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A Czar, a Cross, and Prayer Chain for Liberals

Conservative groups take aim at safe schools 'czar' Kevin Jennings. The Supreme Court considers the fate of a cross in the Mojave Desert. And all while Congress continues to work on health care.

President Obama's safe schools 'czar,' Kevin Jennings, is currently enemy number one for many conservative advocacy groups.

President Obama stands behind Jennings, but several conservative groups have called for his resignation. Both Jennings's history and current association are worrisome to the groups.

The Family Research Council (FRC) points out that, as a teacher 20 years ago, Jennings condoned a sexual relationship between a high school student and an older man, a situation he could have handled appropriately with "a basic understanding of right and wrong."

Jennings said in a statement this month that he had handled the situation poorly, but had not been trained to handle it well.

"Teachers back then had little training or guidance about this kind of thing," he said. "I would like to see the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools play a bigger role in helping to prepare teachers."

The organization that Jennings founded — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which works to make schools accepting of different sexual orientations — is also causing concern. According to Focus on the Family Action, the group "turn students into lobbyists for its extreme left causes," and Jennings could enforce similar policies in schools nationwide.

Calls for his resignation are now coming from a broader conservative circle, including Sean Hannity and The Washington Times.

Lawmaking: More on Health Care and Homosexuals

Health care is still high on the priority list for many evangelical groups. Traditional Values Coalition's Andrea Lafferty supported Republican amendments that would "make this socialist bill less threatening to our liberties, our health care options, and our incomes."

In stark contrast, Steve Taylor, writing for Sojourners, called the current health care system "demonic," and called for Christians' repentance for their compliance with it.

"Do we need universal health care today?" he said. "No — we needed it before my parents and tens of thousands of others had lost their homes. We needed universal health care yesterday."

Pro-life organizations also weighed in on abortion and other issues. The National Right to Life Committee expressed concern about an amendment that would penalize doctors who provide expensive services.

The FRC also criticized a move to allow gays in the military, saying the move would reduce the strength of the armed forces, and an American Family Association "action alert" opposes hate crimes legislation, which may be included as part of a Defense Authorization bill.

Supreme Court: A Cross in the Desert

The U.S. Supreme Court resumed Wednesday over a religious liberty case: Should a cross in the Mojave Desert be removed?

Focus on the Family Action and Liberty Counsel took the opportunity to criticize the American Civil Liberties Union as extremists who want to remove all religious symbols from the public square, even symbols in the middle of the desert.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, expressed a different theological concern over defending the cross. Christians should be wary of an argument that the cross is just a symbol to honor soldiers, he said.

"Of all people, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ must be the first to insist that the cross is a symbol of Christian faith," he wrote. "The cross must not be reduced to a generic symbol of death and the memory of loved ones."

The Supreme Court also attracted attention from Americans United for Life (AUL) when it declined to hear a case on whether the State of Illinois had to provide a "Choose Life" license plate. In denying to hear the case, the Court affirmed that the state does not need to provide the plate. AUL said the decision allows the state to continue unfairly restrict its citizens' freedom of speech by not allowing them to obtain a plate with a life-affirming message.

Same-Sex Marriage in Texas and D.C.?

Last week, a Texas judge effectively overturned the state's marriage law, ruling that a gay couple that had married in Massachusetts could file for divorce in Texas.

The judge ruled the the state's marriage statutes and constitution violate the federal constitutional right of equal protection.

Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said that Indiana and Rhode Island have previously refused similar requests, and that a same-sex divorce case is on the docket in Oklahoma.

"The government cannot consider issuing a 'divorce' for a 'marriage' it doesn't recognize," Nimocks said. "This ruling runs contrary to the voice of Texans and the historic purposes behind the state's marriage laws."

Washington, D.C.'s City Council is garnering criticism from the FRC and Concerned Women for America for a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the district. The U.S. Census — which is turning into a "propaganda institute," according to the Beverly LaHaye Institute — reported that there were 150,000 same-sex couples with legal marriage status in 2008.

And finally, the FRC gave a surprising argument against same-sex marriage. Spokesman Peter Spriggs pointed to a recent report that a species of primate (and an ancestor of humans) living 4.4 million years ago displayed the equivalent of opposite-sex coupling. Spriggs concluded that marriage is "a natural institution, whose definition as the union of male and female is rooted in the order of nature itself. And it doesn't take a Bible to prove it. In this case, evolutionary theory points to the exact same conclusion."

Muslims On the Capital Lawn

Evangelical groups used last week's Muslim prayer service at the Capital as a religious freedom object lesson.

BreakPoint pointed out that Muslims "can't pray to Allah on government property in a Muslim country, but they can pray to Allah on government property in a country founded upon Christian principles."

The FRC's Ken Blackwell expressed indirect concerns about Islam.

"We respect the constitutional rights to peaceable assembly and religious free exercise," he said. "But we continue to view with alarm the spread of any ideology that countenances slavery and murder. Let us all pray that we hear strong and convincing condemnations of terrorism coming from this Friday's gathering."

Adopt-a-Liberal and FocusVoter.com

Conservative advocacy groups launched two programs this week.

Liberty Counsel announced Adopt a Liberal, which encourages people to "pray for those in leadership to restore poor leaders to right thinking." Its website lists 14 liberals in politics and the media, with a bonus "unknown liberal" card for visitors to add their own.

Focus on the Family Action announced a new website just in time for Virginia's and New Jersey's statewide elections: FocusVoter.com. The site lists candidates' stances on various issues.

International Focus

Finally, global warfare and global warming have attracted evangelicals' attention on the international front. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's Doug Carlson questioned environmental legislation, saying, "the premise of the bills — that humans are the main culprits for global warming — rests on a flawed interpretation of science."

And in a meeting with White House officials, the National Association of Evangelicals' Director of Government Affairs, Galen Carey, said that the U.S. needs to provide support in Sudan's upcoming elections. He said that without the support of the U.S. and the international community, "Sudan could plunge into another deadly cycle of war, with devastating consequences for the Sudanese people and destabilizing impact throughout the region."

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers:

The Baucus Ruckus | This week the debate over health care reform moved from broad platitudes to specifics on abortion funding and abstinence education. (October 2, 2009)
Two Summits, Countless Agendas | Faith Leaders Summit urges G-8 to focus on poverty while Values Voter Summit targets domestic issues. (September 25, 2009)
Where the Health Care Debate Lies | Introducing our new feature rounding up what evangelical political groups talked about this week. (September 22, 2009)

Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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