Justice Department sides with Christian cake maker

A Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding got a major supporter as his case headed to the US Supreme Court this fall: the Trump administration. The Justice Department backed Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, arguing in an amicus brief that governments “may not . . . truncate the First Amendment by compelling a person to create a piece of artwork—particularly one that violates the artist’s conscience.” The case is the highest-profile clash between religious convictions and LGBT protections since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, and will likely impact bakers, photographers, and florists who have challenged anti-LGBT discrimination laws with little success.

Bahrain: Muslim country calls religious freedom a “divine gift”

Saudi Arabia’s tiny neighbor has publicly declared that “freedom of choice” is a “divine gift” and that “every individual has the freedom to practice their religion.” The statement by Bahrain—which was witnessed by leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel—“goes way farther than any similar document that I’m aware of,” said National Association of Evangelicals board member Johnnie Moore, who observed its signing. That’s partly because it was signed by a head of state, unlike two preceding statements from Morocco and Indonesia affirming religious freedom, which were signed by Muslim scholars. Bahrain’s declaration—which also condemns preaching hatred, suicide bombing, sexual slavery, and the abuse of women and children—will be drafted into law in December.

Southern Baptists call for Confederate statue removal

In the wake of clashes in Charlottesville over whether or not a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee should be removed, about a dozen Southern Baptist pastors—including convention president Steve Gaines—joined 150 Memphis-area clergy calling for the relocation of a local statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader. Meanwhile, Lee’s former church voted to change its name from R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church to Grace Episcopal Church. Sixty percent of evangelicals polled after Charlottesville by Morning Consult/Politico said that Confederate statues should remain standing (vs. 52% of all Americans); 21 percent said such statues should be taken down (vs. 26% of all Americans).

Louis Farrakhan didn’t really repent

In a Facebook video viewed by more than 1.8 million people, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan sounded Christian. “I know, I’m not guessing, that my Jesus is alive,” the 84-year-old said. “So I say to the devil, I know I gotta pay a price for what I’ve been teaching all these years.” More than 4,000 people commented, many excited about his apparent conversion. But that isn’t what happened, experts told CT. Farrakhan wasn’t talking about the biblical Jesus, but about his mentor Elijah Mohammad, whom Farrakhan declared was the new savior sent from Allah. And that price he’s paying isn’t conviction for wrong teaching, but persecution for what he believes is right teaching, said Damon Richardson, a pastor who was raised in the Nation of Islam before converting to Christianity. Experts said Farrakhan’s confusing use of language is purposeful, meant as a tactic to attract Christians.

Churches no longer face overtime increase

Just before Labor Day, a federal judge struck down a US Department of Labor mandate that full-time, salaried workers—including church and parachurch staff—who earn up to $47,476 annually must be paid time-and-a-half for any overtime they work. The department is allowed to have a salary-level test, but the judge decided that this one focused too little on the job duties and too much on the amount paid. The previous limit was $23,660. Labor secretary Alexander Acosta said the adjustment for inflation would leave the number “somewhere around $33,000” and promised to look into it “very closely.”

Churches challenge FEMA on flood aid

When three churches near Houston sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over denying their applications, President Donald Trump took their side. “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others),” he tweeted. It’s the agency’s practice to withhold grants from churches that have been damaged—it did the same after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. But a recent ruling from the US Supreme Court stating that a church couldn’t be denied a playground safety grant “solely because it is a church” raised hopes for a favorable ruling.

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