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Location: Tallahassee, Florida, United States welcomes all opinions from any religion or viewpoint in the common appreciation of Chick tracts. This blog, however, will highlight religious events and controversies that would be of special interest to regular Chick readers. You don't have to agree with them or each other, but if you read Chick tracts or Battlecry, you might expect these type stories to be addressed. (Sorry, no personal attacks allowed.) All main postings are from writers and any responses are from the public

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Northeastern U Bans Religious Food Chain

Northeastern University may be the latest in a series of colleges to raise concerns over Chick fil-A's reported support of "anti-gay marriage" groups, but school officials went an extra step by squashing plans for a campus-based franchise of the fast food chain.

The Boston Globe reports that the university's student senate passed a resolution, 31 to 5 with eight abstentions, "stating that the student body does not support bringing CFA [Chick-fil-A] to campus" on Monday night.

"The decision tonight was based on all of the student feedback we've been receiving," the Globe quotes Northeastern Student Government Association as saying on Twitter, adding in a later re-tweet that: "Student concerns reflected CFA's history of donating to anti-gay organizations."

Chick-fil-A is a Christian family owned chain and considers itself pro-family. They have donated to religious groups that support traditional and Biblical marriage, but doing so has outraged gay activist groups, and various left wing organizations.

The franchise would have been one of several food vendors, chosen based on student feedback, to open at the university's soon-to-be-renovated Curry Center later this year, according to The Huntington News, the university's campus-based newspaper.

A Northeastern University spokesperson released a statement to The Boston Herald, stating that officials were pleased with the outcome. "We are proud of the decision that affirms our university's commitment to be an inclusive, diverse community that is respectful of all," spokeswoman Renata Nyul said. "The successful process is also a testament to the great working relationship between the university administration, the Student Government Association and the Graduate Student Government." She did not address the school's intolerance toward traditional Christian values or free speech used to support those views.

Of course, the Northeastern move follows a number of similar student protests at other universities by groups who say they object to Chick fil-A's support of financial support of Focus On The Family, Exodus International, and the Family Research Council, among other Christian based groups. In January, New York University freshman Hillary Dworkoski launched a petition calling for NYU to close its Chick-fil-A franchise, reportedly the only one in Manhattan. The petition, which can be viewed here, currently has over 10,000 signatures. The issue has also arisen at Loyola, Marshall, and Duke, among other places.

Still, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy defended his company, calling blogosphere reports "folklore." Cathy, who is the son of company founder Truett Cathy, noted, "We're not anti-anybody. Our mission is to create raving fans." See Chick's THE TRIAL.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Gay marriage could soon be legalized in Maryland if the public doesn't have it's say. The legislature gave its final OK Thursday to the law that is awaiting the expected signature of the Democrat governor.

The state Senate voted 25-22 for the law. The vote comes less than a week after the House of Delegates barely passed the measure. Democrats in both chambers supported the bill, Republicans did not.

Maryland will become the eighth state to allow gay marriage when Gov. Martin O'Malley – who sponsored the bill – signs the legislation.

Opponents, though, have vowed to bring the measure to a public referendum in November. They will need to gather at least 55,726 valid signatures of Maryland voters to put it on the ballot and can begin collecting names now that the bill has passed both chambers. Gay marriage has never passed a vote when the public was allowed to vote on it, and has only become law in states with activist judges and legislatures dominated by Democrats.

Senators rejected some amendments to the legislation Thursday. Proponents warned that amending the bill could kill it because gathering enough support for altered legislation in the House would be difficult.

Last year senators passed a similar measure by 25-21, but the bill died in the House after delegates rescinded their initial support citing concerns that it could violate religious liberties of churches and business owners who do not support same-sex unions. See Chick's SIN CITY.

Iran to Execute Christian Pastor

Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor who in 2010 was found guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death for refusing to recant Christianity, may have received a final execution order, according to the American Center for Law and Justice and Fox News.

Neither Human Rights Watch nor Amnesty International could verify the information for The Huffington Post, but the White House on Thursday afternoon issued a statement condemning the reports and calling on Iran to release Pastor Nadarkhani.

"This action is yet another shocking breach of Iran’s international obligations, its own constitution, and stated religious values," the White House statement read. "The United States stands in solidarity with Pastor Nadarkhani, his family, and all those who seek to practice their religion without fear of persecution -- a fundamental and universal human right."

While unable to verify the reports, Faraz Sanei, the Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, spoke with The Huffington Post in a telephone interview about the uncertain circumstances surrounding Nadarkhani.

"A death sentence that has been sent for implementation by the judiciary would suggest the person is at imminent risk of execution," Sanei said. "If it has been sent to the implementation department, that is very troubling."

Sanei added that if the implementation has indeed been sent, Nadarkhani is "one step closer" to being executed.

Islam is the official religion in Iran, and according to the CIA, 98 percent of the country's population is Muslim.

According to Amnesty International, Pastor Naderkhani, 34, became a Christian when he was a teenager and has said he never practiced Islam despite being born to Muslim parents. He has been a pastor for at least 10 years, according to the Christian Post.

In September, the Iranian Supreme Court upheld Naderkhani's 2010 conviction of apostasy after he reportedly refused to recant his Christian faith. See Chick's MEN OF PEACE?

Afghans Rebell Against Burning of Koran

Two U.S. troops have been shot dead by an Afghan soldier as violence rages across the country in response to Korans being burned.

The gunmen opened fire after calls from Taliban insurgents to attack U.S. military bases in revenge attacks for U.S. troops setting fire to the Muslim holy books.

The attack took place during a protest outside a U.S. military base in the Khogyani district of Nangarhar Province.

It is the worst case of violence in three days of unrest that began when Korans – used by former Afghan detainees at Nato’s Bagram air base – were among rubbish taken to a ‘burn pit’ and recovered by Afghans working there.

The protests drew thousands of angry Afghans to the streets, chanting 'Death to America!' for the third consecutive day in violence that has killed 11 people and wounded many more. The violence could intensify during tomorrow after Friday prayers.

Two U.S. troops have been shot dead by an Afghan soldier as violence rages across the country in response to Korans being burned.

The gunmen opened fire after calls from Taliban insurgents to attack U.S. military bases in revenge attacks for U.S. troops setting fire to the Muslim holy books.

The attack took place during a protest outside a U.S. military base in the Khogyani district of Nangarhar Province.
It is the worst case of violence in three days of unrest that began when Korans – used by former Afghan detainees at Nato’s Bagram air base – were among rubbish taken to a ‘burn pit’ and recovered by Afghans working there.

The protests drew thousands of angry Afghans to the streets, chanting 'Death to America!' for the third consecutive day in violence that has killed 11 people and wounded many more. The violence could intensify during tomorrow after Friday prayers.

A number of the deaths were at Camp Phoenix, a U.S. base outside the capital Kabul, where security guards killed one person, and in Jalalabad and Logar province.

The American Embassy in Afghanistan said its staff were in 'lockdown' and travel had been suspended as thousands of people expressed fury over the burning of Islam's holy book.

U.S. commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan, General John Allen, was forced to apologise over the claims foreign troops had ‘improperly disposed’ of copies of the Koran in what has been a public relations nightmare.
The apology from the military leader was followed up by one from Obama.

The statement from President Hamid Karzai's office says the U.S. ambassador delivered the letter on Thursday.
In the letter, which is quoted in the statement, Obama expresses his 'deep regret for the reported incident' and offers his 'sincere apologies.'

According to the statement, Obama wrote: 'The error was inadvertent; I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.'

Last year, it was revealed the Military was under orders to burn Bibles and other Christian religious materials that might offend Afghans if they were to encounter it, and a ban on all evangelism by off duty troops was imposed. See Chick's THE CHAPLAIN.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mormons "Baptise" Ann Frank... Again

Anne Frank, the Jewish girl whose diary and death in a Nazi concentration camp made her a symbol of the Holocaust, was allegedly baptized posthumously Saturday by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to whistleblower Helen Radkey, a former member of the church.

The ritual was conducted in a Mormon temple in the Dominican Republic, according to Radkey, a Salt Lake City researcher who investigates such incidents, which violate a 2010 pact between the Mormon Church and Jewish leaders.

Radkey said she discovered that Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank, who died at Bergen Belsen death camp in 1945 at age 15, was baptized by proxy on Saturday. Mormons have submitted versions of her name at least a dozen times for proxy rites and carried out the ritual at least nine times from 1989 to 1999, according to Radkey. But Radkey says this is the first time in more than a decade that Frank's name has been discovered in a database that can be used both for genealogy and also to submit a deceased person's name to be considered for proxy baptism -- a separate process, according to a spokesman for the church. The database is only open to Mormons.

A screen shot of the database sent by Radkey shows a page for Frank stating "completed" next to categories labeled "Baptism" and "Confirmation," with the date Feb. 18, 2012, and the name of the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple.

Negotiations between Mormon and Jewish leaders led to a 1995 agreement for the church to stop the posthumous baptism of all Jews, except in the case of direct ancestors of Mormons, but Radkey says she found that some Mormons had failed to adhere to the agreement.

The name of Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel was recently submitted to the restricted genealogy website as "ready" for posthumous proxy baptism, though the church says the rite is reserved for the deceased, and Wiesel is alive. Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, was among a group of Jewish leaders who campaigned against the practice and prompted the 2010 pact by which the Mormon Church promises to at least prevent proxy baptism requests for Holocaust victims.

Wiesel last week called on Republican presidential candidate and Mormon Mitt Romney, a former Mormon bishop who has donated millions to the church, to speak out about the practice.

Radkey's discovery of another possible proxy baptism for Frank follows an apology from the Mormon Church last week for recent posthumous baptisms of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal's parents.

Radkey noted that the latest baptism of Frank by proxy is especially egregious, because she was an unmarried teenager who left no descendants. Mormon officials have stressed that church members are only supposed to submit the names of their ancestors, in accordance with the agreements.

"The security of the names submissions process for posthumous rites must be questioned, in view of the rash of prominent Jewish Holocaust names that have recently appeared on Mormon temple rolls," Radkey said about her latest find. "This one sailed straight through, with Anne's correct name in their 'secure' database."

Radkey said she expects once word gets out that church officials will scrub the records as they did with Wiesel and Weisenthal's parents.

The Mormon Church responded later Tuesday in a statement by spokesman Michael Purdy, sent to The Huffington Post: "The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism."

"While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions we are committed to taking action against individual abusers," the statement says, "It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention." See Chick's THE VISITORS.

Ash Wednesday Starts

The 40 days of Lent that lead to Easter are the most sacred and spiritually powerful in the Christian calendar. From the Ash Wednesday reminder to 'remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,' to the the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, to the joyful Easter song of 'Christ the Lord Is Risen Today' -- Lent is a time when Christians are invited to examine our faith, and deepen the commitment to live the Christian life. It began today, Feb. 22.

Franklin Graham Outs Obama

Evangelist Franklin Graham called President Barack Obama's religious views into question on Tuesday, stating that he does not know for sure if Obama is a Christian.

Graham, who is the son of Billy Graham and the CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that Obama "has said he's a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is."

"All I know is I'm a sinner, and God has forgiven me of my sins... you have to ask every person," he said about whether he could say for sure that Obama is indeed of the Christian faith.

However, when asked about GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum's religion, Graham gave a much more concrete answer.

"I think so," Graham said when asked if he believes Santorum is a Christian. "His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it... I think he's a man of faith."

MSNBC's panelists questioned the reverend's double standard, but Graham continued to draw distinctions between the candidates on the issue of faith. On Mitt Romney, Graham was again evasive, stating that "most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith."

But Graham was more willing to label Newt Gingrich's faith. "Newt's been married several times... but he could make a good candidate," Graham said. "I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is."

Later in the segment, Graham also said he could not be sure that Obama was not a Muslim.

"All I know is under Obama, President Obama, the Muslims of the world, he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries," he said.

He continued, "Islam sees him as a son of Islam... I can't say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama."

Graham drew the criticism of the White House last spring when he suggested in an interview with ABC that Obama had not been born in the United States.

During that same interview, Graham also questioned whether Obama's actions and values matched up with his identification as a Christian.

"Now he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?" Graham said of Obama. "For him, going to church means he's a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith and we have trusted him as our lord and savior." See Chick's BUSTED.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Church Numbers Continue To Drop

The United States is fast-becoming a society where Christianity is being reorganized after religion.

In recent decades, untold numbers of people have left the Roman Catholic Church. In a 2008 survey, Pew research found that one in 10 Americans now considers themselves an ex-Catholic. The situation is so dire that the church launched a PR campaign inviting Catholics to "come home," to woo back disgruntled members. There was a slight uptick in Catholic membership last year, mostly due to immigrant Catholics. There is no data indicating that Catholics are returning en masse and much anecdotal evidence suggesting that leaving-taking continues. Catholic leaders worry that once the new immigrants become fully part of American society they might leave, too.

The end of church, however, is not merely a Catholic problem. For decades, mainline Protestants have watched helplessly as their membership rolls dwindled, employing program after program to try to stop the decline. In the last 15 years, conservative Protestant denominations have witnessed significant erosions in membership, money and participation -- with some of the greatest drops in groups like the Southern Baptist Convention that once seemed impervious to decline. In a typical week, less than a quarter of Americans attend a religious service, down from the half of the population who were regular churchgoers a generation ago.

There are successful individual congregations -- Catholic or Protestant, mainline or evangelical, liberal or conservative, small or large -- everywhere. But the institutional structures of American religion -- denominations of all theological sorts -- are in a free-fall.

The religious market collapse has happened with astonishing speed. In 1999, when survey takers asked Americans "Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious," a solid majority of 54 percent responded that they were "religious but not spiritual." By 2009, only 9 percent of Americans responded that way. In 10 years, those willing to identify themselves primarily as "religious" plummeted by 45 percentage points.

In the last decade, the word "religion" has become equated with institutional or organized religion. Because of crises such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Roman Catholic abuse scandal, Americans now define "religion" in almost exclusively negative terms. These larger events, especially when combined with increasing irrelevance of too much of organized religion, contributed to an overall decline in church membership, and an overall decline of the numbers of Christians, in the United States.

Another factor is the increased removal of all religious references in school and public places. "Separation of Church and State" has evolved from its original meaning of preventing the State from controlling Churches, to a modern meaning that the State cannot permit any prayer or other religious activity in schools or other public places. Recently, New York City has gone as far as forbidding the renting of public places to religious organizations.

There may be hope, however, regarding the future of faith. Despite worry about the word, "religion," Americans are extremely warm toward "spiritual but not religious" (30 percent) and, even more interestingly (and perhaps paradoxically), the term "spiritual and religious" (48 percent). While "religion" means institutional religion, "spirituality" means an experience of faith. Large numbers of Americans are hankering for experiential faith whereby they can connect with God, the divine, or wonder as well as with their neighbors and that lead to a more profound sense of meaning in the world. Maybe Americans once called this "religion," but no more. Americans call it "spirituality."

Some Americans want to be spiritually left alone, without complications from organized religion. But nearly half of Americans appear to hope for a spiritual reformation -- or even revolution -- in their faith traditions and denominations. Congregations that exhibit a vibrant spiritual life embodying a living faith in practical ways succeeding, even in the religion bear market. These sorts of communities are models of what might be possible to renew wearied organizations. But the macro-structures of American faith -- denominations -- have yet to hear this message. They are still trying to fix institutional problems and flex political muscle instead of tending to the spiritual longings of regular Americans.

"Spiritual and religious" expresses a grassroots desire for new kinds of faith communities, where institutional structures do not inhibit or impede one's relationship with God or neighbor. Americans are searching for churches -- and temples, synagogues, and mosques -- that are not caught up in political intrigue, rigid rules and prohibitions, institutional maintenance, unresponsive authorities, and inflexible dogma but instead offer pathways of life-giving spiritual experience, connection, meaning, vocation, and doing justice in the world. Americans are not rejecting faith -- they are, however, rejecting self-serving religious institutions.


Atheist Fund Rewards One of Their Own

A national association that says there's no proof for the existence of God is managing a scholarship fund set up for a teenage atheist at the center of a dispute over a prayer banner at a Rhode Island school.

The American Humanist Association says 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist was targeted with online threats after she challenged the constitutionality of the display at Cranston High School West. It says she stood up against her critics "with class and style."

A federal judge last month ordered the banner removed. A school committee on Thursday decided not to appeal.

Blogger Hemant Mehta started a campaign at the Friendly Atheist website to raise money for Ahlquist.

The Friendly Atheist says the fund has brought in more than $40,000. The fundraiser runs through the end of February. See Chick's THE GREAT ONE.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Liberal Group Tries to Censor FRC on MSNBC

The liberal religious activist group Faithful America and Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, delivered a petition filled with 20,000 signatures to MSNBC on Tuesday.

The petition demands the network stop inviting frequent guest, Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council (FRC), on the air.

According to its website, FRC seeks to "advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and public opinion." The non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. was labeled as a hate group by the left wing activist group, Southern Poverty Law Center. They claim the FRC makes "false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science." The Southern Poverty Law Center also said that FRC's intention was to "denigrate LGBT people in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' policy." The Southern Poverty Law Center routinely lists conservative groups who offend liberals as hate groups, but they do not paint liberal groups which also engage in inflammatory rhetoric with the same brush.

A group of demonstrators gathered outside MSNBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on Tuesday to present the 20,000 signatures to network representatives. Bishop Robinson said, "We've got teenagers killing themselves because of what groups like this are saying. We want you to hear that we would like for other Christian voices to be consulted, even conservative Christian voices, but just not those associated with what is clearly a hate group, because it's killing us, and it's killing our kids."

Bishop Robinson made no mention of the millions of deaths caused by high risk behavior leading to AIDS in the homosexual community, nor did he mention scripture in his attack against the FRC.

It is unclear if MSNBC will use the petition to censor another conservative voice from its network. Earlier this week, it fired Patrick Buchanan in response to complaints from gays and liberals for comments he made in his book "Suicide of a Superpower". See Chick's THE TRIAL.

Friday, February 17, 2012

School Has Choir Sing to Allah

When a Grand Junction High School men's choir made plans to sing an Islamic song called "Zikr," an upbeat rhythmic song that is not intended for a worship ceremony, one high school senior quit the choir in protest, 7News reports. But, the school district is siding with the music teacher.

James Harper, a Grand Junction High School senior and Christian active in his local church, was part of the all volunteer high school choir until his instructor Marcial Wieland made plans to sing "Zikr" which has lyrics that translate from the original Urdu to, "There is no truth except Allah" and "Allah is the only eternal and immortal," according to Fox News. The student choir sings the song in the original Urdu.

Harper told KREX in Grand Junction:

I don’t want to come across as a bigot or a racist, but I really don’t feel it is appropriate for students in a public high school to be singing an Islamic worship song. This is worshipping another God, and even worshipping another prophet -- I think there would be a lot of outrage if we made a Muslim choir say Jesus Christ is the only truth.

However, district officials defended the teacher's song choice. Wieland, who understood there could be objections to the song was open with the parents and students when making the selection telling them that students do not have to participate in the voluntary choir if they object, according to CBS4. Wieland also passed around an English translation of the lyrics and encouraged them to view the YouTube video below which features the music, written by Muslim composer A.R. Rahman. See Chick's APES, LIES AND MS. HENN.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Washington State Starts Signatures To Save Marriage

Just days after Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill to legalize gay marriage, a referendum measure has been filed with the Attorney General’s office to begin the process of putting the measure to a public vote.

Dubbed Referendum 74, the question put before voters will be the text of the bill which they must then approve for the law to go into effect. More on ballot procedure via The Washington Office of the Secretary of State’s blog:

The referendum places the text of the bill before them. An affirmative vote is to uphold the law as it passed the Legislature and was signed by the governor. A vote to reject wipes out the measure and it does not take effect. As with the 2009 vote on Referendum 71, the “everything but marriage” law, the sponsors who mount the effort to get the measure on the ballot will be asking for a “reject” vote on their referendum. Bottom line: a vote to “approve” upholds the new law, a vote to “reject” abolishes the bill.

Marriage equality opponents must gather a minimum of 120,577 signatures, or 4 percent of all votes cast in the 2008 election for governor, though a figure of 150, 000 is recommended in order to cover invalid or duplicated signatures.

Opponents have until June 6 to gather the requisite number of signatures or Washington's gay marriage law will come into effect the proceeding day, June 7.

The submission of amassed signatures will suspend the law — that is, prevent it from coming into effect — until after the signature check.

If the requisite number of signatures have been collected, the suspension of the law continues until the result of the November referendum is posted.

It may be worth noting that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that petition signatures can be released to the public, and therefore anti-marriage equality groups will not be able to shield signatories. This ruling came about due to a legal tussle concerning Washington’s 2009 referendum (Referendum 71) on expanding domestic partnerships. Pro-gay groups searched petitions for names that they could punish with boycotts, intimidation, and other tactics. It will be interesting to see what, if any effect, this has on the signature gathering process.

A “Decline to Sign” campaign has been started to try and prevent the greater public from having a say in the matter. The website carrying this message: “By declining to sign, voters are saying that marriage equality is important enough that it should not be subject to vote, but put straight into law.” Gay marriage has never passed a public vote in the US, but has only been enacted in certain states by judicial fiat or by legislatures controlled by Democrats. See Chick's THE GAY BLADE.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oliver Stone's Son Goes To Iran and Converts To Islam

Sean Stone, son of director Oliver Stone, is now a Muslim.

According to the Agence France-Presse, the 27-year-old filmmaker converted to Islam while working on a documentary in Iran.

According to the Tehran Times, which relays a report from the Fars News Agency, Stone on Tuesday recited shahada, the Muslim profession of faith that is the first pillar of Islam, at a Shia cleric's office.

According to Al-Basheer magazine, the shahada creed translates to English as "I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger."

But Stone maintained that his acceptance of Islam should not be seen as a renunciation of other faiths.

"The conversion to Islam is not abandoning Christianity or Judaism, which I was born with," Stone told AFP by telephone on Tuesday. "It means I have accepted Mohammad and other prophets." (The filmmaker apparently believes in everything.)

"Passport," a blog published by Foreign Policy, notes that this isn't Stone's first time Iran. In September, he spent a week in the country working on a documentary about the poet Rumi, according to the Tehran Times.

Stone, like his father, tends to portray his native homeland in a negative light. He spoke to and defends Iran's controversial leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"He did come to America to extend a hand. And there's a lot of mistranslation, literally, I've seen it. Ahmadinejad will say something and it will be mistranslated,” he told Sharon Waxman. "A lot of this is bullshit, mistranslation. It's an aggressive attitude on both parts, mostly on the American side."

See Chick's THE GREAT ONE.

Monday, February 13, 2012

New Jersey Dems Pass Gay Marriage, but GOP Gov Will Veto

In a move that supporters called a civil rights milestone, New Jersey's state Senate on Monday passed a bill to recognize same-sex marriages, marking the first time state lawmakers officially endorsed the idea – despite the promise of a veto by Gov. Chris Christie.

Monday's vote was 24-16 in favor of the bill, a major swing from January 2010, when the Senate rejected it 20-14.

Opponents say it's "an exercise in futility" even if the Assembly passes the bill Thursday as expected, given Christie's veto vow.

Len Deo, president of New Jersey Family Policy Council, called the vote "something we have to go through" and said it would be made moot with a veto.

While New Jersey differs from most states in that it has no law or state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, neither its court nor lawmakers have allowed gay nuptials. Seven states and Washington, D.C., allow gay marriage. Washington state joined the list Monday when Democrat Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a same-sex marriage law.

In 2006, the New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled that the state had to give the legal protections of marriage to committed gay and lesbian couples, but that it need not call those protections marriage.

Lawmakers responded by creating civil unions rather than marriage.

Gay rights advocates say civil unions have not provided true equality. They complain that they set up a separate and inherently unequal classification for gays – something social conservatives dispute.

Seven gay couples, along with several of their children, filed a lawsuit last year to try to get the court to order gay nuptials be allowed.

In the meantime, Democratic leaders in the Legislature are trying to do the same thing by passing a law.

When the Senate last voted on gay marriage two years ago, just before Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat who supported the measure, left office, several last-minute defections killed the bill. With the arrival of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who spoke against gay marriage when asked about it during his campaign, advocates' hopes dimmed.

But the bill returned this year after Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat from Deptford, declared that it was a mistake for him to abstain on the 2010 bill. He vowed to make legalizing gay marriage a priority this year.

Christie last month said he'd veto the legislation if it passed. Christie said that such a fundamental change should be up to a vote of the people, and he has called for a referendum on the issue.

Democratic leaders say they will not allow a vote, arguing that a majority of the people should not be entrusted with deciding whether to protect a minority. It was a tacit admission on their part that they expect the public will not support changing the law.

Instead, gay-rights supporters are hopeful that they can get enough lawmakers on their side to override Christie's expected veto and bypass a public vote in the decision.

It would take two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature and would have to happen by the time the current legislative session ends in January 2014.

Sweeney said he knows which senators he'll try to persuade but won't name them publicly.

Two Democrats voted no and two voted yes in what was otherwise a party-line vote.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a Republican from Demarest, was the only senator brave enough to speak against the bill, saying allowing gays to marry goes against nature and history. "This bill simply panders to well-financed pressure groups and is not in the public interest," he said. See Chick's THE GAY BLADE.

Dems Try to Make Washington State a Gay Marriage State

Democrat Gov. Chris Gregoire handed gay rights advocates a major victory Monday, signing into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington state, making it the seventh in the nation to allow gay couples to wed.

Gregoire signed the bill surrounded by gay rights supporters. "I'm proud our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal," she said.

Gregoire won her election in 2004 by just ten votes, despite a judge acknowledging that thousands of votes were cast illegally by felons, dead voters, and double voters. Over $1 million was contributed to her campaign by out-of-state lawyers, many of whom lobbied for gay marriage because of the money lawyers will make when those same couples sue for divorce.

It's a historic moment for the state, but it isn't a done deal yet.

The law takes effect June 7, but opponents on multiple fronts already are preparing to fight.

Opponents filed Referendum 73 Monday afternoon. If they collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Separately, an initiative was filed at the beginning of the legislative session that opponents of gay marriage say could also lead to the new law being overturned.

The state reception room at the Capitol was packed with hundreds of gay rights supporters and at least 40 lawmakers from the House and Senate.

Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who is gay and has sponsored gay rights legislation for years, told the cheering crowd: "My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow. No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us."

As the Democratic governor signed the legislation, a man shouted, "Do not betray Christ!" However, his voice was overwhelmed by gay-marriage supporters who cheered and spoke loudly during his outburst.

Bob Struble, 68, of Bremerton, was removed from the room and said he was given a warning by security. Struble said he believes the state will halt gay marriage in a public vote. "We'll be doing everything we can to overturn this unfortunate law," he said.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who opposes gay marriage, was in town speaking with conservative voters. Santorum also planned to meet with Republican lawmakers at the Capitol later Monday.

Gregoire's signature comes nearly a week after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (known for its liberal orientation) did allow gay marriage opponents time to appeal the 2-1 decision against the publicly passed Proposition 8 before ordering the state to allow same-sex weddings to resume. The judges also said the decision only applies to California, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine Western states.

Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009 passed an "everything but marriage" expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge.

The coalition of opponents that filed Monday's referendum is "Preserve Marriage Washington."

"I think in the end, people are going to preserve marriage," said Joe Fuiten, senior pastor at Cedar Park Church in Bothell who is involved in the referendum effort.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine, has promised to work with Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify a referendum to overturn the new law.

Christopher Plante, a regional coordinator from NOM, attended the referendum filing and said that his group will be offering technical assistance to Preserve Marriage Washington, helping them gather signatures and raise money. He said that the campaign is likely to be expensive, estimating that between $2 million and $6 million could be spent on each side of the campaign.

Separately, an anti-gay marriage initiative was filed at the beginning of the session, but the language is still being worked out so no signatures have been collected yet. An initiative alone would not pause the law.

A campaign has already formed to fight any challenge to the new law. "Washington United for Marriage," a coalition of gay marriage supporters, formed in November to lobby the Legislature to pass the measure and to run a campaign against any referendum challenging it.

Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Same-sex marriage also has the backing of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft Corp., Nike Inc. and Starbucks Corp.

The New Jersey Senate advanced a gay marriage bill Monday, and a vote is expected in the N.J. Assembly on Thursday. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, who is pushing for a public vote on the issue, says he'll veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

Legislative committees in Maryland heard testimony on gay marriage last week, and Maine could see a gay marriage proposal on the November ballot. The public has never voted in favor of gay marriage, not even California. However, some carefully worded polls have suggested a majority of Americans might accept it, but those polls are not made up of likely voters.

Proposed amendments to ban gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina in May and in Minnesota in November. See Chick's SIN CITY.

Catholic GOP Ties with Mormon GOP in National Polls

Despite a victory in the Maine caucuses on Saturday, Mitt Romney has more to worry about after two new polls released Monday show him fighting to keep his lead among Republicans nationally and struggling to win favor from the conservative base.

A new Pew Research Center poll found Santorum and Romney neck-and-neck, with Santorum winning 30 percent of the support among Republican registered voters to Romney's 28 percent -- a difference that falls well within the poll's five percentage point margin of error. Separately, Gallup's latest tracking survey of the Republican race found Romney with 32 percent support and Santorum right on his heels with 30 percent.

Of concern for Romney, the Pew poll shows him struggling among the conservative groups that make up the Republican base. Among self-identified conservatives, Santorum leads Romney by an 11 percent margin, 36 percent to 25 percent. Among Tea Party supporters, Santorum leads 42 percent to 23 percent.

Romney, a Mormon, was viewed as a moderate during his years as Governor of Massachusetts. Santorum, a Catholic, was viewed as a consistent conservative during his years as a Senator for PA. Both men look good on TV, but Romney currently has much more money to buy ads. Most Christians would prefer a Catholic over a Mormon, however, and most Republican Christians prefer a conservative over a moderate. If the economy continues to struggle during election time, the opposition candidate historically wins regardless of his specific positions. During tough economic times, voters (and especially independents) vote with their pocketbooks.

Romney's support among Tea Party supporters is essentially unchanged from last month, when he received 26 percent support from Tea Party supporters to 24 percent each for Santorum and Newt Gingrich. But Santorum's lead among the group may be a sign that they have begun to see him as the alternative to Romney.

Worse still for Romney, the survey contains signs that Tea Party opinion of him has worsened over the last few months on two key issues: his conservative credentials and his ideological consistency. Since November, the percentage of Tea Party supporters telling Pew that they do not believe Romney is a strong Republican has grown from 41 percent to 68 percent, and the percent saying Romney does not take consistent positions on the issues has grown from 40 percent to 56 percent.

The Pew survey also shows evidence of Santorum's appeal to evangelical conservatives and Catholics within the Republican party. Though Romney leads Santorum among white mainline Protestants, Santorum leads Romney among white evangelical Protestants (41 percent to 23 percent) and white Catholics (37 percent to 27 percent). In a Pew survey last month, Romney and Santorum were tied at 22 percent among white evangelicals, while Romney led Santorum 33 percent to 17 percent among white Catholics.

The latter group has become especially important in the primary battle as attention is focused on new Obama administration regulations aimed at providing contraception coverage for women via their employer-run health plans. The plan includes coverage for women employed by religious employers, though some such organizations feel that the regulations are a violation of their religious beliefs.

The new Pew Research Center poll was conducted Feb. 8 to 12 among 552 Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters, and has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. The latest Gallup tracking survey was conducted Feb. 8 through 12 among 1162 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters. See Chick's THE VISITORS.

Mothers Boycott J.C. Penny For Pro-Gay Spokesperson

Though she claims not to pay attention to her haters, Ellen DeGeneres nonetheless has addressed a pro-family organization's plea to have her replaced as the new spokesperson for JC Penney.

On an episode of her show today, DeGeneres speaks at length about the online boycott launched by, a division of the American Family Association, who have pressed the retail chain to replace the talk show host because she is an outspoken lesbian.

"They wanted to get me fired, and I'm proud and happy to say that JCPenney stuck by their decision to make me their spokesperson," she says. "Which is great news for me because I also need some new crew socks."

Reading through several comments written in her defense on the group's Facebook page, she goes on to note, "I usually don't talk about stuff like this on my show, but I really want to thank everyone who is supporting me."

JC Penney's CEO, former Apple executive Ron Johnson, explained why the company chose DeGeneres as part of a multifaceted company makeover in an earlier interview with the Associated Press. "I think Ellen is someone we all trust." he said. It is usually considered a dangerous business decision to use controversial people as spokespersons for your company. They usually alienate more customers than they attract. will continue its boycott and that can't help the struggling company. See Chick's SIN CITY.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Obama Forces Catholic Charities To Pay Insurance Premiums for Birth Control

Despite renewed statements of concern by Catholic leaders and lawmakers, the Obama administration is done negotiating and will finalize its plan requiring insurance companies to provide free contraception to women working and studying at religious institutions, President Obama's chief of staff said Sunday.

Jacob Lew told "Fox News Sunday" that the compromise offered last week to address objections by the Catholic Church is clear and consistent with the president's "very deep belief that a woman has a right to all forms of preventive health care, including contraception."

"We have set out our policy," Lew said. "We are going to finalize it in the final rules, but I think what the president announced on Friday is a balanced approach that meets the concerns raised both in terms of access to health care and in terms of protecting religious liberties, and we think that's the right approach."

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the conversation isn't over yet.

"If we end up having to try to overcome the president's opposition by legislation, of course, I'd be happy to support it and intend to support it," McConnell said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"It would be difficult as long as the president is rigid in his view that he gets to decide what somebody else's religion is. I assume he would veto it. But yeah, we'll be voting on that in the Senate. And you can anticipate that that would happen as soon as possible," he said.

On Friday, Obama revised his decision to require all employers to provide contraceptive care after Catholic organizations balked that it is an intrusion on the Church's religious liberty to require it to provide birth control. The president changed the mandate to shift the burden to insurance companies to provide free access to birth control and other forms of contraception.

"No institution, nonprofit institution, that has religious principles that would be violated has to pay for or directly offer these services, but women have access to the kinds of care they're entitled to. We think that's the right approach," Lew said Sunday.

"This is a solution so that they are not providing it, so they're not offering it, they're not paying for it. So women have the choice on their own," Lew added. I think a lot of good work was done and hopefully this will now set the issue to rest."

However, Lew's claim is not true. It is the employer who pays most (if not all) of the insurance premiums, and adding contraception increases the premium. So the Catholic organizations would be paying for the controversial coverage.

Not suprisingly, Catholic leaders, while first reserving judgment, remain dissatisfied. Late Friday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement declaring the new policy of "grave moral concern" and urged Congress to overturn the regulation.

"Today's proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religions institutions and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions," the bishops said in a lengthy statement.

See Chick's BABY TALK.

Missionaries Murdered in Mexico

John Casias found his calling when he joined a Texas church group that came to preach the Gospel in the little Mexican town of El Cercado in the early 1980s.

He later wrote that he saved nine souls, but worried how the villagers would grow without a teacher. By the time he returned to Texas, he knew his future would be as a missionary. When he told his wife, Wanda, she asked only what they would take and when they would leave.

"We were called to Mexico," son John Casias said his mother told him. "These are our people."

The bodies of John and Wanda Casias came one last time Thursday to the church they began, the Primera Iglesia Bautista Fundamental Independiente, in the violence-plagued region of northern Mexico, where mourners paid homage to the couple who were discovered strangled in their home two days before.

Dozens came from the community in the hills about 95 miles (150 kilometers) south of the Texas border, where the couple had many friends and ministered to the poor.

The attorney general's office for Nuevo Leon state, where couple lived, said Thursday the investigation is continuing and there have been no arrests so far.

Benjamin Frandsen came from Liberty Baptist Church, the Casias' home church in Lewisville, Texas, to mourn his longtime friends, and said their bodies would be taken to Liberty Baptist.

He said he came to the village in the hills outside Monterrey five to six times a year and met his wife there. He said the Casiases officiated at his wedding.

"I could die here or in the U.S., no one knows. But the security in Mexico has gotten worse, that's a fact," Frandsen said.

Increasing battles among drug cartels have spilled across the region, and people in the town now usually stay indoors after 8 p.m.

But relatives of the Casias' said the type of crime, belongings missing and a safe dug out of a wall, led them to believe that it could have been committed by someone the couple knew, not drug traffickers.

"My dad, being so kind, let them in," John Casias said. "I don't think he saw it coming."

Shawn Casias said he discovered the body of his mother at about 4 p.m. Tuesday when he went to their home to pick up a trailer.

He said she was lying on the floor with an electrical cord around her neck and a gash from a blunt object on her head.

The couple's Chevrolet Suburban was also missing, and Casias said he initially thought his father had been kidnapped.

But about four or five hours later, he said, a forensic investigator informed him that the body of his father had been found in a storage room of a small building on the property. His father also had an electrical cord around his neck.

John and Wanda Casias were originally from Amarillo, Texas. John Casias was 76 and Wanda was 67.

The municipality of Santiago, where the Casiases arrived in 1983 and built their church, sits in the mountains alongside a reservoir and tourist officials have designated it as one of Mexico "magic villages" for is colonial architecture and artisans.

But fighting between the Zetas and Gulf drug cartels has brought a surge of violence and other crimes to the area around Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest city, and it has largely emptied Santiago of tourists.

The Casias' church is on the highway south of the center of Santiago and the small ranch where they were found up in the hills about 20 minutes off the highway.

"They collected clothes and shoes and provided services for the poor," said Santiago Mayor Bladimiro Montalvo Salas, who attended the memorial service. "This is very sad. It's also very sad because it's going to affect the image of Santiago."

The younger John Casias said he and his siblings plan to find a way to continue their parents' mission.

"If they had to do it over again they wouldn't do it any different," he said. "If my parents were here right now ... they would say pray for those who murdered us." See Chick's THE THEIF.

Tweets Could Cost Muslim His Life

Malaysia deported a Saudi Arabian blogger on Sunday, police said, despite fears voiced by human rights groups that he could face execution in his home country over Twitter comments he made that were deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammad.

Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist, sparked outrage in the oil-rich kingdom with comments posted on the Prophet's birthday a week ago that led some Islamic clerics to call for him to face the death penalty.

Kashgari fled the country, but was arrested by police in majority-Muslim Malaysia on Thursday as he transited through Kuala Lumpur international airport.

"The Saudi writer was repatriated to his home country this Sunday morning," a police spokesman told Reuters. "This is an internal Saudi matter that we cannot comment on."

Malaysia has a close affinity with many Middle Eastern nations through their shared religion. The Southeast Asian nation is also a U.S. ally and a leading global voice for moderate Islam, meaning that the decision to extradite Kashgari is certain to be controversial.

"Saudi clerics have already made up their mind that Kashgari is an apostate who must face punishment," Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Friday. See Chick's MEN OF PEACE?

"The Malaysian government should not be complicit in sealing Kashgari's fate by sending him back."

Kashgari's lawyer in Malaysia, Mohammad Noor, told Reuters by telephone that he had obtained a court order to prevent the deportation, but had not been allowed to see his client.

"If the government of Malaysia deports him to Saudi Arabia, disrespecting the court order, this is clearly contempt of court, unlawful and unacceptable," he said.

The Star newspaper quoted Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein as saying that Kashgari had been repatriated and that the charges against him would be decided by Saudi authorities.

"Malaysia has a longstanding arrangement by which individuals wanted by one country are extradited when detained by the other," he was quoted as saying.

Blasphemy is a crime punishable by execution under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law. It is not a capital crime in Malaysia.

Reuters could not verify Kashgari's comments because he later deleted them, but media reported that one of them reflected his contradictory views of the Prophet - that he both loved and hated him.

Kashgari later said in an interview that he was being made a "scapegoat for a larger conflict" over his comments.