Montanans Reject ACLU and Freedom from Religion Foundation Grinches
Monday, December 16, 2013, 9:23 AM

Kalispell, Montana, is the largest city and commercial center of northwest Montana.  However, the town’s population is just over 20,000.  I have never had the privilege to visit Kalispell, but have enjoyed vacationing in Montana, a great traditionalist state with many wonderful and friendly people.  All Montanans seem to hunt and fish, and children learn to shoot guns when they learn to read.  Further, there are many independent-minded ranchers and cowboys among Montanans.  However, Kalispell has become the location for some Christmas grinches who seek to disrupt Christmas.  As part of my ongoing series about Christmas grinches, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana (“ACLU-MT”) recently sent letters to two school districts demanding they cancel the participation of school choirs at a traditional Christmas concert.  The “Peace On Earth Community Christmas Celebration” (wouldn’t that be a wonderful evening to praise God and worship our Savior?) included two government school choirs among more than ten musical performances at a two-day Christmas celebration at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kalispell.

But the grinches at the ACLU-MT and FFRF contend that the participation of the school choirs in the Christmas event gives the appearance that the school districts are endorsing or advancing a specific religious message or denomination.  Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Darlene Schottle has stated that participation by the school choirs neither endorses nor promotes a religion or religious message, and does not violate anyone’s rights.  She further stated that participation is simply an opportunity for students to perform for the community at a public venue and does not equate to sponsorship.  However, if students wish to opt-out of performing at the event, they can do so.  However, Niki Zupanic, ACLU-MT’s Public Policy Director, believes this is not good enough.  She says that students are put in a difficult position when asked to make such a decision.  “It creates personal conflict.  Students want to fit in and they may be labeled as a troublemaker.”  (Yes, I can certainly imagine that Montana teens never learn to think independently, or to stand on their own two feet.)

Dr. Schottle notes that when students perform for a group such as Rotary, or at a nursing home, the school is not endorsing the group’s ideology, or the business practices of the facility or owners.  “If any group, whether faith-based or not, wants our students to perform and it fits into our schedule, we quite frequently allow students to perform,” said Dr. Schottle.  Accordingly, the school districts have rejected the demands of the FFRF and ACLU-MT.

Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”) sent Kalispell and Whitefish Public Schools a letter commending the school districts for rejecting the attempts to stop student choir members from voluntarily participating in the community Christmas festival.  ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Rory Gray said:

Schools should not have to think twice about whether they can allow choirs to participate in community Christmas events.  Courts have unanimously allowed students to sing Christmas carols at school.  Nothing changes when they sing the same Christmas songs at a community festival instead.  We commend the districts for rightly ignoring the baseless threats delivered by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The Alliance Defending Freedom letter explains that “every federal court to examine the issue has determined that including Christmas carols in school choir performances fully complies with the First Amendment.”  These performances at a church or elsewhere do not promote religion but allow students “to serve the wider community with their talents, see and learn from other choirs’ techniques, and gain valuable performance experience in front of a large audience.”  A copy of the ADF letter is available here.  The letter also emphasized that ADF is ready to freely assist the school districts public schools if the ACLU and the FFRF take legal action against the schools or the choirs.  It seems to me that as the people of Montana live daily with wolves and grizzly bears, I can imagine that they are not going to be intimidated by the wolves and grizzly bears from the FFRF and the ACLU-MT.  Kudos to the fine people of Montana and to Dr. Schottle, and Merry Christmas to all of our friends in Kalispell and Flathead County, Montana.

United States Air Force Grinches Steal Christmas in South Carolina
Friday, December 13, 2013, 10:22 AM

Today I begin a series of blogs about the Grinches who are trying to steal Christmas.  Christmas is a time of great joy and celebration for the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  For Christian believers, it is one of the two central events of human history.  But readers of Mere Comments know that there are many enemies of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ who seek to marginalize Christ-followers from our society.  In many other countries, Christians face great persecution for their Christian faith.  For those Christian believers, persecution includes physical and psychological torture.  For American Christians, on the other hand, persecution begins with psychological disparagement of Christian beliefs by the institutions of influence in our society.  Among the important institutions of influence moving to eliminate Christian presence is the United States military.  During the Obama “Administration,” many changes have been implemented that have seriously weakened our national military.  Notwithstanding the vote by the House of Representatives last night to reverse most of the so-called sequester from future military budgets, former Navy Secretary John Lehman recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal the following:

Instead of a 600-ship Navy, we now have a 280-ship Navy, although the world’s seas have not shrunk and our global dependence has grown.  Instead of Reagan’s 20-division Army, we have only 10-division equivalents.  The Air Force has fewer than half the number of fighters and bombers it had 30 years ago.  . . . [But] there is one great numerical advantage the U.S. has against potential adversaries, however.  That is the size of our defense bureaucracy.  While the fighting forces have steadily shrunk by more than half since the early 1990s, the civilian and uniformed bureaucracy has more than doubled.  According to the latest figures, there are currently more than 1,500,000 full-time civil employees in the Defense Department – 800,000 civil servants and 700,000 contract employees.

As we know from organizational behavior, increased numbers of Defense Department bureaucrats must occupy their time, and justify their existence, in important defense-related matters, particularly in this deeply troubled and dangerous world.  As one recent example, senior Air Force grinches at the Pentagon ordered airmen at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to take down a Nativity scene hours after it was erected.  The Nativity scene was erected in advance of the annual base Christmas (can we really say that?) tree lighting ceremony.  Christian airmen said that they requested permission to put up a Nativity scene, and invited Air Force personnel of other faiths on the base to place displays of their own.  Servicemen of other faiths did not respond to their invitation.  Therefore, the Christian airmen went ahead and erected the Nativity scene.  However, within mere hours, the base commander received a telephone call from the infamous Grinch, Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”), complaining about the Nativity scene.  (His spies are everywhere!)  Paul Loebe, MRFF spokesman said that the Nativity scene was in violation of the Constitution.  In a statement, Mr. Loebe said, “It was very sectarian in nature and a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution as well as a blatant violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1 Section 2.11.”  Of course, simple minded people will go blind looking for the provision in the U.S. Constitution which reads: “Air Force personnel may not put up a Nativity scene on public land.”  But one can find in the First Amendment an assertion that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  I suppose that this prohibition might also apply to any Air Force regulation as the Air Force is also a congressional creation.  But I am just a simple man who looks at the plain meaning of what was written in the Constitution.  My readers will recall that I have written a number of blogs about Mr. Weinstein and his deep tentacles into the Obama Regime.  In response to Mr. Weinstein’s objections, Lieutenant Keavy Rake, Shaw Air Force Base public affairs officer, said that the base commander would look into it.  Then senior Air Force officials at the Pentagon informed the base commander that it is a violation of the Air Force code to have a sole religious display on base property unless it was associated with an on-base military chapel.  Lt. Rake said, “The base’s legal team received a call, and they basically said we couldn’t have a sole religious display and we had to take it down.  The volunteers took down the Nativity scene and are deciding on a better place to put it.”  In response, MRFF spokesman Mr. Loebe issued a statement, which read in part: “Within 2 hours and 15 minutes of initially being contacted by MRFF, the nativity scene had been promptly removed.  MRFF wants to congratulate the Air Force on acting so swiftly to reverse this egregious violation and hopes that in the future they will ensure that no such violations continue to occur.”  I am sure that those Department of Defense bureaucrats will devise an ingenious and proper location for the Nativity scene, but only after December 25th.  I can only hope that Air Force generals and Defense Department bureaucrats are as actively attuned to developments in China, Syria, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and Russia as they are to such clear threats to our nation as a Nativity scene.

The Arrest and Torture of the Most Hated Man in Egypt
Monday, December 9, 2013, 9:08 AM

Who is the most hated man in Egypt?  Is it Mohammed Morsi, the deposed Moslem Brotherhood president?  Is it Hosni Mubarak, the former deposed President of Egypt?  Or perhaps it is General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the current Egyptian strongman who deposed Mohammed Morsi?  No, I fear none of these gentlemen qualify as the most hated man in Egypt.  Rather that title goes to Bishoy Armia Boulous, 31, formally known by his Moslem name, Mohammed Hegazy.  Who is he, one might ask?  Mr. Boulous gained infamy throughout Egypt in 2007, when he filed an application to change both his name and religion on his national identification card from Moslem to Christian.  This event shocked Egyptians.  Opinion polls in 2010 showed that 84 percent of Moslem Egyptians said that Christian converts from Islam should be executed by the government.  In January 2008, a court ruled against Mr. Boulous on the grounds that Islamic Sharia law forbids conversion from Islam.  According to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom at the time, “The court also stated that such conversion would constitute a disparagement of the official state religion and an enticement for other Muslims to convert.”  In April 2010, an appeals court suspended the case indefinitely, as it awaited Egypt’s constitutional court to rule on a previous case dealing with religious identity.  However, before those cases could be resolved, the 2011 revolution deposed the Murbarak regime, and the constitution was rewritten by the Moslem Brotherhood.  Following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government last July, another constitutional revision is presently underway.  However, as a result of his application to change his name and religion, Mr. Boulous became a deeply hated figure, and his photographs appeared frequently on Egyptian media as a traitor to Islam.

Morning Star News has now reported that Mr. Boulous was arrested at a café on the morning of December 4th by Egyptian authorities, and is being investigated for inciting “sectarian strife.”  How is Mr. Boulous inciting “sectarian strife?”  Egyptian police claimed that Mr. Boulous was contributing to a “false image” that there is violence against Christians in Minya.  Lieutenant Amr Hassan, the Baghdad Bob-like chief of police for Minya, told Egyptian media that reports of persecution against Coptic Christians in Minya are simply “not true.”  However, since August 2013, both the city and province of Minya have been the site of numerous attacks on Christians, church buildings, and Christian-owned properties, which have been well documented by journalists and international human rights groups.  As evidence of his purportedly evil deeds against the Egyptian state, upon Mr. Boulous’ arrest, Egyptian police said he was carrying a camera and four flash drives.  Police further announced that he was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite.  So there you go.  There is compelling evidence that demands a verdict!  However, The Way TV has denied that he worked for them.  Many now fear for Mr. Boulous’ safety.  Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights, stated, “There is no doubt that he will be tortured.  Those who have previously been in his place have been tortured – if not by the police, they are beaten by their fellow inmates.”  Mr. Nakhla’s organization represented Mr. Boulous through part of his case to change his national identity card.

Mr. Boulous became a Christian believer in 1998.  It is not at all surprising as some have estimated that there are at least several million Christian believers in Egypt who are not registered.  In fact, most converts from Islam are secret Christian believers, and are not “officially” registered as such.  However, Mr. Boulous challenged Egyptian authorities by publicly declaring his Christian faith.  As a result, after his conversion, he was arrested several times by the State Security Investigations Service (“SSIS”).  During one of his imprisonments, Mr. Boulous was tortured by SSIS agents for three days.  Yet, he refused to recant his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Please pray for this dear Christian saint.  If you wish to drop a note of support for justice for Mr. Boulous to the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, you can write to Ambassador Tawfik at the following address:

H.E. Ambassador Mohamed M. Tawfik
Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Court, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Telephone: 1.202.895.5400

Pastor Saeed Abedini: Victim of Obama’s Cruel Indifference
Thursday, December 5, 2013, 8:38 AM

For many years, I have been involved in business negotiations around the world.  Further, I have taught negotiation strategies and techniques to both MBA and law students.  In this context, I have been dismayed watching the Obama Administration’s recent dealings with Iran.  One of the cardinal rules in any negotiation, especially when one party has a stronger bargaining position, is not to reward the other side for bad behavior.  As the Islamic Republic of Iran moves closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama has negotiated a so-called “breakthrough” deal with Iran to lift tens of billions of dollars worth of economic sanctions in exchange for an Iranian promise to stop enriching weapons-grade uranium.  While this nuclear deal seems to be more akin to social work than diplomacy, initial polls show that it is supported by a war-weary American public.  (In a survey taken for the liberal group Americans United for Change, and conducted by the firm Hart Research, a 34-percent plurality of respondents who had heard at least “a little” about the nuclear deal said they favor the Obama arrangement with Iran.  Only 22 percent said they oppose the deal, and 41 percent said they had no opinion or didn’t know enough to answer.)  However, the deal has been criticized for lacking serious oversight, and many have observed that the Iranians can continue their weapons program without any real repercussions for violating the deal.  As a result, Mr. Obama has now shown that if you defy the United States and the civilized world community, you will get rewarded, a classic negotiating no-no!  I am sure that this is an important lesson that will not be lost on China, Russia, Syria, and North Korea.

Since World War II ended in 1945, the United States has used a “carrot and stick” approach in its foreign policy, a system of rewards and punishments to compel countries to act a certain way.  Such a strategy has not always been successful in its execution, but, at least, it is understandable to both allies and adversaries alike.  But in order for such a foreign policy to work, any rewards must also be accompanied by the reasonable threat of punishment.  At least that is how foreign policy is supposed to work, as both George F. Kennan and Dr. Kissinger have taught.  However, the feckless Messrs. Obama and Kerry do not appear to have the sophistication (backbone?) necessary to back up any threats, so we can expect that our adversaries will continue to exploit our weaknesses, and to walk all over us as they endanger the world.

As part of this breakthrough deal, an important mistake was made in negotiations with Iran.  Economic sanctions imposed against Iran have made that nation an economic basket case with high inflation and unemployment levels, and growing poverty, which the mullahs now seek to ameliorate.  And yet, according to press reports in The Times of Israel, the United States has secretly released Mojtaba Atarodi, a top Iranian scientist, who was arrested in California in 2011.  Although Mr. Atarodi’s criminal charges remain sealed, it is believed that he sought to acquire dual-use technologies that would be used for Iran’s military and nuclear programs.  However, freedom for three Americans currently held in Iranian prisons was apparently not part of the negotiations.  On the pages, I have written extensively about the plight of one of those Americans, Pastor Saeed Abedini.   In my last blog about Pastor Abedini, I said how he was moved recently from the notorious Evin Prison, where he was incarcerated with political prisoners, to the more brutal Rajai Shahr prison twelve miles west of Teheran.  This particular prison is regarded as one of Iran’s harshest because of its many reported cases of torture, rape and murder, and because it is populated with Iran’s most serious and hardened criminals.  Recent reports from Pastor Abedini’s family members, who have visited him in prison, have said that his life is under constant threat, and he has been awakened at night to dangerous prisoners standing over him with knives who rob him.  Pastor Abedini continues to suffer from increased stomach pain as Iranian prison officials refuse to give him his needed medicines, and he suffers from the deplorable prison conditions.  In addition, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson are also being held by the Iranian mullahs.  In response to questions from Fox News, our nation’s State Department said that the talks in Geneva between Iran and six world powers focused solely on the nuclear issue, and while State Department officials maintained that the Obama Administration has continued to press for the freedom of the three Americans, it was just not as part of the nuclear talks.  It just goes to show the continued incompetence of this president’s administration to free an Iranian prisoner while Americans suffer in Tehran, largely abandoned to die.  Mr. Obama, that is just so wrong and evil.  So during this Christmas season, as you and your families rejoice in the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, please continue to pray for Pastor Abedini, and the other two Americans held by the brutal Iranian regime.

Thoughts to Start the Nativity Season
Monday, December 2, 2013, 9:11 AM

I hope that everyone had a thankful Thanksgiving Day as we continue to have so much to be truly thankful for, despite the ferment in our world.  Now we move into the Nativity season, where we remember the wonderful tidings of great joy that God has come into our world, putting on flesh to save mankind from our sin.  For the Christian believer, the birth of Jesus Christ is a great miracle.  But upon reflection, the miraculous birth of Christ was further amplified in my mind and heart from some recent reading.  For instance, this past weekend, I read an interesting essay by Alison Gopnik.  In her short essay, entitled “Gratitude for the Cosmic Miracle of A Newborn Child,” and published in the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Gopnik rejoices in the birth of her newest granddaughter, Georgiana.  Ms. Gopnik enthuses about the beauty of the miracle of life in which, “Amino acids combined to make just the right proteins, which sent out instructions to make just the right neurons, which made just the right connections to other neurons.  And that brought a new, utterly unique, unprecedented consciousness – a new human soul – into the world.”  Ms. Gopnik continues to observe:

The coordination of amino acids and neurons that brought Georgiana to life is a stunning evolutionary achievement. . . . The amino acids and proteins miraculously beat back chaos and create the order of life. . . It may seem that science depicts a cold, barren, indifferent universe – that Georgiana is just a scrap of carbon and water on a third-rate planet orbiting an unimpressive sun in an obscure galaxy.  And it is true that, from a cosmic perspective, our whole species is as fragile, as evanescent, as helpless, as tiny as she is.

Further, a leading geneticist, Professor Eugene McCarthy of the University of Georgia, recently published a paper in which he hypothesized that the human species began as the hybrid offspring of a male pig and a female chimpanzee.  In his paper, he presents what he considers compelling evidence in support of his hypothesis.  He notes that human beings have many features in common with chimpanzees, but we also have a large number of distinguishing characteristics not found in other primates.  Although many scientists view chimpanzees as the closest living evolutionary relation to human beings given similarities in their respective genomes, Dr. McCarthy observes that humans also have numerous anatomical differences with primates.  These anatomical differences disappear when humans are compared to pigs.  For example, humans have mostly hairless skin, a thick layer of subcutaneous fat, lighter-colored eyes, protruding noses, and heavy eyelashes, and a number of similarities between human and pigs in the structure of the skin and organs.  After all, we do know that pig skin tissues and heart valves are often used in medicine because of their similarity and compatibility with the human body.  Of course, Dr. McCarthy’s hypothesis has been, and will continue to be, challenged by many more “orthodox” evolutionary biologists and Creationists.  In his conclusion, Dr. McCarthy writes:

I must admit that I initially felt a certain amount of repugnance at the idea of being a hybrid.  The image of a pig mating with an ape is not a pretty one, nor is that of a horde of monstrous half-humans breeding in a hybrid swarm.  But the way we came to be is not so important as the fact that we now exist.  As every Machiavellian knows, good things can emerge from ugly processes, and I think the human race is a very good thing.  Moreover, there is something to be said for the idea of having the pig as a relative.  My opinion of this animal has much improved during the course of my research.  Where once I thought of filth and greed, I now think of intelligence, affection, loyalty, and adaptability, with an added touch of joyous sensuality — qualities without which humans would not be human.

Yes, it does seem hard to explain the miracle of the birth of each human being apart from God.  After all, evolution alone cannot explain the origin of our, or any other, species.  After all, if DNA can only replicate, where did it originally come from?  As the famous polymath Douglas Hofstadter once famously observed, “It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.”  This Christmas season, I rejoice in the wonderful biblical truth that we, along with His other creatures with which we share a planet, are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the Psalmist teaches us.

President Obama Declares A More Secure World
Monday, November 25, 2013, 9:50 AM

This past weekend, the so-called “great” powers reached an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program.  Iran’s program was always about making nuclear weapons, given its great oil and gas riches.  Our beclowned President Obama praised the agreement, noting, “Today, diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure.”   (Of course, it would not have mattered to his supporters had he simply announced that we have attained “peace in our time,” quoting British prime minister Neville Chamberlain after he signed the notorious Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler.  As we know, Chamberlain’s peace in our time evaporated into war within months as Hitler invaded Poland leading to the beginning of World War II in Europe.)  Mr. Obama could also have added for Israelis and others in the Middle East, “If you like the peace you have, you can keep it.  Period.  End of story.”  Within hours, criticism of the historic agreement came from many detractors from all sides of the political spectrum.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) raised concerns when he said, “The U.S. should not weaken existing United Nations Security Council demands that Iran fully suspend its nuclear activities, including enrichment.  Loosening sanctions and recognizing Iran’s enrichment program is a mistake, and will not stop Iran’s march toward nuclear capability.”  Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the agreement a “disappointment,” and further stated that the “disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions [against Iran] when we return in December.”  Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, declared, “This is abject surrender by the United States.”  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t like the deal, and deemed the agreement “an historic mistake.”  Of course, this is in direct conflict with the views of Messrs. Obama, Biden, and Kerry, about whom Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal, recently referred to as some of the “fail uppers” who populate this Administration.  (“Fail up” is the Washington phenomenon in which one garners promotion to ever higher positions of authority and prestige irrespective of past performance.)

Under the agreement, Iran will receive tens of billions of dollars of sanctions relief for giving up very little.  In Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf, he outlined his plans for Europe and European Jewry.  In the similar vein, Iranian President Rouhani stated in his 2011 book, “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan.” (The Isfahan nuclear facility is an indispensable part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and is where uranium ore is converted into an enrichable form.)  Mr. Rouhani further boasted in his book, “By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.”  More recently, in an interview on Iranian state television several weeks before he won the presidential election last June, Mr. Rouhani bragged that he and the regime utterly flouted a 2003 agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency in which Iran promised to suspend all uranium enrichment and certain other nuclear activities.  We will see whether Iran will fool the world again, but I am thinking it has.

Israel, despite Mr. Obama’s repeated assertions that he has Israel’s back (what more could anyone ask for from our president?), is now all alone in standing athwart a nuclear Iran.  But could this past weekend’s agreement be a sign of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth?  Of course, Jesus stated in Matthew 24:36 that no one will know the precise day and time of His return.  However, the Bible also reminded us that we can “know the season” of Jesus’ return.  Prior to His return, there will be events or “signs” that, according to Matthew 24, will signal His return.  Moreover, as prophesied in the Old Testament, Israel is satanically hated and persecuted, and surrounded by enemies on all sides: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.  I am not optimistic that this new agreement with Iran will ultimately be worth the paper it is written on, but I am encouraged and blessed that my Bible teaches me that God holds a very special place, a place of covenant, for and with Israel.  In the meantime, I declare that I stand with Israel in affirming its right to self-defense, and all Christians should continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem as we are taught in Psalm 122:6.  And rejoice with me that our Lord may return soon.  And for that, this will truly be a great time of Thanksgiving.  Maranatha and Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Update on Pastor Saeed Abedini Imprisoned in Iran
Monday, November 18, 2013, 9:59 AM

In a recent blog about the persecuted Christians of Iran, I quoted a senior Israeli defense official, who stated, “We have made it crystal clear – in all possible forums, that Israel will not stand by and watch Iran develop weaponry that will put us, the entire Middle East, and eventually the world, under an Iranian umbrella of terror.”  In October, the Institute for Science and International Security issued a new report that indicated that Iran may need as little as one month to produce enough uranium for a nuclear bomb.  At that time, I wrote, “Thus, I fear that we can expect Israel to take military action against Iran before Thanksgiving.”  All of those dominoes are now falling into place.  Yesterday’s Sunday Times of London reported that Israel and Saudi Arabia are contemplating cooperative action against Iran.  According to the Sunday Times, “Both the Israeli and Saudi governments are convinced that the international talks to place limits on Tehran’s military nuclear development amount to appeasement and will do little to slow its development of a nuclear warhead.”  As part of the cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government has reportedly given permission for Israeli airplanes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran, and to cooperate over the use of rescue helicopters, tanker aircraft, and drones.  On Sunday, Israel also welcomed French President Francois Hollande for consultations.  You may recall that it was President Hollande who put a stop on a recent proposed deal between the six world powers (the permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S., France, Great Britain, China and Russia, plus Germany) by demanding that the preliminary deal on Iran’s nuclear program be toughened, causing it to be rejected by Iranian negotiators.  Upon his arrival in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu praised President Hollande’s “courageous stance” against Iran, and called France a “true friend” of Israel.  France objected to the preliminary deal that would have eased economic sanctions against Iran in return for Iran’s promise to begin initial steps toward curbing nuclear enrichment.  (What could possibly go wrong with that?)  Mr. Netanyahu called the last offer to Iran, which had the support of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a “very, very bad deal.”  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius agreed, calling the initial proposal a “sucker’s deal” as he announced France’s opposition.  A new round of talks of the six world powers and Iran begins this coming Wednesday.  However, on that same day, Prime Minister Netanyahu is scheduled to be in Moscow for a meeting with President Putin of Russia.  While most of us were in church on Sunday morning, CNN ran an interview in which Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that he would do whatever was necessary to protect Israel as Iran’s bid for nuclear weapons “threatens directly the future of the Jewish state.”  I have known of Prime Minister Netanyahu since he was a middle-level bureaucrat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the mid-1970s, and one would dismiss his warnings at great peril as he is not a man who bluffs or establishes disappearing “red lines.”

Of course, the Iranians are shrewd negotiators, and have been for thousands of years.  My readers will recall that current Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005, and also led Iran’s nuclear negotiating team and was Iran’s lead negotiator with the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.  All of this prefaces Pastor Saeed Abedini, the American pastor incarcerated in Iran since September 2012, who is serving an eight year prison sentence for his Christian activities.  Pastor Abedini, who is in ill health, was transferred in early November from the notorious Evin Prison in Teheran to the more brutal Rajai Shahr prison in the town of Karaj, about twelve miles west of Teheran.  This particular prison is regarded as one of Iran’s harshest because of its many reported cases of torture, rape and murder, and because it is populated with Iran’s most serious and hardened criminals.  Thus, Pastor Abedini will no longer be held with political prisoners, but rather with violent criminals.  Last week, Pastor Abedini’s father visited the prison to bring him warm blankets and his prescribed medication for internal bleeding.  However, his father was turned away because prison officials said that Pastor Abedini was not allowed any personal possessions.  The denial by prison officials to give Pastor Abedini his prescribed medication, along with the harsh conditions of the Rajai Shahr prison, threatens his life more than ever.  Please continue to pray for Pastor Abedini and his family.  In the Iranian mullahs’ world of realpolitik, if the mullahs were truly as clever negotiators as they themselves believe, they would free Pastor Abedini to his family.  This would go a long way in giving the American people a more favorable view of the Iranian regime.  The mullahs undoubtedly realize that a dead (and martyred) Pastor Abedini will have no negotiating value for them, but would rather strengthen resolve against the Iranian leaders.  After all, the mullahs should know more than most the political value of religious martyrdom.  For those who are interested in writing a Christmas card of encouragement to Pastor Abedini, you can write to him at the following address: Pastor Saeed Abedini; Rajai-Shahr Prison; Karaj, Tehran; Islamic Republic of Iran.  Also, among the other Iranian Christians who are mostly forgotten by this world, please remember in prayer Pastor Behnam, who has been detained since 2011 in Ghezel Hesar prison near Karaj.  Sources in Iran have confirmed that Pastor Behnam also has serious health concerns and continues to be incarcerated in horrific conditions.  Please also pray for the peace of Jerusalem as we are instructed to do so in Psalm 122: 6 as this could certainly prove to be a very dangerous Thanksgiving.  If you wish to engage our national political leadership on behalf of Pastor Abedini, please call or write to your members of Congress in both the House and Senate.  Ask them to advocate on behalf of Pastor Abedini, an American citizen.  They can certainly urge President Obama to take decisive action in gaining the release of Pastor Abedini from the butchers of Teheran.

Update On The Wunderlich Family of Germany
Friday, November 15, 2013, 10:02 AM

On these pages, I have written a number of blogs about the Wunderlich family of Germany.  My regular readers will remember that Dirk and Petra Wunderlich are Christian believers who home schooled their four children, aged 7 to 14.  Last August, the children were taken forcibly from their home in Darmstadt early one morning by a battalion of twenty police, special agents, and social workers as the children began their home school classes.  The court order authorizing the seizure of the children by force was signed by Judge Koenig of the Darmstadt family court.  Judge Koenig declared that the failure by the parents to cooperate “with the authorities to send the children to school” permitted the use of force against the children.  The judge found that the children had “adopted the parents’ opinions’ regarding homeschooling and that no cooperation could be expected” from either the parents or the children.  The sturmtruppen then took the children to unknown locations, and German officials promised the parents that they would not be seeing their children anytime soon.  However, after great international attention was drawn to this case, Judge Koenig returned the children to their parents three weeks later, but on the condition that the children attend a government school.  At the time, I wrote in my blog how the Wunderlichs could come to the United States, blend in a “sanctuary” city, and never be bothered again under the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement policies.  Obviously, some officials in the German government have apparently read that blog after it was posted on the German Embassy Facebook page.  At that time, the Wunderlichs began to plan to emigrate from Germany to another country where homeschooling is legal.  But in contrast to the arrival of the sturmtruppen at the Wunderlich home, the parents did the honorable thing and sought permission from the court to emigrate to another country.  (Would you?)  However, in response, the judge told the Wunderlichs that if they left Germany before the next scheduled December hearing, the judge would issue a warrant so that they would be brought back to Germany to face criminal prosecution.

In a recent interview, Dirk Wunderlich said:

What other choice did we have?  They had our children.  We feel ravaged by the government.  We don’t want our children in school, but we have no choice — we can’t leave and if we don’t comply, they will take our children away.  We will make the best of it because we know if we tried to leave, the authorities would separate us and we might never see our children again or for a very long time.  In the weeks before, it was terrible to think of my children going to school.  I’m trying to have a more practical view.  We will have a court date in December, and I hope we can get full custody back, and perhaps be able to go where homeschooling is tolerated.  Our lawyers have made emergency requests, and we hope perhaps an answer will come sooner.  We don’t think we could do this for years, but for a few or more weeks we can.  Anyway, we don’t really have any choice.

Regarding the children’s reaction to the government school environment, Mr. Wunderlich said:

The children find it strange and have commented on how confusing the school environment is.  They tell me “Papa, the teacher takes a lot of time explaining what we must do and telling the other children to be quiet.  We don’t get to actually do most work until we get home.”  My youngest son says he misses working on his projects.

An important religious liberty issue that is ignored here is the fundamental human right of parents to teach their children what they believe.  In fact, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 26(3) states that parents have a “prior right” over the government to choose their children’s education.  Although Germany is a party to numerous human rights treaties that recognize the right of parents to provide an education distinct from the government indoctrination schools, this fundamental human right has been taken away in Germany.  Please pray for the Wunderlich family, and that God’s justice is done in keeping the Wunderlich family together after the December hearing.  Please urge homeschoolers and concerned people to contact the German embassy to protest this violation of Germany’s human rights commitments.  To contact the German embassy in Washington, please click here.  I know I will write to His Excellency, Ambassador Peter Ammon, since the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., apparently didn’t like my advice to the Wunderlich family last time.

Wedding Bells Ring Out At West Point
Friday, November 8, 2013, 9:39 AM

Last Saturday, Larry Choate III “married” Daniel Lennox at the historic Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.  This was the first time that two men “married” one another at West Point.  (Two lesbian couples were “married” at West Point in 2012.)  Mr. Choate, a graduate of the West Point class of 2009, and Mr. Lennox, a West Point graduate of the class of 2007, said that they did not meet while at the academy, but rather met through a mutual friend.  Mr. Choate, 27, said the landmark Gothic chapel at the Hudson Valley military academy is a special place to him, and it is an honor for him to be married there.  Of course, it is true that the Cadet Chapel holds a special place in our nation’s history.  Mr. Choate is no stranger to the chapel as he taught Sunday School there as a cadet.  He always thought of it as the place where he would marry “if he could.”  Both gentlemen are now out of the military.  Mr. Lennox, 28, is completing his master’s degree in business administration at Harvard University.  Mr. Choate works at the Harvard Business School, but is applying to Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  I am sure he will be successful in his admission application.

I am reminded of the 1964 song by The Dixie Cups, “Going To The Chapel,” which a few of my readers might remember.  In this song, the narrator describes the happiness and excitement on the wedding day.  The song includes the following lyrics:

The Fall is here,
the sky is blue.
Whooooa! the birds all sing as if they knew.
Today’s the day, we’ll say, “I do”
and we’ll never be lonely anymore.

Chorus: Because we’re goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.
Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.
Gee, I really love you and we’re gonna get married.
Goin’ to the chapel of love.
(yeah yeah yeah yeah)

. . . .

Bells will ring,
the sun will shine.
Whooooa, I’ll be his and he’ll be mine.
We’ll love until the end of time
and we’ll never be lonely anymore.

Chorus: Because we’re goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.
Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.
Gee, I really love you and we’re gonna get married.
Goin’ to the chapel of love.
(yeah yeah yeah yeah)

On the more serious side, the “wedding” of Messrs. Choate and Lennox is of primary importance to the young couple and their immediate families, but it has profound significance for us as well.  It is symbolic of the seemingly never-ending affronts to traditional marriage that we see today in our society, and in many parts of the world.  Over the past half-century, many, including Dr. Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Francis Schaeffer, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, have warned those in Europe and the West against turning away from God and forgetting our Judeo-Christian heritage.  In a famous sermon several years ago in Rome, Italy, Patriarch Kirill noted that the atheistic path taken by the Soviets led to a dead end.  He preached, “We tried to build a world without God.  We failed.  Do not take that path.”  I have always been blessed by the powerful, yet conditional, promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14, which reads: “If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  The “wedding” of Messrs. Choate and Lennox reinforces me to humble myself, to seek God’s Holy face, and to repent for my many sins, and those of my nation.  As we read in Psalm 123: 3, “Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us.”

Prayers From Town of Greece Rise to Supreme Court
Monday, November 4, 2013, 9:28 AM

The United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, this coming Wednesday, November 6th.  The issue before the Supreme Court is whether it is legal to open legislative session with voluntary prayer.  This case started in 2008 when two local residents in Greece, a small town on the banks of Lake Ontario in upstate New York, were offended by and objected to the town council’s practice of beginning its meetings with a prayer offered by a voluntary “chaplain of the month.”  The Supreme Court’s ruling could be an important decision that may redefine the role of religion in the American public square.  As a result, numerous friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed by religious, secular, and civil liberties organizations.

In 1999, the town of Greece began to include prayers before all town council meetings, with almost exclusively Christian clergy from the town delivering the prayers.  The tradition continued without protest until early 2008.  At that time, Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, protested that only Christians (who worship a Jew) were delivering prayers at the town council meetings.  However, the town had no non-Christian religious assemblies.  However, with the help of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (“AU”), the offended Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens filed a lawsuit claiming the prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, and promoted Christianity to town residents.  Ayesha Khan, legal director of AU, stated:

A vast majority of the time, the Christian clergy have delivered explicitly Christian prayer.  Meanwhile, the people in the audience are there to petition their government, receive honors, or take the oath of office, and they are asked to stand or bow their heads for these kinds of prayers that their conscience doesn’t permit them to participate in.  We are not asking the court to eliminate the prayers here.  We are asking that people not be pressured to participate in that prayer, and that the prayer be inclusive and nonsectarian so that it avoids reference to details on which people are known to differ.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens, stating that the town’s prayer practice was an endorsement of the town’s religious viewpoint.  The town of Greece then sought a reversal in the Supreme Court.  In their brief to the Supreme Court, Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens urged the justices to reject the precedent set in the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers, in which the Supreme Court ruled explicitly that most legislative prayer practices did not violate the Constitution.  The ladies further argued that Greece was not neutral in its selection of mostly Christian prayer leaders, and did not giving “nontheists” the opportunity to speak.  The town of Greece responded that it does not intentionally exclude members of other religions from participating in the prayer sessions, and that audience members are never forced to participate in the prayers.

David Cortman, attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, who is supporting the town of Greece, has observed, “If the court were to rule for Galloway, it would have to abandon prior precedent, it would have to abandon hundreds of years of practice going back to the Founders of our country, and put in jeopardy the many practices and events that reflect our religious heritage throughout the country.”  Thus, a decision in favor of those challenging the town could affect religious observances at all public events and gatherings across the United States.  Voluntary prayer before school board meetings, high school athletic events, local charity events, and many more will be eliminated.  It could further end prayers at presidential inaugurations (including the removal of the final words of the presidential oath “so help me God.”), removal of the “In God We Trust” motto on our national currency and from many courtrooms, the termination of publicly-paid chaplains in the Congress and military.  If the ladies were to prevail, who knows where this decision could actually end?  It might require removal of religious Italian Renaissance paintings from the publicly-supported National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  Ironically, it could also end the public prayer at the openings of each of the Supreme Court’s public sessions.  (How ironic is it that this case is being heard by a Supreme Court whose public sessions open with prayer?)

Although secularists might be aghast at this thought, but the many governmental acknowledgements of public prayer serve a legitimate, and even secular, purpose of making our public occasions more solemn.  Public prayers express confidence in our future, and encourage the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society.  An acknowledgment of religion through prayer is not an establishment of religion.  Public prayer has been part of America’s history and legal system for over 400 years.  Even though Christmas did not become a legal national holiday in the United States until 1870, public prayer was brought to America by our first explorers and colonists.  Even our Supreme Court cannot change history.  I am praying that the Supreme Court will decide that public prayer before legislative sessions comports with our long national history, and does not coerce participation in a religious exercise or activity.  If Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens wish to remain seated during prayer, or look at the ceiling, play Battlefield 4, or merely cover their ears, they have the absolute right to do so.  But to silence those who wish to pray forces them to confess a belief in secular atheism or disbelief.

This week, please ask your friends at your church or parish to pray for the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday.  As you pray, please thank God for our nation’s heritage of protecting religious liberty and for our Founders who started a tradition of seeking God’s guidance and protection for our nation.  Thank God for the thousands of men and women serving in city councils, county boards, and state and federal legislative bodies who continue to open their meetings by praying for God’s guidance and protection.  Please also pray that God would give His divine wisdom and guidance to our nation’s government officials as they make important decisions that affect our communities, and that those officials who face pressure to cancel time-honored traditions would have the courage to stand firm, recognizing that they have the same rights as did our nation’s Founders to open their meetings with prayer.  Finally, please pray for a great victory at the Supreme Court, that it will issue a strong, clear ruling upholding the practice of legislative prayer.  Americans today should continue to be as free to pray publicly as the Founders were.

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