Friday, October 1, 2010

Army Post To Host Christian Outreach Event Despite Protests

click to read full story from the Christian Post
A Christian event tied to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will take place Saturday at an army post in North Carolina despite protests from church-state separation groups

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, assured protesters that the “Rock the Fort” event does not violate anybody’s rights.

“I have taken steps to ensure that no soldier in my command is pressured in any way to attend this event,” wrote Helmick in a letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist-agnostic group that opposed the event.

Helmick noted that the event occurs at an off-duty time for most soldiers at Fort Bragg and that the Constitution allows for the military to have chaplains and for the Corps to offer religious events to soldiers at the Installations.

In the letter, he also noted that the opportunity offered to the evangelical faith is open to all faiths.

Earlier this week, FFRF and Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) sent letters to Army officials protesting the Army-hosted, church-supported outreach event. They called for the event to be canceled, arguing that it violates the Constitution.

“It’s not the Army’s job to convert Americans to Christianity,” contended the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The Army has ... overstepped the constitutional line by sponsoring the event.”

Although Charlotte-based BGEA has sponsored “Rock the Post” events at military bases across the nation, Saturday will be the first time the ministry has opened a military-hosted event to the public.

Saturday’s “Rock the Fort” event is sponsored by BGEA and organized by Fort Bragg chaplains and some 20 local churches. On its website, the BGEA explained that many of the soldiers and their families stationed at Fort Bragg do not live on the post but in the surrounding area. Therefore, the ministry and chaplains decided to open the event up to the public so those not living on the grounds can attend.

Aside from being BGEA’s first military-hosted event to be opened to the public, “Rock the Fort” will be the first to offer a kids program. According to BGEA, there is somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 children at Fort Bragg.

“There is a lot of stress in that particular area for school age children because of deployments,” said Wanda McCurdy, the BGEA staff who will lead the children’s event, according to the ministry. “Moms and Dads both are leaving to go overseas and children have to contend with everyday stuff, plus the fact that Mom or Dad is in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“That is why we felt it was important to offer something for the kids,” she added, “to give them an opportunity to know that there’s a safe place and a relationship you can count on to give you peace and security during tough times.”

McCurdy also highlighted how many soldiers at Fort Bragg recently returned home and how the event may likely be the family’s first outing in a long time.

Hawaii Pre-School Reaches Out To Teach Homeless Children

click to read original story from Hawaii News Now

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If the kids can't come to the classroom, the classroom will come to the kids. At Keaau beach park in Waianae, a traveling preschool teaches youngsters their ABC's and 1-2-3's right along the shoreline. The children – who are under age five - are homeless or live in nearby shelters.

"I think our families deserve every bit of the pre-school that everybody else gets in town. I didn't want to compromise our location and compromise the type of education our families get," says Danny Goya, who heads up Ka Pa'alana, the non-profit group that runs the traveling pre-school.

Dawn Tyquiengco and her four year old son, Kawika, live at a nearby homeless shelter. Without this preschool, Kawika wouldn't get the head start he needs. Tyquiengco says, "Oh, school, I said, ‘Yes, I'm going to take him to school', and he likes it."

Tyquiengco's family became homeless three months ago, shortly after their rent was raised. Like many in shelters or who live in tents at Keaau park, they just couldn't afford housing anymore. In fact, new census figures show Hawaii has the highest median rent in the country at $1,293 - more than 400 dollars higher than the national average of $842.

"The economy has really hit people hard here," explains Goya. "We always catch the backlash, and there are more and more families in need."

Poverty in Hawaii is the highest it's been since 1997, and that's had a big impact on little ones. Census figures show the poverty rate among children in the state has jumped to 19 percent. This traveling school is one way to reach out and help educate the youngest living on the streets. Dozens of children come to learn, and about 85 percent of the students served at the pre-school are Native Hawaiian.

The tent and tarps that create the walls and floor of the school are put up four days a week, rain or shine, year round. At the end of the school day, it all comes down. Funding for the school comes from Kamehameha Schools, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and through federal grants.

Teaching assistant Piilani Victor knows what these parents and children are experiencing. She once lived in a shelter and has three young boys of her own. She's now training to be a social worker.

"It's pretty awesome to service the families where I once used to be. You know, it feels really good to give back to the community, " says Victor.

The hope is these homeless children will someday go to the head of their class, too.

SupremeCourt To Rule On Westboro Baptist Church's Protest Of Military Funerals

One thing Al Snyder wants to make clear: His boy fought and died for freedom in Iraq, but not for the right of some "wackos" to spew hate at soldiers' funerals under the protection of the Constitution.

"It's an insult to myself, my family and the veterans to say this is what our military men and women died for," Snyder says, barely concealing his anger.

Yet more than four years after the death of his only son, Matthew, Snyder is in the middle of a Supreme Court case that raises almost precisely that issue.

The court is set to decide whether members of a fundamentalist church in Kansas who picketed Matthew's funeral with signs bearing anti-gay and anti-Catholic invective have a constitutional right to say what they want.

Or, in intruding on a private citizen's funeral in a hurtful way, have the protesters crossed a line and given Snyder the right to collect millions of dollars for the emotional pain they caused?

The justices will hear arguments in the case next Wednesday.

The case is shaping up as a potentially important test of the First Amendment. "The difficulty in this case is that the speech occurs at the most personal and sensitive of times," said Cliff Sloan, a First Amendment expert at the Skadden, Arps law firm and the former publisher of Slate magazine.

Margie Phelps, a daughter of the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church and the lawyer representing her family members at the Supreme Court, said that if the justices reinstate the $5 million judgment to Snyder, anyone who says anything upsetting to a mourner "is subject to a crushing penalty."

But Snyder said in an interview with The Associated Press that if he had the chance, he would tell the justices "that this isn't a case of free speech. It's case of harassment."

Snyder's nightmare began on a late winter night in 2006 when he flipped on the porch light and saw two uniformed Marines standing at the front door of his home in this small south central Pennsylvania city.

He knew right away that Matthew was dead, after just five weeks in Iraq.

He could accept his son's death because Matthew always wanted to be a soldier.

But Snyder was not prepared for what came next.

Eleven hundred miles away, in Topeka, Kan., the Rev. Fred Phelps and other family members who make up most of the Westboro Baptist Church decided that Snyder's funeral at a Catholic church in Westminster, Md., would be their next stop.

Phelps and his small band of followers have picketed many military funerals in their quest to draw attention to their incendiary view that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.

They showed up with the usual signs, including "Thank God for dead soldiers," ''You're Going to Hell," ''God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," and one that combined the U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, with a slur against gay men.

The church members drew counter-demonstrators, as well as media coverage and a heavy police presence to maintain order. The result was a spectacle that led to altering the route of the funeral procession.

Several weeks later, as Snyder surfed the Internet for tributes to Matthew from other soldiers and strangers, he came upon a poem on the church's website that attacked Snyder and his ex-wife for the way they brought up Matthew.

That's when he decided to take action and soon filed a lawsuit accusing the Phelpses of intentionally inflicting emotional distress. He won $11 million at trial, later reduced by a judge to $5 million.

Then the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., threw out the verdict and said the Constitution shielded the church members from liability.

The idea that the picketers' rights might trump his own led Snyder to continue the lawsuit. "They want to use the First Amendment as both a sword and a shield and that's not right," he said.

The Supreme Court gave him some hope that, in deciding to hear the case, the justices might say that funerals are different.

Phelps and his followers do not limit themselves to funerals. They have been protesting for decades, about homosexuality, abortion, Catholics and Jews. The court is made up of six Catholics and three Jews.

The Phelpses have even picketed unlikely targets, college students and breast-cancer survivors, to call attention to their belief that God is angry with the United States.

When Chief Justice John Roberts appeared in Lawrence, Kan., in 2008, Westboro protesters were there as well.

Asked about free speech cases that day, Roberts said, "It's certainly the responsibility of the Supreme Court to uphold freedom of speech, even when it's unpopular."

Media organizations, including The Associated Press, are urging the court to side with the Phelpses despite what they call the church's "deeply offensive" message.

The groups said that "to silence a fringe messenger because of the distastefulness of the message is antithetical to the First Amendment's most basic precepts."

Other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, are not taking sides, but say the case is a poor one for making any broad pronouncements about the First Amendment that could inhibit religious expression. Some conservative groups are concerned that a ruling for Snyder could be used to limit anti-abortion protests.

On the other side, all the states, except Maine and Virginia, and veterans groups say that the court should stand behind state laws that limit funeral protests and recognize that mourners at a funeral have a right to be left alone.