: Stewart gives truth to the adage “That a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
Mark your calendar for June 1 as we again gather in Colonial Williamsburg with concerned citizens from Hampton Roads and across the commonwealth to call out to God to restore our nation to its Judeo-Christian principles and heal our land. (See picture from last year’s event.)
On June 1, 1774, the Virginia House of Burgesses called a Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer (see proclamation at CW’s web site) as American colonists called out to the Lord to intervene when the British closed the harbor at Boston. Today, our foes are much different, but they are just as real. Whether the attack is on life, on marriage or on religious liberty, we know that there are real threats to our freedom, liberty and prosperity.
The Family Foundation will commemorate that important prayer event on Wednesday, June 1, in the historic colonial capital, with the ad hoc group Virginians for Liberty, to ask the Lord to have mercy on us and heal our land. See the video below to see historian and WallBuilders founder David Barton briefly recount the historic event and explain how to participate in this very important event. After watching it, please share it or this blog post’s link with your friends, family members and especially your pastor. We have a similar video available that is designed to be shown in churches during worship services and will make that available to any church that would like to show it to their congregation. If your church does not have the ability to download and show the video, we can also make a DVD copy available for viewing.
We will assemble at the Colonial Capitol on Duke of Gloucester Street promptly at 8:00 a.m. and walk to Bruton Parish Church where prayers will be offered along with some 18th century hymns. This will cover several blocks, so wear comfortable shoes. The event will end at 9:00. Bring a U.S., Virginia or Christian flag and wave it as a symbol of your devotion to this cause.
Parking can be confusing around Colonial Williamsburg. There is a parking lot near Bassett Hall, 522 Francis Street East, which is very convenient to the Capitol. For more information or questions, please call Roger Pogge in our office at 804-343-0010 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to seeing you there.
A Call to Prayer
Wednesday, June 1, 8:00 – 9:00 a.m
Thursday, May 5, is the 60th annual National Day of Prayer observance. This year’s theme comes from from Psalm 91: ”A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
Earlier this month, in a case in which The Family Foundation filed an amicus brief, the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the right of Americans (see Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today) to continue this observation of God’s involvement in “the affairs of men,” as Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it at the Constitutional Convention more than 220 years ago. A nefarious group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed the suit.
In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a declaration that every president must proclaim a National Day of Prayer on the day of his choosing. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan took President Truman’s declaration one step further and set the first Thursday of May as the official National Day of Prayer. Since then, Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have marked the day with a White House observance and all presidents have issued commemorative proclamations. Many years, a special prayer service is held in the East Room.
At noon on May 5, many localities around Virginia and the nation will hold observances with state and local officials, pastors and ministry leaders. Click here to find an observance in your area at the National Day of Prayer’s web site. Please be careful to note the specific details and locations of each event. Also, many churches are open for prayer services at noon and throughout the day. You may also click here to learn more about the 7 x 7 Campaign to pray for the seven centers of power in our country seven days a week.
If you cannot attend an observance, please consider taking some time out of your day to specifically pray for our nation, President Obama, Governor McDonnell, Lieutenant Governor Bolling, Attorney General Cuccinelli, U.S. Senators Warner and Webb, your congressman, your state senator and delegate, as well your local elected leaders. Each of these people has a powerful effect on the lives of Virginians.
When I was a boy I asked a question to my parents doubtless raised millions of times by the innocent young to their elders: “If Jesus was crucified, why do they call it Good Friday?” Good question.
In this era of growing cultural commercialism swallowing the meaning of holy days into secular holidays and religious feasts into commercial festivals (witness Christmas, though perhaps last year saw the slightest of pullbacks) Holy Week has maintained its meaning for the most part. Solemnity still reigns.
One of the best sermons I ever heard was a few years back at Christmas. While many expect a bright and cheery talk, the pastor starkly reminded the parishioners that “the wood of the manger is the wood of the Cross.” Christ humbly assumed a human nature and later died for our redemption. It wasn’t pretty — Roman executions were perhaps the most brutal in history — and we all share in the fault because Jesus died to redeem all sin. While today we commemorate a horrible event, we see the good in it which leads to the hope of the Resurrection on Sunday. Though victim, Christ wins the day. That is the “good.”
Here are some reflections on the meaning of Good Friday. First, an excerpt from a reflection by Pope John Paul II, from April 13, 2001, at the end of The Good Friday Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome:
“Christ became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (cf. Phil 2:8):
We have just concluded the Via Crucis which, every year, sees us gathered on the evening of Good Friday in this place, filled with intense Christian memories. We have followed the steps of the Innocent One, unjustly condemned, keeping our eyes on his adorable face: a face offended by human malice but full of the light of love and forgiveness.
Truly distressing are the dramatic events involving Jesus of Nazareth! In order to restore fullness of life to man, the Son of God humbled himself in the most abject way. But from his Death, freely chosen, life springs forth. Scripture says: oblatus est quia ipse voluit — he gave himself up because he so wished. His is an extraordinary testimony of love, fruit of an obedience without compare, carried to the point of the total giving of himself. …
How can we take our eyes away from Jesus as he dies on the Cross? His battered face disturbs us. The Prophet says: “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised” (Is 53:2-3).
On that face are concentrated the dark shadows of every suffering, every injustice, every violence inflicted on human beings throughout the course of history. But now, before the Cross, our everyday sorrows, and even death itself, appear clothed in the majesty of Christ abandoned and dying.
The face of the bleeding and crucified Messiah, reveals that, for the sake of love, God has allowed himself to become involved in the tormented chronicles of mankind. Ours is no longer a solitary suffering, because he has paid the price for us with his blood, shed to the last drop. He has entered into our suffering and broken through the barrier of our distraught tears.
In his death, all human life acquires meaning and value, as does death itself. From the Cross, Christ appeals to the personal freedom of men and women in every period of history and calls each one to follow him on the path of complete abandonment into the hands of God. He even makes us rediscover the mysterious fruitfulness of pain.
For a look at the importance of faith in the modern world and its impact on culture and even policy, Jennifer Marshall at The Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry poses these germane thoughts in today’s Morning Bell column. For those interested in the historical aspect of Good Friday, Linda Gradstein of AOL News reports that Simcha Jacobovici, the host of Naked Archeology on the History Channel, believes he’s found two of the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion. Speaking of the History Channel, it repeats on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. the Ray Dowling’s acclaimed documentary The Real Face of Jesus?, which you can read more about here and here.
Who can forget The Passion of The Christ and the most realistic portrayal ever of a Roman execution? Jesus absorbed our sin manifest in physical suffering, so great is His love. That’s why today is “good.”
Late this afternoon, the Virginia Board of Social Services voted 7-2 to accept new regulations for adoption agencies that do not include formerly proposed non-discrimination protections for homosexuals. This is a victory for religious liberty and means that faith-based adoption agencies can continue serving Virginia’s children and families without being forced to violate their faith principles.
The previously proposed regulations that included sexual behavior protections were replaced by Commissioner of Social Services Martin Brown after it came to light that adding sexual orientation to protected status would have been in conflict with existing federal and state law, and the Virginia Marriage Amendment. The attorney general’s office issued a letter to the board informing it of the conflict and, acting on that advice, as well as public comment, the commissioner made the appropriate changes.
At the board meeting, representatives from The Family Foundation, the Virginia Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities of Arlington, the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, America World Adoption and Bethany Christian Services testified against the original proposal that would have forced faith-based adoption agencies to either ignore their faith principles regarding marriage and sexual behavior or stop serving families and children. Organizations that serve children and families provided particularly compelling testimony. Andrew Brown, of America World Adoption, said that making sexual behavior a protected class would decrease the number of loving families available to adopt wanted, parentless children by forcing faith-based adoption agencies out of business.
However, the vote did not come without debate, beginning this morning with a failed motion to postpone the vote until August and ending late today with arguments by proponents of the sexual orientation language that they had not had enough time to review the new regulations. Representatives of Equality Virginia, the Gay Community Center of Richmond, Mothers and Others, and other groups argued that faith-based organizations should not be allowed to “discriminate” by following their beliefs. But homosexuals in Virginia can adopt — they must go through state or non-faith-based private agencies.
The most vocal proponent of homosexual protections was social services board member Trudy Brisendine, who made the argument that she had not had time to review the new regulations. This despite the fact that the previous proposal had been initiated by outgoing Governor Tim Kaine in December of 2009 and that regulations had been open for public comment since January. She asked, embarrassingly, at one point how a “child placing agency” is defined, requiring the board’s legal counsel to point out that the definition was on page two of the proposal. It is certainly concerning that someone who has the power to vote on regulations that oversee “child placing agencies” doesn’t know how they are defined or had not read the proposal thoroughly to know the term was defined — and at the beginning of the proposal no less. While her lack of preparation most likely won’t make the news, imagine if that question came from a pro-family board member.
We thank the seven board members who voted correctly, the McDonnell administration and the attorney general for their attention to this matter, Commissioner Brown, and our pro-family partners who have worked tirelessly over the past several weeks on this important issue.
Within the last few minutes the Virginia Social Services Board voted to reject proposed regulations that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children (see last week’s post for more background). These regulations would have undermined religious liberty by forcing faith-based adoption agencies to comply with a regulation (by unelected bureaucrats, much less a law) fundamentally counter to their beliefs, or close down. We will have more on this tonight or tomorrow. For now, even though if approved today the process still had many safeguard hurdles before becoming final, we have reason to celebrate.
Proposed Adoption Regulations Contrary To Virginia Law And Constitution; Clarifying Where We Now Stand In Process
Just two months before leaving office, former Governor Tim Kaine left Virginians an unwanted present in the form of proposed changes to adoption guidelines for private agencies (see the Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). These proposed regulations — by a Social Services Board still dominated by Mr.Kaine’s appointees — slowly working their way through the process, seek to force private adoption agencies to place children in foster care or for adoption with parents irrespective of faith or sexual orientation. It would force faith-based adoption agencies to either abandon their principles or cease providing adoption services (as did Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, after more than 100 years, when that state’s Supreme Court imposed such regulations by judicial fiat).
The proposal under discussion here goes far beyond any policy currently in Virginia law. The Virginia Code clearly details who is eligible to adopt. In § 63.2-1201.1, it plainly states:
Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit any child to have more than two living parents by birth or adoption, who have legal rights and obligations in respect to the child, in the form of one father and one mother.
There is no mistaking Virginia’s intent. The current regulatory proposal, which includes prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation, contradicts the intent of the General Assembly.
Nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation, whether enshrined in law or implemented through internal constructs, and regardless of their legal weight, highlight the inevitable and unavoidable clash between the unalienable fundamental right of religious liberty and the postmodern era of sexual freedom. While one may agree or disagree with the actions of individuals or private organizations that express their faith in these ways, their fundamental right to do so is at risk with these proposed regulations. Faith-based family organizations have assisted children for decades without unnecessary intervention by government entities. It is very clear that homosexual special interest groups have no concern with preserving religious liberty in pursuit of their political agenda.
Upon learning about these proposed regulations weeks ago, The Family Foundation immediately contacted the governor’s office. At that time, we were assured that Governor McDonnell does not support the current non-discrimination proposal and the current proposal would not stand. To ensure our voice was known where it needed to be, we submitted our official public comment and encouraged pastors to do so as well. After the public comment period closed, Governor Bob McDonnell publicly weighed in, telling the Washington Post:
I know I had said during the campaign that I would essentially keep our adoption laws — which I think are good — the way they are now. … I don’t think we ought to force Catholic Charities to make [the proposed regulations] part of their policy or other similar situated groups. Many of our adoption agencies are faith-based groups that ought to be able to establish what their own policies are. Current regulations that say you can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin I think are proper.
Since then, concern has mounted based on the circulation of incorrect information stating Governor McDonnell must act by April 15. However, this is an incorrect interpretation of a section of the Code (§ 2.2-4013) that details the time frame for the Notice of Intended Regulatory Action stage, not the proposed stage. The public comment website shows that the adoption regulations are completing the proposed stage, not the NOIRA stage.
A chart published by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget is extremely helpful in understanding how the circuitous regulatory process works: The proposed adoption regulations currently are in the bottom box of the middle column (not the second box of the first column). Correct reading of Virginia Code and regulatory process shows that the Board of Social Services has no less than 15 and no more than 180 days from April 1 (April 16 through September 28) to adopt the proposed regulations and submit them for full executive branch review. As displayed in column three of DPB’s chart, the proposed regulations must then pass several more reviews prior to final acceptance, including reviews by DPB, the corresponding cabinet secretary, possibly by the attorney general (see Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s stated disapproval in the Washington Post) and the governor, then go through at least one more public comment period. The Department of Social Services already has amended the regulations and will present these changes to the Board of Social Services at an upcoming meeting. During any of these stages, the governor can reject or make changes to the proposal.
This adoption proposal, which tramples religious liberty, is a significant overreach through regulation into uncharted waters prohibited by Virginia Code and Virginia Constitution and will not be tolerated. The Family Foundation has been actively involved in seeing that these proposed regulations are not adopted and will continue to monitor the issue very closely.
Wednesday morning a unique, and what will be looked back upon as a historic, event took place at Mr. Jefferson’s capitol. Citizens from across Virginia witnessed many of their state lawmakers officially form the Virginia Legislative Prayer Caucus. The VLPC is an outgrowth of the Congressional Prayer Caucus in Washington, D.C. founded by Virginia’s Fourth District U.S. Representative Randy Forbes. That caucus has been instrumental in bringing legislators together under the common denomination of prayer and devotion to God to guide them in their decision making. Now, members of several state legislatures are forming their own. Virginia’s is among the first.
Several hundred people joined Governor Bob McDonnell, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and several senators and delegates to call on the Lord to heal our land and bless the Commonwealth of Virginia. In addition to the three statewide officials, speakers included Senator Phillip Puckett (D-38, Tazewell), who led a prayer; caucus co-chairmen Delegate John Cosgrove (R-78, Chesapeake) and Senator Jeff McWaters (R-8, Virginia Beach); and Congressman Mike McIntyre (R-N.C.), a co-founder of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, who encouraged prayer for all those in authority as we are commanded in I Timothy 2:1,2. Congressman Forbes was scheduled to speak but could not attend because of a last minute Armed Services sub-committee meeting which he chairs. Instead, his wife Shirley, read his prepared remarks.
The event concluded with the announcement of each VLPC member’s name as he or she approached a desk on the capitol’s portico and signed the “Call to Prayer for Virginia” proclamation. The charter members include members of both parties with at least a half-dozen of them Democrats. Those in attendance also had the opportunity to sign their names to a replica versions. Virginia is the third state to create a Legislative Prayer Caucus, following Mississippi and Kentucky. Several other state legislatures are currently in the process of forming similar prayer caucuses.
With all a world seemingly aflame and in shambles by war, natural disaster and financial and economic turmoil, it was a refreshing event to see the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and numerous members of the legislative body take public pride in their faith and devotion to prayer, much as our founders did 235 years ago in the midst of a war for independence going wrong. Still, in the Declaration of Independence they noted their “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”
Governor McDonnell, Lt. Governor Bolling and Attorney General Cuccinelli are the first to sign the Virginia Legislative Prayer Caucus’ Call To Prayer.