Presbyterians Form a New Denomination, Court Upholds Ultrasound Law, and More
Presbyterians form new denomination
Conservative Presbyterians launched a new denomination in January, though most don't plan to leave their current one. In response to the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s decision to ordain noncelibate gays and lesbians, dissenting congregations can exclusively join the new Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO), but they can also affiliate with it while remaining in the PC(USA). A poll of the 2,100 representatives from 900 congregations who attended the ECO's founding conference in Florida indicated most churches would not leave the PC(USA). But the New Wineskins Association of Churches, which broke from the PC(UCA) in 2007, said it would "conclude its ministry" and merge with the ECO.
Contraception fight no longer just for Catholics
Evangelicals joined Roman Catholics in challenging a government mandate that employers' insurance plans cover contraceptives and some abortifacients. In December, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities sent a letter to the White House, voicing concerns that none of its members would "fall within the regulation's extremely anemic religious exemption." A group of high-profile evangelical leaders also sent a letter written "in solidarity, but separately" from Catholics to protest the requirement. Additionally, Colorado Christian University filed a federal lawsuit against the mandate. In January, the Obama administration granted a one-year delay for religious employers to comply with the mandate, but did not broaden its religious exemption.
Court: Ultrasound before abortions
A pro-life law now has another lease on life. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound, have the patient listen to the fetal heartbeat, and give a detailed description of the fetus. Under the law, a woman cannot decline hearing the description except in cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormality. The January ruling by a three-judge panel overturned a lower court decision that said the law was unconstitutional because it forced doctors to be the "mouthpiece" of the state's ideological agenda. Proponents argue the law ensures women are fully informed before deciding to abort. The Center for Reproductive Rights said it would appeal for a rehearing by the entire Fifth Circuit.
Christianity becomes a foreign religion
SUDAN Sudanese Christians face more government pressure than ever following last year's secession by South Sudan. In January, the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments sent a letter warning it would arrest church leaders for engaging in evangelistic activities or failing to register their contact information. Within weeks, police arrested and beat a Khartoum evangelist, apparently for using his church as his home. Another church leader was arrested when he complained that authorities seized his church's property and gave it to a Muslim businessman. Religious leaders within Sudan have said Christianity is now culturally and officially considered a foreign religion in the north.
Judge: Is Lord's Prayer really Christian?
A Delaware county council has a novel defense for why it recites the Lord's Prayer before meetings: The prayer is generic because Jesus was a Jew. The district judge overseeing the lawsuit against Sussex County questioned whether the prayer was specifically Christian because it makes "no reference to Jesus or Allah."
Additionally, in January the United States Supreme Court refused to consider two other cases involving public prayer. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that a North Carolina county commission's prayer policy is neutral on its face but unconstitutional in practice, as the majority of prayers referenced Jesus and no non-Christians offered any. And the Third Circuit had ruled that a Delaware school board's opening prayers were unconstitutional because students were often present, making the meetings analogous to public graduation ceremonies. The Supreme Court's denial means the current decisions stand.