Supreme Court Rules Against Maine Policy Denying Christian School Aid

Update: Justices say that exempting religious schools amounts to discrimination.

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a Maine policy covering tuition for private schools but not religious schools violates the First Amendment.

Maine offers the tuition assistance in rural districts that do not have public schools. The challenge involved two private Christian schools, Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy, which didn’t meet the state’s “nonsectarian” requirement for families to qualify.

The court said such a requirement infringes on free exercise protections and that there was “nothing neutral” about the program.

“The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools— so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” the court ruled in a 6–3 opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts. “A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”

The Carson v. Makin decision upholds the court’s 2020 ruling against a Montana scholarship program that also barred religious schools from receiving the funding.

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Original post (December 6, 2021): The latest Supreme Court case over public funding for religious schooling examines a policy in Maine, a state dotted with small towns too tiny to run their own public schools. Over half of the state’s school districts (officially called “school administrative units” or SAUs for short) contract with and pay tuition costs to another nearby school of the parents’ choice—public or private.

And that’s where the hangup lies. By law, Maine mandates that partnering …

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Why Juneteenth Should Matter to the Church

Exploring the historical, cultural, and theological significance of Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1865, the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black Americans that the Civil War was over and slavery had been abolished. They were free. President Abraham Lincoln had actually announced his Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, on January 1, 1863. But for a variety of reasons, the more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas did not receive the news of their freedom until this June day. Their initial shock soon turned to celebration.

Juneteenth—also known as Emancipation Day—commemorates this important moment in American history. (The name is a mashup of the words “June” and “nineteenth.”) Last year, Juneteenth was officially declared a federal holiday. But it’s much more than another festive date on the calendar. For American Christians, it’s an opportunity to give thanks for our nation’s progress while also meditating on the change still necessary for us to truly act justly, love mercy, and reflect the unity and diversity of God’s heavenly kingdom.

On June 15, Our Daily Bread’s Rasool Berry, CT’s Russell Moore, and other Christian thought leaders assembled for a virtual roundtable on the enduring significance of Juneteenth and how this pivotal event in American history points to the biblical visions of freedom, restoration, and hope. Watch their thoughtful discussion above.

This webinar was co-hosted by Christianity Today and Our Daily Bread Ministries.

Mentioned in the video: Our Daily Bread also invites you to take part in Juneteenth: Our Story of Freedom, a 10-day devotional reading plan. Sign up here to access the digital plan. There’s no cost or obligation.

PANELISTS

Rasool Berry

Rasool serves as teaching …

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For Christians, Juneteenth Is a Time of Jubilee

Observing Juneteenth as a national holiday affirms what we believe about our faith and our freedoms.

I was never taught about Juneteenth growing up.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, the “cradle of liberty,” in Pennsylvania—which was the first state to end slavery with the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780. Philly was one of the major stops on the Underground Railroad, thanks to the abolitionism of the Quakers, and the home of Richard Allen’s Free African Society.

And while slavery was abolished in Pennsylvania more than 80 years before the Civil War began, I always thought of the Emancipation Proclamation as the document that ended slavery in America.

It wasn’t until years later when I heard of a woman named Ms. Opal Lee, who walked halfway across the country at 89 years old to advocate for Juneteenth to become a national holiday, that I discovered a history I had never learned in school.

Over two and a half years passed between President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and when the first of those enslaved in Texas tasted freedom: 900 more days of being separated from family and forced to work under the threat of violence and death.

But the question remains, why does Juneteenth matter to the church?

The times set aside to celebrate and reflect reveal what matters to society then, now, and in the future. For instance, Pilgrims in early America set apart “days of thanksgiving” to express gratitude to God for his providential grace—a tradition that was formalized into the national calendar in 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s official proclamation of Thanksgiving Day “to heal the wounds of the nation” divided by war.

But an even earlier civically inspired sacred tradition was inadvertently established less than a year prior on December 31, 1862—when …

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Evangelicals Can Agree: We’re Women, not ‘Bodies with Vaginas’

To verbally dismember women is denigration, not inclusion.

When the Supreme Court’s draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaked in early May, a tweeted response from the American Civil Liberties Union had a curious omission: It listed groups the ACLU said would be disproportionately harmed by the end of Roe v. Wade (1973), but it didn’t mention women.

And this wasn’t the ACLU’s first foray into treating women as the-sex-who-must-not-be-named. The organization likewise marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by tweeting out a pro-choice quote painstakingly—and painfully—edited to erase all mention of women.

Nor is the ACLU alone in this new verbal habit. As a comprehensive New York Times report detailed this month, “women” has fallen into deliberate disuse by other activist groups, like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America; by medical organizations, like the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the Cleveland Clinic, and The Lancet (a medical journal); and by government agencies, like municipal and state health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Instead, these institutions and others, including many media outlets, are using phrases like “birthing persons,” “pregnant people,” “breastfeeding people” (or even “chestfeeding people” who make “human milk”), “cervix owners,” “people with eggs,” “uterus havers,” “those without a prostate,” “menstruators,” and “bodies with vaginas.”

If you’ve not heard those phrases before, …

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After Annual Meeting, Southern Baptists Begin the Hard Work of Abuse Reform

Survivors sensed a godly shift as messengers approved plans and their new president put sexual predators “on notice.”

Southern Baptists sang slow and low, “Lord, have mercy on me,” in the cavernous meeting hall where they apologized for their failure to care for survivors and approved long-awaited measures designed to keep predatory pastors and irresponsible churches out of the convention.

Tiffany Thigpen attended the annual meeting in Anaheim, California, with fellow abuse survivors Jules Woodson and Debbie Vasquez­—their names familiar to many Southern Baptist pastors from news coverage, social media, and last month’s abuse report.

After her 20 years of fighting and advocating, Thigpen finally saw a shift. She described “God on the move” in the denomination where survivors had been disbelieved, vilified, and ignored over and over.

This time, Southern Baptist leaders named them from the stage of the 12,000-person gathering to applause. The hall included a special room for survivors, staffed by a team of trauma-informed counselors.

Attendees spoke to them, thanked them from coming, and tucked teal ribbons in their nametags as a sign of support. And, most importantly, the majority voted in favor of abuse reform and in solidarity with survivors every chance they got.

Thigpen said when the messengers—delegates from Southern Baptist churches—raised their ballots in the air to approve recommendations resulting from last month’s abuse investigation, it felt like those seated in the rows of chairs around them were looking to them as if to say, “This vote is for you.”

“It’s a victory in so many ways, because people’s hearts changed, and that’s something only God can do,” said Thigpen, who was groomed and attacked by her pastor over 30 years ago only to …

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World Vision Employee Convicted of Terrorism, Despite Lack of Public Evidence

Israeli court says the Palestinian who directed humanitarian aid in Gaza was secretly working for Hamas.

An Israeli court convicted Mohammad el-Halabi, former Gaza director for World Vision International, on terrorism charges Wednesday. The Beersheba District Court ruled that he is guilty of being a member of a terror organization, providing information to a terror group, taking part in forbidden military exercises, and carrying a weapon.

Halabi has not yet been sentenced. He is expected to appeal the ruling.

Halabi’s attorney, speaking to reporters immediately after the verdict was handed down, rejected the fairness of the judgment of the court.

“All the judge said, if I want to summarize it in one sentence, [was]: ‘The security forces cannot be wrong, they are probably right,’” Maher Hanna said.

Israeli state prosecutors accused Halabi of aiding Hamas terrorists by diverting millions of dollars from World Vision International to arm militants in Gaza. Halabi and his supporters adamantly denied these charges and claim the Israeli authorities were merely looking for a way to disrupt humanitarian aid that was going to Palestinian children.

World Vision has defended Halabi, arguing the available evidence does not support the government’s claims the former director supported terrorism. He did not even have access to the amount of funds that authorities said he gave to Hamas.

On Wednesday, the humanitarian aid group reiterated its “significant concerns about this case” and acknowledged “with disappointment the decision issued by the Beersheva District Court.”

The statement went on to say that “in our view there have been irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive, publicly available evidence. We support Mohammad’s intent to appeal the decision, …

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In Another Win for Abuse Reform, SBC Elects Bart Barber as President

Texas pastor beats Conservative Baptist Network–endorsed Tom Ascol in a runoff.

As Bart Barber, a tall Texas pastor in a suit and tie, walked outside the convention hall in Anaheim, Southern Baptists stopped to congratulate their new president. They shook his hand, patted his back, and took pictures. When Barber put his name in the ring for SBC president, there was similar enthusiasm from friends who texted asking if he was excited to go for the position.

But his feelings are heavier than that. He knows the baggage that comes from leadership—his predecessor Ed Litton was attacked by opponents enough that he didn’t seek a second year in office. It was the first time in 40 years that an SBC president didn’t get reelected for another term.

“This is not the first difficult season serving Southern Baptists for me. Every way that I have served Southern Baptists has left scars,” said Barber, who fought as a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee to oust Paige Patterson over his response to abuse. His eyes got glassy during a Wednesday press conference, and his speech slowed to deliberate words. “But this family of churches is worth it. It’s worth enduring slings and arrows.”

Though Barber doesn’t fit the SBC president mold—he pastors a rural congregation and not a megachurch—he’s active and vocal on Twitter, with nearly 17,000 following his folksy commentary and analysis. There, he told reporters, he’s seen how “the coarseness, the crass discourse that’s out there in the world has come into our family of churches.”

He inherits ongoing denominational divides and the monumental task of moving abuse reform forward. His first priority is appointing the task force responsible for recommending next steps and creating …

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Orthodox Presbyterians Apologize for Racism at General Assembly

“Egregiously offensive behavior” included comments about “slave labor” and the use of a racial epithet.

The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) apologized Friday for four racist incidents at its annual gathering.

In a statement of “sorrow and regret” passed without dissent, the General Assembly said “there is no place in the church for such conduct” and “we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people.”

The 126 commissioners from the Reformed denomination’s 296 congregations gathered in Philadelphia at Eastern University on Wednesday. The annual meetings do not normally involve much controversy and could even be considered boring when compared to the dramatic conflicts within the Presbyterian Church in America or Southern Baptist Convention.

The OPC commissioners came prepared to hear two amendments to the Book of Discipline, receive reports on giving and Sunday school attendance, and vote on a resolution of thanks to Richard B. Gaffin Jr., a Westminster Theological Seminary professor who is retiring from the Committee on Foreign Missions after 52 years.

On Thursday afternoon, the proceedings were interrupted by a report from moderator David Nakhla, who said the General Assembly was in danger of getting kicked off the Eastern University campus for violating its contract and not respecting the Christian school’s policy on racism. One person attending the General Assembly had made multiple comments about “slave labor” to students of color who were working at the school, another had gotten into an argument with a staff member, and a third had used a racial epithet.

Peter Bringe, an OPC minister and General Assembly commissioner, told CT it was painful …

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Saddleback Successor Cleared of Allegations of Overbearing Leadership

Search firm Vanderbloemen reviewed texts, emails, and videos but did not talk to former staffer who made accusations against Andy Wood.

Leaders at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church say a preliminary investigation has cleared Warren’s recently announced successor, Andy Wood, of allegations of an authoritarian leadership style that demands unquestioning loyalty.

Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and one of the most influential voices in evangelical Christianity, is planning to retire in September. He named San Francisco–area pastor Andy Wood as his successor at Saddleback, a Southern California congregation that draws 25,000 people to worship services. Wood, 40, is currently the lead pastor of Echo Church, a multisite congregation based in San Jose.

After the public announcement, a former Echo Church staffer made comments about issues with Wood’s leadership on social media.

The allegations did not come as a surprise to Saddleback leaders.

According to Saddleback’s statement on Sunday night, Wood had told the church’s elders about the former staffer’s claims during his interview process and offered to show them videos of his meetings with the former staffer. The church asked Vanderbloemen Search Group, which did the initial background check on Wood, to do a follow-up review.

“Our elders have now received a preliminary second report from The Vanderbloemen Search Group, clearing Pastor Wood from all allegations,” the church said in a letter to the congregation on Sunday, which was also sent to Religion New Service (RNS).

The search company was provided video, email, and text records, and interviews that Echo gathered in its review of Wood’s actions. It also conducted one additional interview, according to Saddleback’s letter.

“They tried to reach out to the former staff member and have …

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Drug Addiction Was Bad in America. The Pandemic Made it Worse.

Recovery ministries try to help as people give up and give in.

For 50 years, Toby Nigh had what he describes as the perfect life. He had a good job, a happy family, and if you had asked him, he would have told you that he was really lucky.

“Everything always seemed to work out for me,” the Kirksville, Missouri, man said.

Then his perfect life fell to pieces in 2018.

One day at work he picked up a 30-pound machine and blew out the L4-L5 disc in his back. A surgery led to an infection, which required another surgery, and then another. He was left weak and in pain.

He battled ongoing infections for a year and a half, and in the midst of it all, he lost the job he’d had all his life. The pain, trauma, and anger were too much to bear. He found relief in methamphetamines.

“I wanted to bury the pain—the physical pain, the mental pain,” he told CT. “I made a very bad decision.”

Things got worse for Nigh in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic reached America. He had a high risk of getting the virus, and getting it bad, because of his history of infections and the long-term effects of the treatment.

“So when the pandemic hit, I’m thinking, If I get it, I die,” Nigh said. “I went in my basement, and I closed myself in, and my addiction became bigger and stronger.”

According to stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nigh wasn’t the only one who responded that way.

Within a few months of the start of the pandemic, more than 40,000 Americans self-reported new or increased substance abuse. It seems people turned to drugs as a way of coping.

That number is probably low. By the year’s end, the country saw a record 91,799 drug overdose deaths, up from 70,630 in 2019. In 2021, more than 100,000 died from an …

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