Christian Company Does Not Have to Make Gay Pride T-Shirts, Kentucky Appeals Court Rules

Michael Gryboski
The Christian Post

Kentucky-based Christian business does not have to make T-shirts for a gay pride event, declared a three judge panel of the state’s court of appeals.

A three judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Friday that Hands On Originals could not be forced to make T-shirts for an event its owner was morally opposed to on religious grounds.

The panel upheld an earlier decision from the Fayette Circuit Court in favor of HOO and against an LGBT group and the Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission.

“Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits HOO, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship,” read the panel’s decision.

“Thus, although the menu of services HOO provides to the public is accordingly limited, and censors certain points of view, it is the same limited menu HOO offers to every customer and is not, therefore, prohibited by the fairness ordinance.”

In his dissent, Judge Jeff Taylor concluded that HOO had indeed violated the local ordinance and thus engaged in unlawful discrimination against homosexuals by refusing to print the shirts.

“The facts in this case clearly establish that HOO’s conduct, the refusal to print the t-shirts, was based upon gays and lesbians promoting a gay pride festival in Lexington, which violated the Fairness Ordinance,” argued Taylor.

“Finally, it is important to note that the speech that HOO sought to censor was not obscene or defamatory. There was nothing obnoxious, inflammatory, false, or even pornographic that GLSO wanted to place on their t-shirts which would justify restricting their speech under the First Amendment.”

In 2012, Gay and Lesbian Services Organization asked Hands On Originals to make t-shirts for their gay pride event in Lexington.

The company refused to do the order, citing their religious objections to homosexuality and the concern that by making the shirts they were in effect endorsing the event.

Hands On Originals was sued and in 2014 found guilty of discrimination by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission.

In April 2015, Fayette Circuit Court Judge James D. Ishmael Jr. overturned the Human Rights Commission’s ruling, arguing that Hands On Originals did have a right to refuse the order.

“The Commission in its oral argument says it is not trying to infringe on the Constitutional Rights of HOO its owners but is seeking only to have HOO ‘ … treat everyone the same.’ Yet, HOO has demonstrated in this record that it has done just that,” wrote Judge Ishmael in 2015.

“It has treated homosexual and heterosexual groups the same. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, HOO declined to print at least thirteen (13) orders for message based reasons. Those print orders that were refused by HOO included shirts promoting a strip club, pens promoting a sexually explicit video, and shirts containing a violence related message.”

Regarding the Circuit Court’s decision, the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council heralded the decision as a victory for religious liberty.

“This ruling affirms our nation’s long history of protecting Americans from being compelled by the government to advocate a message to which one objects,” stated FRC President Tony Perkins on Friday.

“We hope to hear soon that the U.S. Supreme Court will accept the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and ensure that the owner, Jack Phillips, will be free to follow his religious beliefs without fear of punishment by the government.”


Alongside Catholic leaders, President Trump signs executive order on religious liberty, health care

Michael O’Loughlin
America Magazine

President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that instructs the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce a rule that bars churches from engaging in partisan politics and addresses concerns from some Catholic organizations about rules in the Affordable Care Act regarding contraception coverage.

Before the signing ceremony at the White House rose garden, Mr. Trump was scheduled to meet in the Oval Office with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C. They were also at the signing ceremony, along with other Catholic leaders, including Joe Cella, head of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast and an early supporter of Mr. Trump, and members of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The meeting and signing ceremony marked the National Day of Prayer.

Mr. Trump offered remarks during the ceremony, thanking religious leaders for joining him in the Rose Garden.

“It is a beautiful thing to see these three faith leaders from three very different faith traditions come together and lift up our nation in prayer,” Mr. Trump said. “Not only are we a nation of faith, we are a nation of tolerance.”

Mr. Trump said his executive order was meant to “defend the freedom of religion and speech in America.”

“No Americans should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith,” he said.

The president said he was directing the Justice Department “to develop new rules to ensure these religious protections are afforded to all Americans,” noting dozens of lawsuits brought against the Obama administration by various religious entities. He specifically called out “the attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor,” whom he described as “incredible nuns who care for the sick, the elderly and the forgotten.”

He invited members of the religious order to join him at the podium. “I want you to know that your long ordeal will soon be over,” he said.

“With this executive order we are ending attacks on your religious liberty,” he said.

The White House said the executive order addresses concern from some Catholic organizations over certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act that they say compel them to violate their religious beliefs.

For years, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic groups have battled the federal government over a provision of the health care law that requires employers to provide insurance plans that cover contraception.

In May 2016, the Supreme Court sent combined cases against the contraceptive mandate back to the lower courts, which cleared the slate from their previous court rulings when five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the contraceptive mandate and one ruled against it.

The Supreme Court justices, at the time, expressed hope that both sides might be able to work out a compromise, which has not happened.

But on Thursday, the head of the religious order thanked the president.

“Nearly one year ago today the Supreme Court protected our ability to serve the elderly poor while remaining true to our faith,” Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement released by Becket, the law firm representing the Little Sisters. “Today we are grateful for the President’s order and look forward to the agencies giving us an exemption so that we can continue caring for the elderly poor and dying as if they were Christ himself without the fear of government punishment.”

The exact content of the executive orders remains a mystery. A Becket spokesperson told America after the signing ceremony that the organization had not yet received the final version of the orders.

Richard Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who follows religious liberty cases closely, said it appears doubtful that the executive orders will change much, at least in terms of the law.

“Americans who embrace our constitutional tradition of respecting religious liberty and the role of religious believers in public life will welcome, naturally, the Executive Order‘s declaration that the Administration is committed to protecting religious liberty,” Mr. Garnett wrote in an email to America. “In terms of specifics, however, the Order does very little and does not address a number of pressing and important questions.”

“And while it is a good thing—and long overdue—that the Administration apparently intends to craft a more reasonable and inclusive religious exemption from the contraception-coverage mandate, such regulatory relief was already probably on its way, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions,” he continued.

Mr. Trump’s executive order also directs the I.R.S. not to investigate churches and other houses of worship that endorse candidates or engage in partisan political activity, which under current rules puts in jeopardy their tax-exempt status.

“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore. We will never, ever stand for religious discrimination,” Mr. Trump said. “This financial threat against the faith community is over.”

Since 1954, only one church has lost its tax-exempt status under the Johnson Amendment, The New York Times reported.

“With respect to the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, it is already the case that the relevant agencies and officials are highly deferential to churches and religious leaders, especially when it comes to what’s said in the context of sermons and homilies,” Mr. Garnett said.

The ceremony included three prayers, including one from Cardinal Wuerl. “Grant us to persevere in works of your mercy, conduct ourselves always in the way of salvation always free to walk in your light,” he said, touching on the theme of religious freedom. “We ask you now on this National Day of Prayer, bless us, bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.” He also prayed for the Trump administration, asking God that it have “respect for virtue and morality.”

Later in the ceremony, in a somewhat awkward juxtaposition, Cardinal Wuerl stood next to Mr. Trump as the president announced optimism that the House of Representatives would pass a new healthcare bill later today. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has expressed opposition to current proposals that could strip millions of Americans of health insurance.

Mr. Trump campaigned on overturning the rule known as the Johnson Amendment, a promise endorsed by several high-profile evangelical leaders. Catholic leaders have not issued a strong statement either way.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops regularly reminds Catholic parishes, dioceses and nonprofits that they are barred from endorsing candidates or engaging in overt political activity, including earlier this month, when it published the 44-page document, “Political Activity and Lobbying Guidelines for Catholic Organizations.”

While the document is driven primarily by concerns about the I.R.S., canon law forbids priests from holding public office, a rule dating back to a time when a Catholic priest served as a U.S. representative from Massachusetts. Some canon lawyers interpret church law to be even broader, preventing clergy from engaging in politics altogether.

Meanwhile, some legal scholars say they are unsure if the executive order will survive court challenges.

Earlier this year, The Nation reported on a leaked draft of a proposed religious liberty executive order that was far more sweeping, which would have allowed individuals and businesses to cite religious objections as reason not to serve L.G.B.T. people. Thursday’s executive order is far less reaching, leading to disappointment from some religious liberty advocates.

“Grateful for Executive Order’s affirmation of the need to protect religious freedom. Much, much more needed, especially from Congress,” Russell Moore, head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a tweet on Thursday.

But the L.G.B.T.-rights group GLAD said it remains concerned about the scope of the executive order.

“We are far too familiar with attempts to use ‘religious liberty’ to justify circumventing nondiscrimination protections,” the group tweeted Thursday. “Trump’s order today promises to broaden church political power, and allow further restrictions on access to contraceptive care. Be vigilant.”

“We strongly encourage the president to see his campaign promise through to completion and to ensure that all Americans—no matter where they live or what their occupation is—enjoy the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions without fear of government punishment,” Gregory Baylor, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement released Wednesday night.

Last night, Mr. Trump dined with several high-profile evangelical leaders in the White House. The president also announced that his first foreign trip would include stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and “then to a place that my cardinals love very much, Rome.” Mr. Trump is expected to meet Pope Francis on May 24.

Material from the Catholic News Service was used in this report. This article has been updated.

CORRECTION, May 4, 2 p.m.: The original version of this story stated that President Trump signed two executive orders. He signed one, addressing two different areas of law related to religious liberty. 

Donald Trump hoping to use first foreign trip to unite religions against extremism

Ruth Sherlock
The Telegraph

Donald Trump will travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican later this month on a mission to unite three of the world’s most prominent religions against intolerance, terrorism and Iran.

Speaking from the Rose Garden during an event dedicated to religious liberties, Mr Trump said he would use the trip – his first foreign foray since becoming president – to build cooperation between Muslims, Christians and Jews for fighting terrorism.

“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live,” Mr Trump said.  “But to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East.” Continue reading

Religious Freedom: Trump targeting IRS rule on churches


After promising to “utterly destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates, President Trump is planning to sign an executive order asking the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” over the regulation. Though some consider this a first step for religious freedom, others believe it to be “very weak tea.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump is seeking to further weaken enforcement of an IRS rule barring churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates, in a long-anticipated executive order on religious freedom that has disappointed some of his supporters.

As he marks the National Day of Prayer at the White House Thursday, Trump is planning to sign an executive order asking the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” over the regulation, known as Johnson Amendment, which applies to churches and nonprofits. Continue reading

Bible reading not allowed before class, professor tells student

FOX News

It’s apparently okay to read history books at Northern Arizona University, but not the Good Book.

Mark Holden, a 22-year-old history major, tells me he was ordered to leave a lecture hall after his professor objected to him reading the Bible before the start of the class.

Holden alleges that Professor Heather Martel ordered him to put away the Good Book around six minutes before a scheduled history class. It’s unclear why she objected to the reading of God’s Word.  Continue reading

Pope Francis and Coptic pope agree not to re-baptize

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter

Pope Francis‘ trip to Egypt was marked Friday, April 28, by a significant step forward in ecumenical relations between the Roman Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.

In a joint declaration signed April 28 by Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria during Francis’ visit to the Orthodox St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo, the two churches agreed that they would not hold baptisms for members of one church wishing to join the other.

“We, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other,” the two popes said in the declaration. “This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures.” Continue reading

Pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses now banned in Russia as “extremists”

John Burger

The pacifistic religious group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses has been declared an “extremist group” in Russia and forbidden to carry out public activities.

Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday accepted a request from the justice ministry that the Jehovah’s Witnesses be considered an extremist group and ordered its national headquarters in St. Petersburg and all 395 local churches closed. It banned all their activity immediately, and ordered their property seized by the state.

This is the first time that a court has ruled that a registered national centralized religious organization is “extremist” and therefore banned, according to Forum 18 News Service.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses intend to appeal Judge Yury Ivanenko’s decision and have said that, if necessary, they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Russia’s estimated 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses now risk criminal prosecution if they continue to meet for prayer or Bible study, Forum 18, a religious freedom monitoring organization, said:

Any attempt by Jehovah’s Witnesses to share their beliefs, even within the restrictions of the July 2016 so-called “missionary amendment” to the Religion Law, will now be illegal, as the amendment prohibits any missionary activity by former members of banned “extremist” organizations (see Forum 18’s “extremism” Russia religious freedom survey). The July 2016 changes also imposed harsh restrictions on anyone sharing any religious beliefs, including where and who may share them, as nges (see Forum 18’s general Russia religious freedom survey).

The news service said that Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) had already added the Jehovah’s Witness Administrative Center to its list of “organizations, against which there is evidence of involvement in extremist activity or terrorism,” and the Center’s financial transactions are already blocked.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said Friday it is disappointed, but not surprised, with the ruling.

“The court’s decision sadly reconfirms the disregard of the government for religious freedom in present-day Russia,” commented Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, chairman of the commission. “Individual and community expressions of faith, and even private religious beliefs, are not safe from state-sponsored repression and coercion in Russia today.”

And Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-MS), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords, stated: “People who practice their faith peacefully should never be in danger of being harassed, fined, or jailed. The court order to seize organization property owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses adds insult to injury.”

But Daria Kirjanov-Mueller, who teaches Russian at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, said the development needs to be seen in the context of the the Law on Freedom and Religion enacted under former President Boris Yeltsin in 1997. In the first years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate “was struggling to serve a huge population of atheists just finally entering into a post-Soviet reality and ready and excited to take on a faith,” Kirjanov-Mueller said. “There was competition, but the majority of the seekers sought Russian Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, there was a selection of religions, and the Russian Orthodox Church lost many ‘native’ Orthodox to various other Christian and non-Christian denominations.”

The 1997 law was meant to address the “unwelcome competition” between the Moscow Patriarchate and other Christian denominations, she said.

“Several churches foreign to Russia were barred from registering” as official religions, Kirjanov-Mueller said. “Twenty years later, the situation has not changed much. The main issue as I see it lies in the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate, along with other branches of the Russian Orthodox Church (such as the Orthodox Church of America) as well as with the support of the Muslim clerics, sees such religious groups’ activity in Russia as a threat. They actually do not see them as pacifist, because their methods are quite activist and, perhaps in the Russian view, ‘extremist.’ Proseletizing is not a part of the religious culture in Russia, and many Russians, as well as the government and the religious establishment are suspicious of it.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones affected, she said. The law applies also to Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists, for example.

She said that the Orthodox in the south of Russia are generally very religious and see groups such as 7th-Day Adventists as competition. “There have been many examples of people from Christian [sects] going into Orthodox churches and distributing literature or in some way disturbing church services,” she said. “They go door to door…and the Russian Orthodox Church sees them as aggressive because they talk to people very openly, they give out literature, they often say very negative things about the Russian Orthodox Church, they’re very good at debating. … They are being perceived — by a very conservative religion that is in the process of reshaping itself and has been doing so for 25 years after a very long time of atheism — they are being perceived as the guys coming in and taking away our future converts.”


Churches shouldn’t endorse candidates, even if the law allowed


President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress are considering changing legislation to allow religious organizations to endorse political candidates. But is that a good idea? Churches will divide congregations, give tacit approval to immoral activity, and weaken their moral voice if they get in the political endorsement game, according to Father Matthew P. Schneider.

A new tax bill working its way through Congress might change the way religious institutions can engage in politics.

President Donald Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, said, “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

Now, a little history: The Johnson Amendment was passed in 1954 to prevent nonprofits from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates. It applies to 501(c)3 organizations which include most churches, schools, amateur sports leagues, and works of charity helping the poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Continue reading

College Reinstates Suspended Christian Student

Kiley Crossland
Christian Headlines

UPDATE: Rollins College has reinstated Marshall Polston, the Christian student suspended last week over conflict with a Muslim professor. His attorney said he plans to return to school next week.

“A student’s freedom of speech and expression are the cornerstones of liberty in a free society,” attorney Kenneth Lewis said in a statement March 30, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Lewis called for a full inquiry into the actions of the professor, Areej Zufari.

Rollins College President Grant Cornwell declined to comment on the situation due to student privacy laws. The reinstatement is the result of a disciplinary hearing for Polston held Tuesday.

The March 24 suspension came after months of conflict between Polston and Zufari.

In early March, Polston was asked to stop attending class and given an independent study. On March 23, a student reportedly saw Polston outside of Zufari’s classroom, leading Zufari to call campus security and end class early. She filed a police report and Polston was suspended the following day. Polston later produced video footage and a receipt showing he was at a Chipotle restaurant 30 miles from campus at the time of the class.

OUR EARLIER STORY (3/30/17, 2:45 p.m.): A Christian college student was suspended recently after months of conflict with a Muslim professor. Marshall Polston, a 20-year-old sophomore, claims he was suspended for defending his faith. School officials at Rollins College, a small private school outside Orlando, Fla., maintain he was suspended because of threatening behavior toward the professor.

Areej Zufari, an adjunct professor of Middle Eastern humanities, filed a “protection against stalking” request against Polston on March 24, the same day school officials notified Polston of his suspension for violating of the college’s code of community standards.

Rollins’s Office of Community Standards and Responsibility held an administrative hearing for Polston on Tuesday, but the outcome is still pending.

Reports of the back and forth between Polston and Zufari paint a conflicting picture of what led up to the suspension.

Polston told the Central Florida Post that Zufari made several statements in class against the Christian faith, stating that Jesus Christ was not crucified and that His disciples did not believe He was God. Polston also claimed Zufari joked with another Muslim student who said gays and adulterers should have certain body parts cut off, in keeping with Sharia law.

Polston said he stood up for his faith and challenged Zufari about the Sharia law comment in class.

Zufari claimed Polston was disruptive. She emailed school officials after several incidents, saying Polston monopolized class time with “antagonizing interjections,” according to reporting by The Orlando Sentinel.

On March 8, following the heated discussions, Zufari gave Polston a failing grade, 52 percent, on an essay.

The next day, Polston sent Zufari an email, calling the grade a “ruthless program of hostility” due to her “agenda and overt bias,” and labeling Zufari “one of the most incompetent professors I have ever seen in my entire life,” according to a copy of the email Polston provided to The College Fix. He explained why he thought the grade was undeserved, saying he followed all the guidelines and specifically asked Zufari about the sources he used. Then he said he might have to speak to the dean, contact “national media personalities,” or take legal action.

After she received the email, Zufari filed a complaint against Polston with the dean of safety at Rollins and canceled her next class.

Polston was asked to stop attending class and given the option of an independent study in its place, according to released email correspondence. But on March 23, Zufari filed a police report alleging Polston showed up outside her classroom to harass her. Polston claims he was not on campus at the time of the incident.

Rollins suspended Polston the following day.

The college has not commented on the specifics of the case, but President Grant Cornwell said the school would “never ever ever” suspend a student for just disagreeing with a professor. Cornwell told The Orlando Sentinel other factors led to the suspension and noted the outcome of the disciplinary hearing is still pending.

Polston said he never threatened Zufari and calls the suspension unfair religious discrimination. He told The College Fix he went public with his story “because I know so many other students like me suffer under today’s liberal academic elite.”

Polston has hired an attorney and plans to fight the suspension.

Pope: ‘We Are Called to Free Ourselves From the Prejudices’


‘All of us are well aware that the past cannot be changed. Yet today, after fifty years of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, it is possible to engage in a purification of memory’

“We are called to free ourselves from the prejudices,” and for the Pope, research is a way to do so…

Pope Francis stressed this while addressing the International Conference of Study organized by the Pontifical Council for Historical Sciences, on the occasion of the 500-Year Anniversary of the Protestant Reform (1517-2017) on the theme: ‘Luther, 500 years later.’ A Reflection on the Protestant Reform in the Historic, Ecclesial Context which took place in Rome, March 29-31, 2017. With a historical scope, there were no theological discussions.

The gathering marks the first time Catholics and Protestants together hosted a conference on historical sciences together in the Vatican.

“All of us,” the Pope highlighted in his address, “are well aware that the past cannot be changed. Yet today, after 50 years of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, it is possible to engage in a purification of memory.”

“Today, as Christians,” he encouraged, “all of us are called to put behind us all prejudice towards the faith that others profess with a different emphasis or language, to offer one another forgiveness for the sin committed by those who have gone before us, and together to implore from God the gift of reconciliation and unity.”

Reflecting on the study day itself, the Pope had said: I confess that my first response to this praiseworthy initiative of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences was one of gratitude to God, together with a certain surprise, since not long ago a meeting like this would have been unthinkable.

“Catholics and Lutherans together, discussing Luther, at a meeting organized by an Office of the Holy See: truly we are experiencing the results of the working of the Holy Spirit, who overcomes every obstacle and turns conflicts into occasions for growth in communion.”

He expressed his joy that this commemoration has offered scholars from various institutions an occasion to study those events together.

“Serious research into the figure of Luther and his critique of the Church of his time and the papacy certainly contributes to overcoming the atmosphere of mutual distrust and rivalry that for all too long marked relations between Catholics and Protestants.”

“An attentive and rigorous study, free of prejudice and polemics,” the Holy Father pointed out, “enables the churches, now in dialogue, to discern and receive all that was positive and legitimate in the Reformation, while distancing themselves from errors, extremes and failures, and acknowledging the sins that led to the division.”


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