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It's Wednesday afternoon, and Stage 36 on the CBS lot in West Hollywood, Calif., is a hotbed of activity. It's a performance day for the nine remaining hopefuls on "American Idol"—the nation's biggest talent show—which will award the winner a recording contract and life as a pop star in the season finale on May 21.
But on this day in late March, there are still nine singers vying for that spot. Various stage managers and production assistants—most dressed in black, almost universally carrying coffee cups—mill about the set. Host Ryan Seacrest, casually dressed, arrives and things go quiet: It's dress rehearsal, and the entire run-through starts now.
In the stands, just above a section of seats filled with placards bearing each contestant's name and larger-than-life face, 49-year-old Billy Mauldin stretches out his denim-clad 6-foot, 4-inch frame, and explains to his visiting 16-year-old niece who everyone is and what they're doing.
Meanwhile, his wife, Julie, 45, is everywhere else: She bonds with a security guard over her turquoise bracelet. A woman who works for 19 Entertainment—the group that awards the recording contract—gives her a painting she just made, bringing Julie to tears. A few minutes later, she's giving vocal coach Michael Orland a big hug and kiss on the cheek. There she is sitting down, talking with the mother of one of the contestants. A few minutes later, she's getting all the details about a publicity rep's upcoming wedding.
This is the Mauldin family at work. For this, the Fox reality show's 13th season, they have been asked to serve as nondenominational spiritual advisors to the contestants. But halfway through the season, they've made an impact on cast and crew alike.
"When (the show) first contacted me, I said, 'I've got to have Julie,' " Billy says. "She knows fashion, she knows makeup, so everything about this falls into her sweet spot. She uses it to connect with people. We're a team.
"I'd say 33 percent of the people here have some kind of committed faith, 33 percent are somewhere in the middle, and 33 percent it's not even on their radar," he adds. "So you fall back on trust and the relationship. Julie and I are here to love them—really—and to serve them, really. Just to be who we are and to be real with them, and that's what allows them to trust us."
He nods toward Julie, now seated in the row before him and deep in private conversation with her friend from 19 Entertainment.
"This is what it's all about, right here."
This week has been easier than most for Billy: As president and CEO of Motor Racing Outreach (MRO)—the 25-year-old ministry that serves the NASCAR and World Truck racing communities—he's still responsible for the operations at the track for the season, which runs from February to November. But since this weekend's NASCAR race was at Fontana—just 90 minutes from Los Angeles—he was able to skip his usual red-eye flight and take two of the contestants to the track with him.
It was through his work with MRO that Billy met David Hill in 2010. At the time, Hill—a fearless Aussie, red of face, blue of eye and white of hair, whose jovial exterior gives little hint of his reputation as one of the toughest negotiators in the entertainment industry—was CEO of the Fox Sports Media Group, and a frequent visitor to NASCAR tracks nationwide. Hall of Fame driver and Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip, who is MRO's chairman, introduced the two over dinner in Virginia one night, and they hit it off immediately.
"He's cool," Hill tells Citizen of Billy. "I'm a great believer in muscular Christianity, and I think he fills that category. I've always thought there would be no Christian religion if not for St. Paul—I don't think he could have done what he did to spread the message without being a really tough guy. I've always seen that as being part of the church. I really like Billy, and I think his message is really clear and he's sincere."
Last June, Fox turned to Hill to take on the role of executive producer to revamp the struggling "American Idol" series, which had suffered a 45-percent ratings dip over the previous two years. After reviewing tapes, amid all the decisions about judges and other changes that needed to be made, it took Hill less than a month to turn to the Mauldins to do something unprecedented.
"I have four kids," Hill explains. "I said, 'Just imagine how you'd feel if your kid—16, 17, 18—suddenly goes off to Hollywood for three months, to a different world.' So many of these kids come from church families, and we felt they were going to be away from any spiritual connection that they'd had.
"I know it's a dumb term—'spiritual advisor'—but I couldn't think of anything different. I wanted someone with common sense who would be like a big brother and a big sister to the kids, and if they wanted to talk religion, they could, and if they wanted to do a Bible study, they could. Or if they weren't Christians, we would find through Billy and Julie whoever was the applicable person to come in and be there for them, too. We wanted to have a cocoon around the kids.
"I don't want it to sound like altruism, because the show depends on the kids to be at their very best," he adds. "They are in a crucible, more intense than anything they've done in their lives. Who could fulfill that role of mentor/advisor/big brother in this intense competition? It was Billy with NASCAR. He's going out to minister to guys who might not lose the race—they might lose their lives! Who better to do this than Billy and Julie, who see it every week on the race track?"
Then they Mauldins got the call from Beverly Hills last June, they were driving back to their home in Charlotte from a day at the beach with their four children, who range in age from 13 to 4.
"It was a call that I was surprised to get, but it made sense," says Billy.
Though they were sworn to relative secrecy while they considered the offer, the Mauldins did their homework. Billy reached out to a few former contestants with a hypothetical question: If you'd had a spiritual advisor on the show, how would it have helped? And the answer was: It would have helped a lot.
"After we talked it through, we felt it was a door God had opened and we just needed to be obedient and go through it—not really knowing what it all meant, just taking it one day at a time," Billy says. "If you think you know what it's all about, you may miss what you don't see coming. And that's been the best part of it."
So the Mauldins made the decision to become bicoastal parents to their own children for a short while in order to minister to "the kids," as they call the contestants. It's a role in which Billy's background as a one-time assistant youth pastor serves him well. It's also one of the first opportunities he and Julie have had to team up in ministry since their first child came along; ordinarily, Billy is out on the NASCAR circuit while Julie homeschools their four.
They were welcomed from the beginning by the "Idol" family after Hill introduced them.
"From the very first, everyone said, 'They're so nice!' " he recalls. "I don't know what they expected—someone with a huge beard and robes and a staff? I don't know! But they're just lovely."
The dress rehearsal continues below: Seacrest introduces the judges, and three stand-ins walk in, waving and smiling as though they are the real deal, and take their place at the judges' table. Shortly before the performances begin, the real Keith Urban arrives and relieves his stand-in of his duties.
Alex Preston, 20, leads off with a No Doubt song. Afterward, he hits his mark and awaits feedback.
"It was so windy outside, the press tent nearly blew over," says "Jennifer Lopez."
"It's going to be in the 70s today in Los Angeles, with a chance of rain," adds "Harry Connick, Jr." The real Keith Urban grins and says nothing.
The rehearsal continues. Billy stands up and catches the eye of 22-year-old contestant Dexter Roberts, seated on the blue couches to the right of the stage, where the performers watch the show. Roberts grins and gives him a thumbs-up: He's feeling upbeat at the moment.
"We don't often have long blocks of time to talk to people. It just doesn't exist in the workplace," Billy says. "So we grab little moments, a lot of nonverbal communication. We make eye contact, and sometimes that's as much as you get in that moment. Then later, we can text or talk a little more.
"But it changes all the time. One minute you're on a high, and the next you're thinking maybe you did something wrong, so you get down. That's hard on anyone, no matter how young or old you are. But when you're in an environment like this, a competition, it changes a lot more frequently."
Occasionally, though, there are breaks in the momentum long enough for more traditional ministry. Like two weeks earlier, when Billy was able to share about Psalm 23 before the performances began, at 22-year-old contestant Caleb Johnson's request.
"We just sat up there on the couches and went over it for about 20 minutes. I tied it into David being a songwriter," he says. "The time in which David wrote Psalm 23 was a tough time! But he went back to the core of who he was to write that. When things get difficult, you go back into the heart of who you are to re-find your footing and your faith. So we just started with that."
"We were careful, though," Julie says. "We didn't assume they would all love that. So quietly, we went around the room before and said, 'This is what we're thinking of doing, and Billy won't make it weird. Are you OK with that?' I just want to be mindful that we're dealing with a lot of grace and integrity, and not assume or ramrod anything. But everyone—everyone—gathered up and listened in."
What is far more common is what Julie calls "the ministry of hanging out." The first week, Billy established trust with the kids by finding their cell phones for them when they were somewhere else in the three-story building that houses the "Idol" set. On Valentine's Day, they passed out cards to all the cast and crew, handmade by their children back in North Carolina. On elimination days, it's easy to sense which contestants feel they are on the bubble—and Julie is often there beside them as they get their hair and makeup done, just stroking their arms and chatting.
"Billy has been like a father to me through this whole thing," says C.J. Harris, 23, one of the top nine. "He'll walk me to lunch or dinner, talk to me on the phone for an hour—do anything possible to make your day better, pray for you. He'll send me a text message and say he's praying for me, hopes everything is going good, he's got me on his heart. I've never met anyone like him."
"They've really helped me a lot," agrees Jessica Meuse, also 23. "I have a relationship, and it's hard to maintain one when you're so far away. I've gone to them several times. There are really no words to describe how genuine and sincere they are. I definitely want to keep them in my life, even post-'Idol.' They're nondenominational, and they don't judge, at all. I feel like I've known them a lot longer than I actually have.
"I think the world needs a lot more people like them."
It's Thursday—elimination day—and the tension on set is palpable. Billy and Julie are in the red room upstairs, where the hair and makeup gets done and the contestants try (and sometimes fail) to relax before the precipitous half-hour taping in which they will learn their fates.
Billy is prepared for another short chapel service—this one based on the Rolling Stones' 1968 album Beggars Banquet, which begins with the song "Sympathy for the Devil" but later includes "Prodigal Son." He's not sure if there will be time to discuss it as a group, but knows he can hit the main points in individual conversations if need be. Julie is flitting, as usual—getting water for the girls, receiving tweeting lessons, passing out little blank notebooks handmade by her eight-year-old daughter back home.
"When you're not in control, you can trust that if the moment doesn't happen, it's OK," she says. "It's so hard to lay down our agendas sometimes. Especially as women, we always feel like it's all on us. But when we allow our faith to work through love, people just come to you. It's just the Holy Spirit. The rest of the details are between them and the Lord, so we just do our thing and let Him do His."
Majesty Rose, a 22-year-old from the Raleigh area of North Carolina, has been having a hard day. Though the judges gave her good feedback on her overall performance the night before, they also mentioned some pitch problems.
Her instincts turn out to be accurate: She is in the bottom three, and then sings for her life. One of the judges fails to be moved by her rendition of Pharrell Williams' hit song "Happy"—and without unanimity among the three, they cannot use the one judges' save of the season to keep her on the show.
The next few hours are spent in interviews with the press. The Mauldins stick close by, texting other contestants and Rose's friends and family, keeping up the nonverbal communication with her as she makes the rounds. Finally, the cameras are packed away, and the lot around Stage 36 falls quiet.
A staff member gives Rose her itinerary, telling her when a car will be picking her up in the morning and what will be happening the next few days. Julie takes her by the arm and joins the staffers walking her back to the red room to collect her things.
Meanwhile, Billy takes a seat on a bench near the parking lot and reflects on the last few months.
"One of the most precious moments was the first week we were here," during a boot camp experience in Palos Verdes, he says. "There was a production assistant assigned to us, and we picked up that she was not at peace. In 10 or 15 minutes, we found out her brother had recently been killed in a motorcycle accident, and she was just hurting. We talked and prayed, and we've stayed close to her throughout the show. It's been good to see her life get back on track, as well as her family's."
Those 20 minutes spent talking about Psalm 23 a few weeks ago are paying off, too.
"I walked in the room tonight, and one of the contestants came over to me and said, 'I wasn't having the best night last night, so I called my mom and she said, "You need to read Psalm 23," ' " Billy says. " 'Then I called my grandpa, and he said, "You need to read Psalm 23." That was so cool!' And I just said, 'It shows you that God is consistent! He doesn't jerk around with you.' "
The door opens, and Rose arrives with Julie still on her arm. Billy asks her if she would like to pray one last time, and the three huddle up, arms around each other, as he asks a blessing on her journey and her life.
"Three hours," he tells her as they separate. "Three hours from Charlotte to Raleigh. That's how long it takes us to get to you."
Rose gets in the car that is waiting for her, and the hybrid purrs to life. As he does every Thursday night, Billy runs alongside it until it pulls away, waving through the driver's side window—just to let her know she is loved to the end, and beyond.
Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) may not be a household name where you live—but to NASCAR drivers and fans, it definitely is.
By the late 1980s, "a lot of the families had come to a point where they really wanted a pastor out there with them," says CEO Billy Mauldin of the racing community. "They wanted to be able to have church—a Bible study, if nothing else."
So MRO was established in 1988—and has since grown from ministering from drivers to pit crew members to fans. "All the same types of events and opportunities you would have at a local church, we do—but in a mobile fashion," says Mauldin.
The group also has a longstanding partnership with Focus on the Family: President Jim Daly is a board member. MRO has often distributed material created by Focus—such as children's magazines—at the track, and uses the family organization's national network of Christian counselors in its outreach efforts.
"We've worked with Focus on the Wait No More adoption initiative, promoted Plugged In," notes Mauldin. "We're currently involved in developing materials for single fathers who are primary caregivers to their children. That's an emerging issue for our country."
In the meantime, Mauldin's book The Race: Living Life on the Track—cowritten with Kyle Froman and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Darrell Waltrip—will be released on May 15. (Find it at http://tinyurl.com/knfrdez.)
"The purpose of the book is to encourage people that no matter where they are and what they do in life, they can have an impact in ministry," Mauldin says. "Whether you're a plumber or a nurse or a firefighter, in your workplace, you can touch lives. It combines philosophical and impactful ideas to encourage the reader to see their opportunity in a new light."
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[This story originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Citizen magazine.]
Elaine Huguenin and her husband Jonathan never wanted to become the poster children for religious liberty in the United States.
But seven years after declining to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony in Taos — citing their Christian beliefs — that's exactly what the Huguenins, owners of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, have become. In late August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the couple had to choose between operating their business and living according to the convictions of their faith.
The last paragraph of the decision — coming at the tail end of a four-page concurring opinion penned by Justice Richard C. Bosson — is nothing short of chilling.
"In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people," he wrote.
"In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship."
But according to the U.S. Constitution, that's a price too steep for anyone to be expected to pay, says Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has been on the case since the outset.
"The core of what's happening to the Huguenins is basically a government action to suppress dissent and force affirmation to a specific set of beliefs," he tells Citizen. "This is a threat to basic First Amendment freedoms.
"Anyone who sees the importance of civil liberties has to be concerned about that."
Elaine Huguenin knows the stakes, and she and her husband are willing to take this case as far as they need to.
"In the U.S., we don't go through that much persecution. We aren't getting burned at the stake right now," she told Citizen in 2009, during the only interview she ever granted about the case outside of an ADF newsletter. "But this is persecution for our faith. If we paid somebody off so we wouldn't have to go through this, it would be backing down. It's not something that we're about to do."
That's why the Huguenins are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the matter once and for all — for everybody. Because one thing's for certain: Conscience rights and free speech must apply to everyone equally if they are to apply to anyone at all.
The crux of the issue in Elane Photography is the way the state Supreme Court defines the term "public accommodation." It is, Lorence says, an incorrect application of laws stemming from the Civil Rights era; the New Mexico Human Rights Act was passed in 1978.
"Public accommodations are usually referring to uniform products — stuff you sell or eat," he explains. "There was a real problem in the South of black people not being able to find a place to eat or stay, driving miles and miles in the middle of the night, and that's where this started."
But over the years, the concept of "public accommodation" has been broadened in many places to include virtually any kind of business. Tim Schultz, state legislative policy director at the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), confirms that about 20 states have laws like New Mexico's, where even businesses selling an inherently artistic or expressive product could be treated like sandwich shops.
"There are some commercial professions — a speech writer, a tattoo artist, an advertising agency — where there is no standard product and you have to negotiate," Lorence explains. "You have to come to a meeting of the minds to achieve (the goal). To apply a public-accommodations law to that situation is just a very bad fit."
The state Supreme Court did give the Huguenins a couple of options if they want to remain in business: Though they must photograph any homosexual couple seeking their services for same-sex unions, the court said, they don't have to allocate as much of their time to those jobs as to heterosexual weddings if they don't want to. They also can put a disclaimer on the company Web site saying they personally disapprove of same-sex unions.
That "sounds like an unnecessary imposition on the sincere religious beliefs of others—and a great way to wind up with lousy wedding photos," writes law school instructor Tamara Tabo of Texas Southern University.
In a recent blog, Tabo, who is not a social conservative, recognizes the holes in the court's logic. "Who wins in any meaningful sense (with a disclaimer)?" she asks. "Would gay and lesbian couples actually hire such a photographer, even if they knew that by law they couldn't be denied service? Is proving a political point worth ending up with terrible wedding pictures? How is that a satisfying conclusion for either the religiously motivated business owners or the same-sex couples who want their blessed days recorded and celebrated?
"Strong-arming others who differ on fundamental matters of faith and conscience should be something our society does cautiously and rarely, when at all," she concludes. "In cases like Elane Photography, neither side is served well by doing so. Sadly, ironically, this does little more than encourage less tolerance among people who disagree. Not more."
Unflattering wedding photos are the least of what might happen once a Christian business owner posts a disclaimer like that, though. This summer, Aaron and Melissa Klein were forced to close their bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, in Gresham, Ore. Like the Huguenins, they cited their Christian beliefs when refusing to make a cake for a same-sex ceremony. Afterward, they faced death threats from gay activists and a boycott that didn't target only them.
"In Gresham, they threatened to boycott the (bakery's) suppliers — and then they called up the suppliers," says Bruce Hausknecht, Focus on the Family's judicial analyst. "They were pressuring everyone all the way up the chain. Economic warfare seems to be one of the tools in the LGBT box."
"They have killed our business through mob tactics," Aaron Klein told Fox News. "It's a sad day for Christian business owners and it's a sad day for the First Amendment."
And the problems with the New Mexico Supreme Court's ruling don't stop there: The U.S. Supreme Court, says Lorence, has already ruled that adding disclaimers to speech the government compels doesn't justify the compellation.
And then there is the troublesome fact that a broad swath of people, from gay activists all the way up to the New Mexico Supreme Court, assume that the kind of "compromise" and "tolerance" Bosson mentions in his opinion must be provided only by Christians or social conservatives.
Take, for example, the case of the Santa Fe hairdresser who made headlines last year when he refused to do Gov. Susana Martinez's hair. Upon finding out Martinez, a Republican, does not personally support same-sex marriage, Antonio Darden, who is homosexual, left her a voicemail saying not only would he never do her hair again, but "I am going to let all gay people know (to) stop serving you, stop providing you with what you need."
And earlier this year, ADF President and CEO Alan Sears endured a situation very similar to what Vanessa Willock did when she contacted Elane Photography in 2006: While at a conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif., this summer, Sears asked his hotel to recommend a professional who could shoot a photo his family could use on their Christmas cards later. The hotel obliged — but the photographer (who ordinarily shoots weddings) responded to Sears's email by saying, "While I appreciate your inquiry, I oppose the goals and interests of your organization and have no interest in working on its behalf."
The difference, in both the Martinez and Sears cases, is that when professionals refused service based on their personal convictions, no one complained to the state Human Rights Commission. Rather, the patrons simply took their business elsewhere, and the individuals' rights were upheld.
In such a politically charged climate, where might help come from? One possibility could be the U.S. Supreme Court — but it's a long shot.
Lorence thinks there's a good chance the Court will take the Elane Photography case. "The Supreme Court has a great concern for freedom-of-speech rights," he says, pointing out that even Westboro Baptist Church — the Fred Phelps-led clan from Kansas that is perhaps best known for picketing American soldiers' funerals — won an 8-1 decision there. "So I have some hope that the Supreme Court would take this case and rule the right way."
Therein lies the rub. Hausknecht says the issues ADF plans to argue are "not clear winners," given a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that only minimally protects religious freedom. Paul Becht, an Albuquerque lawyer who filed an amicus brief in Elane Photography (see "State of Confusion," page 20), calls it "a Hail Mary."
The ruling in question, Employment Division v. Smith, held that religious freedom only rarely provides exemptions from a "neutral law of general applicability" — one that applies to everyone, regardless of their motivations, religious or otherwise. In other words, if the free exercise of one's religion is only collateral damage, and not the intended target, the law is probably going to pass constitutional muster.
"That shocked everybody at the time," Hausknecht says. "That's why when they passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, it was done by a coalition of everyone in Congress. But unfortunately, the Supreme Court later declared that the federal RFRA doesn't apply to the states, so a lot of states were left to either pass one themselves or accept the decision in Smith. So now you've got about half the states with court decisions or statutes saying they will apply the rule so that all religious exercise" is protected.
Though New Mexico has a RFRA, passed in 2000, the high court failed to apply it in Elane Photography. And other states — including California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin — could find whatever religious-liberty protections they do have are similarly at risk, based on the way their public accommodations laws are written.
That means it's up to state legislatures to provide better conscience protections for people of faith in the public square — either by passing new laws or amending existing ones.
"If the people of New Mexico think their people aren't protected by their own state law," Hausknecht says, "we're kind of stuck with it until the legislature repeals or rewrites it."
Such reforms could prove very popular with voters if they're explained clearly. In a July survey of 1,000 adults, Rasmussen Reports found 85 percent of respondents believe a wedding photographer who opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds has a right not to shoot that ceremony. Only 8 percent disagreed.
Launching those efforts will take work — and a lot of bipartisan agreement.
"We know what the politics of religious freedom are, but the worst thing would be for this to be seen as a Left-Right issue," the EPPC's Schultz tells Citizen. "It's got to transcend party affiliation. I protect religious freedom for people I disagree with. You've got to protect it, or a lot of bad things happen. It's got to be on both sides of the aisle and for people of all faiths."
Citizen Editor Karla Dial is a native New Mexican.
To find out how strong religious-freedom protections are in your state — and what you can do to make them stronger — contact your state family policy council. Visit
for more information.
Paul Diamond, a barrister in the United Kingdom and counselor to the Christian Legal Centre, sends a warning to Christians in the U.S. to speak up for religious freedom — before it's too late.
The Romeikes came to America from Germany for the express freedom to homeschool their children — a move that has been stretching their faith in ways unimaginable.
[This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Citizen magazine.]
Dec. 5, 2011, is a day Jordan Lorence will never forget — nor will the members of the Bronx Household of Faith (BHF) in New York City.
After 16 long years of litigation — involving two separate lawsuits, five federal district court decisions from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and two unsuccessful requests for the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved — what was thought to be a "sure thing" turned out to be a supreme disappointment.
Lorence, senior counsel and senior vice president of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for the Alliance Defense Fund, who has represented the congregation in a legal tussle with New York City's Department of Education for nearly two decades, had expected the Supreme Court to accept his request for review.
Surely, he reasoned, the Court had decided in favor of equal access for private religious groups to meet in government facilities in at least five separate cases. The time was ripe for clarity, especially since lower federal courts were either split on the issue or avoiding applying Supreme Court precedents altogether. Instead, in one brief sentence, the High Court denied his request — and let stand a 2nd Circuit decision that acquiesced to New York City and its stubborn refusal to grant religious groups equal access to public buildings.
On Feb. 12, members of the Bronx Household of Faith — and at least 60 other congregations around the city, many of them church plants — will be homeless.
To add insult to injury, the Court's decision was handed down just three days shy of the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Supreme Court decision Widmar v. Vincent (see "Remembering Widmar," p. 22), considered a landmark legal decision protecting religious freedoms.
"I regret deeply what the Supreme Court did," Lorence reflect-ed. "The 2nd Circuit decision is clearly straying in a significant way from the Supreme Court's repeated announcement and reaffirmation of equal access principles — that private religious speakers have the same access to facilities as every other community group."
Lorence points out that the Supreme Court refused to take the case without affirming or repudiating the lower court's decision. Nevertheless, he believes it sends the wrong message.
"It has allowed this element of ambiguity and tentativeness to enter into the case law," he said. "It would have been much better if the Supreme Court had taken this [case]. We do know that it delayed a week to come down with a decision. The only way you can get a delay is if the justices say, 'We want to talk about this case.' I'm not sure what exactly that means, but it is not good news in the long run."
New York City opens its school buildings on weeknights and weekends for any use "pertaining to the welfare of the community." The school board allows thousands of organizations to meet each year in its buildings. Those include meetings by labor unions, Boys Scout and Girls Scout troops, piano recitals, speeches and debates. But the policy prohibits worship services in vacant schools on Sunday mornings.
Since 1971, members of BHF have helped people to end their addiction to drugs, to stop stealing, to rebuild their marriages and to raise their children responsibly. In 1994, after 20 years of meeting in various homes and other cramped locations, they had applied to meet in a nearby public school.
School officials said "no" because of the board's policy banning private religious "worship services."
The New York Daily News responded on Dec. 9, 2011, with, "The city calls itself 'concerned about having any school in this di-verse city identified with one particular religious belief or practice.' It imagines second-graders becoming convinced that a church is officially established at the school.
"But the danger of kids coming to that mistaken conclusion is no greater when a church or synagogue or mosque uses a school building after hours for a religious service than when it uses it for a prayer circle or revival dinner."
The church was free to use the school for a Bible study or another event that did not include what the government considered to be "worship."
The blatant act of discrimination prompted Richard Hall, senior pas-tor of BHF, to scribble down Lorence's phone number after hearing him on the radio in 1995. Thus, the 16-year long journey began.
If there is a silver lining in all of this, Lorence said it's that New York City is the only school district in the country with this type of public policy in place. The decision might entice school officials in other parts of the nation to change their policies; but many will not change, absent some strong effort by school officials or people in the community.
And if there's a lesson to be gleaned it is this: Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. "There are forces that want to erode it, which is clearly happening.
"We must be vigilant," Lorence warned, "on what lawmakers are doing and monitoring for any changes to equal access policies. Make sure elected officials know what you think — that equal access is a policy you want them to protect in the legislation they enact."
BHF lost all the way up to the Supreme Court, which then denied review in 1998, forcing them to meet in a cramped house for three years. Then, a miracle happened in 2001.
"This case was resurrected from the dead," Lorence reflected, "in a way that procedurally, under the federal rules of civil procedure, is on the magnitude of 'Lazarus, come forth!' It just doesn't happen this way."
The High Court had just handed down its decision in The Good News Club v. Milford Central School, and it mentioned that the BHF case had been wrongly decided — breathing new life into the equal access case.
"Then we got the same federal judge, Loretta Preska, who had ruled against us, and she basically had a 'Damascus Road' conversion and ruled totally in our favor," Lorence explained. "[She] issued an in-junction in July 2002. … For nine years the injunction was in effect and churches were allowed to flourish. We had a 'Prague Spring' of religious liberty in New York City.
"Many of the churches [and elected officials] didn't realize until recently that Bronx was like [Aaron and Hur], holding up Moses' arms. That's why they were allowed in the schools."
After Dec. 5, the case quickly shifted from the Supreme Court to the court of public opinion. On Dec. 8, Lorence found himself at a rally on the steps of New York's City Hall, being introduced by Fernando Cabrera, a pastor and city councilman from the Bronx. Cabrera, who had considered expanding his church into a school — until he learned about the lawsuit, is now leading an effort in concert with several New York state legislators to change the state law.
The whole experience has shaped Lorence's faith.
"You know, God's ways are very different about this case," he confided. "I was expecting to hear this good news from the Supreme Court and the answer was 'no.'
"As with many things in the Christian life, you face disappointments. Rather than get depressed or bitter, the act of faith is believing God is going to have a good result."
According to David Hacker, ADF's legal counsel for its University Project, if you were ever in a Christian club at your public school or college or attended a church or Bible study that met in a school or public facility, you have the 11 brave students and the Supreme Court's 1981 Widmar v. Vincent decision to thank.
Prior to 1981, if you had an equal access case, you likely were out of luck. "The courts wanted to put the Establishment Clause in the center of the solar system. So nothing made sense," ADF's Jordan Lorence said. "It was basically 'religion is [an] inherently dangerous thing' and … the government [was] to go on a 'search and destroy' mission to remove all things religious. The fact that it was private speech in a government forum made no difference."
In 1977, when a group of Christian students attending the University of Missouri (Kansas City) were told they could no longer meet on campus to pray, sing and read the Bible, the students filed a First Amendment lawsuit. Hacker concluded, "The 11 students must have known that the ability of their group to survive and share God's Word depended on it reaching students on campus. And the only way to reach students on campus was to be on campus."
In a lopsided 8-1 decision, the Court held that University policies were discriminatory by excluding groups based on religious content. "The Court also held that the government does not violate the Establishment Clause," he wrote, "by opening its facilities neutrally to private expression."
Hacker points to Professor Michael Stokes Paulsen's clear summation:
"Widmar's free-speech holding is thus fundamental to the freedom of religion. It is the basis for the right of evangelism: Freedom of religious expression, and the equal status of religious ideas, keep government from suppressing religious discourse and debate.
"And Widmar's free-speech principle is closely allied with the freedom to exercise one's religious convictions in society generally: It is the principle that proclaims the equal status of religious views, religious arguments, religiously motivated actions, religious associations and religious identity in American public life.
"Freedom of religion means, at bedrock, the right of religious persons, groups and ideas to participate fully and equally in the life of the community and in the marketplace of ideas."
Contact the Alliance Defending Freedom at 1-800-TellADF or AllianceDefendingFreedom.org.
[This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Citizen magazine.]
Life changed on Sept. 20 — albeit covertly — for military chaplains and Bible- believing service members throughout the U.S. Armed Forces. On that day, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), the 1993 prohibiting open homosexual behavior in the Armed Forces, took effect. It was also the day gay activists' legislative weaponry— "anti-discrimination," "hate speech," "equality" and "diversity" laws — took aim squarely at military servicemembers' religious freedom.
When it comes to the gay agenda, it's a zero-sum game. And this "victory" for gay activists poses a grave threat to the freedoms of Christian troops.
As the ancient military strategist Sun Tzu wrote, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized." That's exactly what gay activists and the Left have done since the end of 2010. With their newly gained foothold in the military culture, gay activists already are trying to leverage momentum toward imposing same-sex marriage nationwide.
In fact, gay activist and philanthropist Anna M. Curren wrote to fellow donors: "My gifting, of both money and time, is most intensely directed to reversing the six-decade old statute [banning gays from openly serving in the military]. … I am convinced that until this last bastion of federally authorized discrimination is eliminated we have little chance of advancing other significant GLBT legislation, in particular marriage rights. With [the] repeal … we will open the floodgates to complete civil rights and citizenship."
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR), said DADT was repealed in anything but a stealthy manner. "They used an assault vehicle" to achieve it.
Activists' first opportunity came when Americans turned their attention to Christmas plans last year. Departing U.S. lawmakers, who had nothing to lose, voted during Congress' "lame duck" session to repeal DADT. Signed into law on Dec. 22, conservatives' 17-year battle to retain the conduct standards of the Uniform Code of Military Justice ended with little public notice.
Over the following months, the effort to speed up the new law's implementation gained steam. A politically deadlocked Congress proved to be no obstacle, as a series of Sun Tzu-like "opportunities" came in rapid succession from various government agencies. Only now, looking back, do these series of decisions look to be coordinated maneuvers.
On Feb. 23, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would no longer defend in federal court the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — handing gay activists at least a decisive morale boost, if not a partial victory. Under DOMA marriage is defined as being between one man and one woman, affecting more than 1,100 federal rights, benefits and privileges.
As June approached — also known as "Gay Pride" month — more federal agencies seized the chance to chip away rights and benefits protected under DOMA. The Internal Revenue Service on May 28 unilaterally skirted DOMA by deeming California domestic partnerships to be the equivalent of marriage for tax purposes. On June 10, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a directive to cover federal employees' same-sex partners under Medicaid and Medicare.
Then a 20-judge panel of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Central California chose not to dismiss a same-sex couple's joint tax-return case, saying that "there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA." A federal appeals court ruled to stop the worldwide enforcement of DADT on July 6.
Despite all the gains, gay activists were antsy, as the DADT policy was still in effect while the military conducted "diversity" training in the various service branches. On July 22, with training still incomplete, the executive branch and the military Joint Chiefs certified that the law to allow gay-, lesbian- and bisexual-identified personnel to serve openly — starting Sept. 20 — would not affect military morale, cohesion, recruitment or readiness.
In its "hail Mary" effort to repeal DADT, Congress left out one key provision: religious freedom protections. Despite repeated requests by thousands of active-duty and retired chaplains, lawmakers omitted protections for military personnel who adhered to Scripture on human sexual behavior.
Robert "Bob" Maginnis, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and senior fellow for national security at the Family Research Council, said this was by design.
"Let there be no doubt: Homosexual activists have taken captive one of the nation's most conservative institutions," he told Citizen, "and they intend to use it as a platform to further transform the nation's moral landscape."
As an integral member of the1993 Pentagon team tasked with preserving the more than 200-year-old prohibition of homosexual acts among troops, Maginnis said the Pentagon's 2010 Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) failed on a number of fronts. The most egregious was to adequately assess and report whether the DADT repeal was even appropriate.
Instead, CRWG's questions focused on "mitigating the consequences" of lifting the ban.
In its Nov. 30, 2010, report to Congress, the CRWG acknowledged that "a significant portion of the [military] respondents did suggest that a change in policies resulting in chaplains' free exercise of religion or free speech rights being curtailed would lead them to withdraw their endorsement."
Nevertheless, it concluded, "… No modified or revised policy is required, particularly in light of the training and education we are recommending in the event of repeal. In our view, existing policies regarding individual expression and free exercise of religion by Service members are adequate. Service members will not be required to change their personal views and religious beliefs; they must, however, continue to respect and co-exist with others who may hold different views and beliefs."
To Donnelly and Maginnis, those words ring hollow.
"The Pentagon used a three-tiered process to 'educate' the troops, commanders, special staff and key individuals, including chaplains and lawyers," Maginnis said. "The 90-minute sessions included video statements by senior officials and discussions about what lifting the ban meant for all members. "Although the training included a time for questions and answers, few troops dared to ask about the rationale behind the decision," he added. "Repeal was a political decision, and military readiness was its victim."
"Trainers essentially said chaplains had the option to have endorsement withdrawn," she told Citizen.
"There's zero-tolerance in the military."
And, she added, if you're not considered a "team player," there are career penalties.
"You have a culture of obedience having to meld with the San Francisco lifestyle," she said. "The military is on the cutting edge of very liberal social change. 'Diversity' is implemented without restraint. We now have a new form of DADT — against people of faith."
Donnelly recently received a letter from a new recruit set to deploy in January, who expressed concerns about personal privacy in close quarters under the new policy. Later the same day, the young man's recruiter and a superior officer cancelled his deployment with no appeal, ending his military career before it began.
A senior active-duty chaplain, who withheld his name to avoid censure, wrote in an opinion piece for CMR prior to the repeal:
"The handwriting is on the wall that such a move could occur, as senior leaders in the military unabashedly announce that anyone disagreeing with rescinding DADT can vote with their feet and leave the military. Such a statement likely means only one thing: The religious teaching and doctrines held as a matter of conscience by chaplains have to yield to the state authority.
"Such a dangerous decision would pave the way for greater state control over the lives of soldiers, the loss of freedom of speech and the reengineering of the Chaplain Corps as an instrument of the government to carry out its social policies, even when they are directly opposed to biblical teachings."
When calling His disciples to ministry, Jesus Christ said to them, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16)
This is the mindset the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL) has chosen to take in this new post-DADT environment, says retired U.S. Army Col. Ronald A. Crews, the organization's executive director. "We're encouraging our chaplains to continue to serve with the grace and dignity that they've always ministered to everybody who walks in their door or that they meet in the field or on the battlefield," he told Citizen. "But, that said, we are also encouraging our chaplains to be very circumspect and making sure that everybody knows that if they come to a chaplain for counsel, they are going to receive counsel from a biblical basis.
"And that they should not — in any way — waver from their theological beliefs, particularly concerning sexual issues and the definition of marriage."
The Rev. Roy Bebee, a retired U.S. Navy captain and the director for Evangelical Free Church (EFCA) chaplains, he told Citizen the military's spiritual landscape has grown increasingly difficult this year. Chaplains provide moral and ethical input for commanders and service personnel. Yet the challenge of how to minister to a more pluralistic, non-sectarian audience without compromising their beliefs and conscience is growing.
Since the repeal, "evangelical chaplains now must act with even greater discretion in their messages, counsel and overall leadership as moral agents to their Commanders, as well as to peers and soldiers," Bebee wrote to his endorsed chaplains in his monthly newsletter. "Chaplains must be constantly aware — whether they are speaking as a chaplain inside the religious con- text or whether they're speaking as a uniformed 'officer' outside of the religious context."
Gay activists and government sympathizers have wasted no time pressing their advantage since Sept. 20. Without skipping a beat, federal lawsuits emerged to challenge DOMA, all demanding some type of same-sex "spousal" privilege or benefit.
On Aug. 3, the Air Force abruptly suspended an ethics course taught by chaplains for more than two decades. The reason? David Smith, spokesman for the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command, said the use of Scripture was "an inappropriate approach (in a) pluralistic society."
Then, another bomb dropped.
In an Oct. 6 memo, Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, wrote, "A military chaplain may participate in or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law."
"I'll give you guys a freebie — next we're going to use those married active duty service members to get DOMA overturned!" one gay activist wrote in a blog. "Gotta love the irony of using freedom of religion to allow gay service members to marry on base in spite of DOMA!"
Crews learned about the directive from media reports, and was understandably horrified.
"The Defense Department was saying to the Chaplain Corps 'You can ignore federal law.' That's a real concern to us," he told Citizen. "It's a concern to me as an American, much less an endorser for chaplains, that we have the Defense Department's legal representative ignoring federal law.
CARL, which represents more than 2,000 military chaplains, as well as the Archdiocese for the Military Service, fired off letters of their own to the Pentagon, making it categorically clear: They will "not perform same-sex wedding ceremonies under any circumstances," on or off military installations.
"By dishonestly sanctioning the use of federal facilities for 'marriage counterfeits' that federal law and the vast majority of Americans have rejected, the Pentagon has launched a direct assault on the fundamental unit of society — husband and wife," the CARL letter stated.
Here are a few questions regarding the repeal of DADT, outlined in a 25-page list. All of the questions have gone unanswered by the Pentagon:
To view the entire detailed list of questions, visit MilitaryCultureCoalition.com.
Christians — individually and corporately — are encouraged to:
[This article first appeared in the November 2011 Issue of Citizen magazine]
by Matt Kaufman
You've heard the message over and over, in various forms: "Religion and politics don't mix," "Religious values have no place in public policy," "There must be a strict separation between church and state," and "The U.S. was not founded on Christianity."
But have you heard it from the Founding Fathers' point of view?
"There was a consensus among the Founders that religion was indispensable to a system of republican self-government," says Daniel Dreisbach, professor of law, justice and American society at American University. "The Founders looked to religion (and morality informed by religious faith) to provide the internal moral compass that would prompt citizens to behave in a disciplined manner, and thereby promote social order and political stability."
Take the nation's first president. In his first inaugural address, George Washington said that "the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained."
In his farewell address, Washington sounded the same note: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim that tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness."
Or take the second president. "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people," John Adams declared. "It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."
Quotes from our Founding Fathers are replete with references to faith, God's sovereignty, Jesus Christ and Christianity, as well as to the Bible and its role in the maintaining of order, ethics and morality. Succeeding generations also echoed their themes. As Daniel Webster succinctly put it in 1820:
"Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens."
"Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens."
Today, there are some — mainly on the Left — who paint the Founders not as Christians but as Deists, believers in an impersonal creator who left his creations to fend for themselves. But while that description fits less than a handful of the Founders, to varying degrees, it clearly doesn't fit the vast majority.
Of the 55 signers of the U.S. Constitution, "with no more than five exceptions, they were orthodox members of one of the established congregations," wrote the late University of Dallas historian M.E. Bradford. "References made by the Framers to Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Son of God … are commonplace in their private papers, correspondence and public remarks — and in the early records of their lives."
And this wasn't just lip service, Bradford noted: The faith the Framers professed played a large role in their lives.
Thus, both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton "regularly led their households in the observance of family prayers." Roger Sherman "was a ruling elder of his church." John Dickinson of Delaware "wrote persuasive letters to youthful friends conserving the authority of Scripture and the soundness of Christian evidences." Richard Bassett, also of Delaware, "rode joyfully with his former slaves to share in the enthusiasm of their singing on the way to Methodist camp meetings." Elias Boudinot of New Jersey "was heavily involved in Christian missions and was the founder of the American Bible Society."
Why would such men have written a First Amendment that sought to purge religious expression and values from the public square? Simple: They didn't.
The Founders wanted to preserve the many vibrant Christian churches that were thriving in America. So they provided in the First Amendment that no Congress could squelch the free exercise of religion or establish a national church body — as had happened in England, driving many of their ancestors to the New World.
They also created a decentralized system that left states free to pursue diverse policies. Some (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina and Maryland) gave funding or property to churches. A few state constitutions contained religious requirements. Pennsylvania and New York required officeholders to pledge belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture.
To be sure, that wasn't the norm. Most states guaranteed religious liberty, on the principle that government compulsion was an affront to true worship. But the very language in those guarantees testified to the prevailing faith. Many used terms of praise like "Almighty God." Massachusetts spoke of "the right, as well as the duty, of all men in society … to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe."
And the federal government itself, though much more limited in its religious involvements, did things that would make an ACLU attorney blanch. Even one of the least religiously orthodox Founders, Thomas Jefferson, used federal funds during his presidency to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians.
That's especially meaningful since it was Jefferson who authored the phrase "wall of separation between church and state" in a letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association — words now commonly misused to claim that the Founders would have supported an ACLU-like approach. But as Dreisbach notes, "The absurd conclusion that countless courts and commentators would have us reach is that Jefferson routinely pursued policies that violated his own ‘wall of separation.' "
In truth, the Founders never dreamed that, one day, the government they helped to establish would so often be hostile to the faith that most of them — despite their many other differences — held in common.
And it's not hard to imagine what they would have said about it. Just recall Washington's words about religion and morality:
"In vain would that man claim that tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness."
"In vain would that man claim that tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Download the footnoted version of this article at www.CitizenMagazine.com. To learn more about the Founding Fathers and our nation's historical documents, visit The Patriot Post at www.PatriotPost.us/document. Learn more about ICON Statues by Stan Watts at www.ICONstatues.com.
Matt Kaufman is a contributing editor for Citizen.