Wednesday, March 14, 2012

School Bans Skimpy Dresses At Prom

U.S Supreme Court's Continue To Take Stand For Religious Freedoms

Christianity Today--Few subjects prompt louder cries of anguish than suppressed religious liberty. Many Christians worry that precious freedoms are "under assault." Talk about a "war on religion" trips off the tongues of many activists.

We are right to be concerned, because religious freedom is vital and necessary for the health of society. This is why the 2009 Manhattan Declaration considers it a core concern, and why key Catholic and evangelical leaders now work together to protect it. The question is: Are we on the verge of secular totalitarianism, as some activists seem to suggest?

Christian concerns about a suffocating secularism go back decades. Yet activists who sound the alarms today fear more than the loss of a religious perspective in public life. Religious identity itself is at stake, and along with it, freedom of conscience.

Colleges and universities pressure campus fellowships to admit leaders hostile to Christian moral teaching. Governments that partner with Christian groups are now severing ties because faith groups refuse to place needy children with homosexual couples. Hospitals seek to strip medical workers' conscience protections; they strong-arm nurses into assisting with abortions. Bureaucrats bully religious employers into bankrolling health plans that include contraceptives or the morning-after pill.

Attempts to constrict religious liberty are indeed terrifyingly real; hence we understand the rhetoric of grave threats and imminent dangers. But in the midst of all this, a blessedly reassuring Supreme Court decision has arrived. We hope it will rouse the doomsday prophets from their fatalistic crouch.

In mid-January, the court issued the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC ruling. The case pitted a Missouri-Synod Lutheran school in suburban Detroit against a disgruntled former teacher. After battling back from narcolepsy, Cheryl Perich requested her job back. School officials doubted Perich's fitness to teach. So they found a replacement and asked her to resign. Then, Perich threatened to file an employment discrimination lawsuit. But school officials fired her, because she transgressed a denominational rule to resolve disputes internally.

The court unanimously sided with the church and school. Religious institutions must retain the right to decide, in Chief Justice John Roberts's felicitous phrasing, who will "personify" their beliefs. The opinion affirmed a "ministerial exception" to workplace-discrimination law. It grounded this exception in both the no-establishment and free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment. Perich taught secular subjects, but she also gave doctrinal and moral instruction. She did so as a commissioned Lutheran minister. Allowing her suit to proceed would empower the courts to second-guess the school's assessment of her ministerial competence.

"The interest of society in the enforcement of employment discrimination statutes is undoubtedly important," Roberts concluded. "But so too is the interest of religious groups in choosing who will preach their beliefs, teach their faith, and carry out their mission."

We wholeheartedly endorse the Supreme Court's opinion. Government micromanagement of faith-based hiring and firing undercuts free-exercise rights intolerably. But many people don't see things this way. They sympathize with Perich. They abhor the church's exemption from rules that protect workers from prejudice. Our culture instinctively recoils at the notion of discrimination.

Against such headwinds, the Supreme Court has recognized—again, unanimously—a "special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations" under the First Amendment. This is remarkable, and we should not underestimate its value. Perich's predicament tugs at our heartstrings. The church's prerogative to fire her makes us queasy. Religion's cultured despisers find the whole spectacle obnoxious. And yet, the highest court in the land affirms a basic right of religious groups for self-determination.

The guarantee of religious liberty affirms the dignity and equality of human beings in their pursuit of truth. Erode America's "first freedom," and you erode the basis for the freedoms of speech, press, and association that this quest requires. (More on this in a future issue of Christianity Today.)

In the meantime, we ask this: Has alarmism blinded us to this country's extraordinary achievements in protecting religious liberty? Measured against despotism in the past and in other societies today, religious Americans remain enviably free to act on their beliefs. The fact that the Supreme Court willingly vindicated an unpopular form of religious autonomy suggests that the First Amendment's safeguards are as sturdy as ever.

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School Tells Honors Student That Volunteering At Church Is Not Community Service Credit

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is coming to the aid of an Alexandria, Virginia, honors student who was denied community service credit because her volunteering was faith-based. (UPDATE: The Virginia school district has reinstated the student, but the ADF lawsuit will continue.)

ADF litigation counsel Matt Sharp says his client, a 17-year-old who is currently remaining anonymous, is claiming discrimination because she was denied any credit toward her 12 required community service hours because her work was done at her church. The student had completed 46 hours of service at "Kid Quest," a Sunday school program. Other students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology were credited for doing similar work in secular venues.

"[The district] failed to give her a single hour of credit for all of her hours and told her, You're in violation of our policy. You haven't performed enough hours. You need to remedy this immediately by performing those 12 hours, plus an additional four hours that we're going to penalize you with. Otherwise, you're going to be removed from National Honor Society," Sharp reports.

While that action is blatantly unconstitutional, the attorney points out that being kicked out of the honor society would have grave consequences.

"National Honor Society is something that a lot of universities look at when considering admission. There's lots of scholarship opportunities that come through being a member of that -- and leadership opportunities [as well]," Sharp notes. "And because of the school's discrimination against our client, she risks losing all of that."

The ADF attorney adds that the National Honor Society has no issue with the hours. The problem is the Fairfax County School Board's Faith-based Service Policy, which has a solid stance on credit hours. It reads that faith-based volunteer hours "must have a secular purpose … and may not include preparation or participation in the performance of religious services."

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Report Shows Faith Based Films Made More Money In 2011 Than Liberal Films

Christian Cinema---Annual study conducted by Movieguide reveals faith-based films took in more revenue in 2011.

What’s a good recipe for box office and DVD sales success? It seems in 2011, pro-America sentiment mixed with conservative values and faith-centered themes equaled a hit.

This according to an annual study conducted by the Christian-focused entertainment advocacy group Movieguide, which found that in 2011, American audiences preferred movies with strong conservative content and values over movies with liberal or left-leaning values by an almost six-to-one margin.

The 760-page report claims that films with a conservative or pro-American edge, such as “Captain America,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “Soul Surfer,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Battle: Los Angeles” raked in significantly more box office green than more liberal films like “Red State,” “Super 8,” “J. Edgar,” “Glee” and “Ides of March.”

“People want good to overcome evil, justice to prevail over injustice and liberty to conquer tyranny. They respond to strong heroes and even strong heroines, but they are turned off by radical social engineering and big government programs,” Movieguide publisher Dr. Ted Baehr said of the report, which rates movies using several criteria such as “anti-communist content,” “strong biblical morality,” and “strong pro-capitalist content.”

The study also claimed that the stronger the Christian worldview in the film, the more money it made.

Films considered to have a significant redemptive or religious focus such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides,” “The Help” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” made more money in theaters last year than those with a non or anti-Christian core, or a mixed/humanist perspective, including “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” The Hangover II” and “The Rum Diary.” In fact, Movieguide’s report asserts that the Christian-motivated movies, on average, earned four times as much in box office returns – $64.3 million as opposed to $15.9 million.

“Most people dedicated to a particular faith are likely to find the violence, substance abuse, sexual immorality, and mocking of traditional values in most modern movies offensive," said Megan Basham, entertainment editor at Christian news site, World Magazine. "The rare well-made film that offers the opposite is going to appeal to church-goers of every stripe."

In addition, Movieguide reports that among the Top 25 DVD sales last year for theatrical movies, 52 percent had at least a small amount of patriotic or pro-Christian content, while only 8 percent were considered to be on the left side of the spectrum.

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President Obama Says He Is Confused Over Accusations That He Is Waging A War On Religion

Fox News--President Obama when asked about the attacks from conservatives that he is waging a "war on religion" said that he finds it "puzzling," particularly because of his first job as a community organizer in Chicago, working with churches where he says he spread the "social gospel."

In an interview Monday with Des Moines television station WHO he said of the charges, "I find this very puzzling, because my first job, my first real job out of college, was working with churches in low-income communities, trying to make sure that the social gospel was made real, that people were getting help."

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has had a steady stump-line that Obama is waging a "war on religion" by the administration asking religious institutions and churches to provide contraception, something the Catholic Church morally opposes, as part of the health care law. The administration since walked back the mandate in what they call an "accommodation," saying insurance companies, not organizations, must provide it. That hasn't been enough to appease the Catholic church yet and the White House continues to note they had initially given up to a year to work out the details.

Santorum, a Catholic and who many see as the most socially conservative in the GOP pack, however isn't alone in the claim. Texas Governor Rick Perry, R-Texas, before he dropped out of the race in January, had used the line in an Iowa television advertisement last year. And other candidates still in the race, including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, have used the war language -- particularly with the birth control and health care debate in recent weeks.

The contraception issue caused a political firestorm, with several conservatives claiming the administration was waging a "war on religion" and many liberals saying Republicans were waging a "war on women."

It hit a fever-pitch when radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who had appeared before a congressional hearing on the issue, a "prostitute" and "slut" since she was asking taxpayers to give something of monetary value for something for sex. Limbaugh later apologized.

Conservatives also charged there was a double-standard for liberals, who refused to denounce comedian Bill Maher, who had made similar statements about 2008 Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Maher gave a million dollars to an Obama-backed SuperPAC.

Obama has waded carefully into the issue in public, saying in a press conference last week that he thinks his party has the "better story" for women in general and that personal attacks should not be part of the political discourse. The president personally called Fluke to let her know he supported her.

About the role of faith and politics, the president said in the Tuesday interview, "When we start using religion as a bludgeon in politics, we start questioning other people's faith, we start using religion to divide, instead of bring the country together, then I think we've got a problem," Obama said.

Even though the president openly mentions and discusses his Christian faith, talks about the daily devotional he gets on his blackberry and has gone to church a handful of times in Washington, he still fights a perception that he's not a Christian.

A new poll out Monday by Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning group who says they have not asked this question in other states, found that the majority of those polled in Alabama thought he was a Muslim. Just 14 percent thought he was Christian, and 41 percent were not sure, compared with 45 percent who said they thought he was Muslim.

Obama went on to also praise faith-based groups in the interview and his administration's work with them saying that he's expanded cooperation with them on a range of issues domestically and internationally.

"You know, I think the proper role here is to recognize faith-based groups can do a lot of good out there, that that informs our values and who we are as a people."

He added, "obviously my own personal faith is very important to me."

Enclyclopedia Britannica Cease Printing Books after 244 Years

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica will cease production of its iconic multi-volume book sets.

Britannica usually prints a new set of the tomes every two years, but 2010′s 32-volume set will be its last. Instead, the company will focus solely on its digital encyclopedia and education tools.

The news is sure to sadden champions of the printed word, but Britannica president Jorge Cauz said the move is a natural part of his company’s evolution.

“Everyone will want to call this the end of an era, and I understand that,” Cauz says. “But there’s no sad moment for us. I think outsiders are more nostalgic about the books than I am.”

In truth, Cauz says, the death knell sounded long ago. Though the name “Britannica” calls the print sets to mind, Cauz says they represent less than 1% of the company’s total sales.

“The print set is an icon. But it’s an icon that doesn’t do justice to how much we’ve changed over the years,” Cauz says.

The online version of the encyclopedia, which was first published in 1994, represents only 15% of Britannica’s revenue. The other 85% is sales of education products: online learning tools, curriculum products and more.

That’s not surprising to Michael Norris, a senior trade books analyst at Simba Information, who says reference books have taken the worst hit with the rise of digital.

“People still buy, read and love print books. But the relationship they have with a novel is very different than what they have with a piece of information they need,” Norris says.

“This has been the reality of reference texts for years now,” Cauz says. “Updating dozens of books every two years now seems so pedestrian. The younger generation consumes data differently now, and we want to be there.”

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