Praying Football Coach Wins at Supreme Court

Conservative majority says Washington school was wrong to worry about “excessive entanglement” between church and state.

Update (June 27): The US Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 on Monday that a high school coach’s post-game prayers on a football field were in-bounds.

Joseph Kennedy’s prayers are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech and free exercise of religion, the court decided. The coach didn’t coerce any Bremerton, Washington, high school players into praying, so the school district was wrong to try to stop him from practicing his Christian faith.

“The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the conservative majority, citing a 1992 precedent. “Learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society,’ a trait of character essential to ‘a tolerant citizenry.’”

According to Gorsuch, the ruling would have been different if Kennedy had forced students to join him or said his prayers as part of his official coaching responsibilities. But state employees don’t lose the right to say private prayers of thanksgiving just because they work for a public school.

“Mr. Kennedy prayed during a period when school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters,” Gorsuch wrote. “He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a sharp dissent, joined by justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Despite the characterization in the majority opinion, Kennedy’s prayers weren’t actually brief, quiet, or private, she said.

The dissent included three photos of Kennedy surrounded by praying ...

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Meet the Pioneering Radio Preachers Who Revolutionized Religious Broadcasting

How Fulton J. Sheen and Walter A. Maier unlocked the evangelistic power of the airwaves.

In the 1930s and 1940s, two of the most widely heard preachers in America were also two of the most unlikely candidates for such fame. Fulton Sheen and Walter Maier were both sons of immigrants, both seminary professors specializing in ancient languages, and both from historically oppressed religious traditions. But through the power of radio—which was then a novel mass medium—they reached millions of listeners and ultimately reshaped the trajectory of conservative religion in America.

Their story is told in Kirk Farney’s compulsively readable dual biography, Ministers of a New Medium: Broadcasting Theology in the Radio Ministries of Fulton J. Sheen and Walter A. Maier. Maier, born to German immigrants, showed early academic promise and attended Concordia Seminary (the flagship seminary of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) before completing a PhD at Harvard Divinity School. Being part of a still largely German-speaking Lutheran church was an obstacle given public suspicion towards German-American immigrants during and after World War I. Maier, seeking to establish his patriotic bona fides and to “register his disapproval of the Prussian military clique,” joined the US Army as a chaplain. Yet he promptly pushed the limits of official toleration by ministering to German prisoners of war.

After the war, Maier joined the faculty at Concordia Seminary, where in 1924 he convinced the school to apply for a radio license, financing station KFUO with money fundraised from faculty, students, and alumni. Maier’s early adoption of radio as a means of outreach quickly paid off. Within a few years, his show, The Lutheran Hour, aired on stations nationwide, first on the CBS network and then on ...

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Court Dismisses Suit Against Platt’s McLean Bible Church

While the DC-area congregation celebrates getting to move forward, critics continue to accuse leadership of a liberal takeover.

The year-long legal fight between McLean Bible Church and a faction who accused leaders including David Platt of a “theological takeover” has come to an end.

On Friday, a Fairfax, Virginia, court dismissed a lawsuit from a group of current and former members of the Washington DC-area megachurch, who contested a June 2021 elder election for allegedly violating church bylaws. Pastors announced the outcome across its locations on Sunday.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the courage of our church in staying together and persevering, in pursuing peace in ways that required numerous steps of faith, and for trusting God all the way through to the actual dismissal of the lawsuit,” said Wade Burnett, a lead pastor at MBC.

Earlier this month, the church requested the case be thrown out after redoing the election at the center of the legal challenge. Burnett said the group that filed the suit would not agree to meet for reconciliation or to discuss a dismissal.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs had said MBC’s response “fails to be even a pretense of a good-faith offer to resolve the case” and called it “a continuation of the Board of Elders’ determination to avoid transparency and accountability at all costs.”

Members of Save McLean Bible Church, a Facebook page for critics of current MBC leadership, have alleged a Southern Baptist takeover of the 60-year-old nondenominational congregation and liberal drift in its teachings, pinned to Platt coming on staff in 2017.

They suggested the process for last summer’s elder election—as well as the recent redo—were designed to uphold selections aligned with current leadership. “To no surprise to anyone, the elders put ...

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Goodbye Roe v. Wade: Pro-Life Evangelicals Celebrate the Ruling They’ve Waited For

Supreme Court: The landmark abortion-rights case was “egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided.”

Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that mobilized generations of pro-life activists and shaped evangelicals’ political engagement for half a century—has been overturned.

Millions have marched, protested, lobbied, and prayed for the end of the landmark abortion rights ruling. After 49 years, and more than 63 million abortions, the time has come.

Christian leaders called the ruling “once unthinkable” and marked today as “the day we have all been waiting for” and “one of the most important days in American history.”

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overturned,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision was 6 to 3, with Chief Justice John Roberts concurring with the majority. The opinion of the court closely resembled an Alito draft leaked last month.

The decision is the result of a trio of conservative justices appointed during Donald Trump’s presidency: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Evangelicals have been the religious group most opposed to abortion and most eager to see Roe overturned. While abortion was never evangelicals’ only issue, in the voting booth it often outweighed all other concerns. Some supported Trump despite moral misgivings in hopes he would deliver on his promise to appoint justices that would finally overturn Roe and the subsequent Supreme Court decision that affirmed abortion rights, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The political calculation appears to have paid off. The three new justices joined Alito and Clarence Thomas ...

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Presbyterian Church in America Leaves National Association of Evangelicals

The PCA has been connected with the NAE since the denomination's founding, but has always fought about it.

At its annual meeting on Wednesday, the Presbyterian Church in America voted to leave the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which it has been connected with since the denomination’s founding in 1973.

Presbyterian elders voting for the breakup cited the NAE’s increasing political advocacy, which sometimes conflicted with more conservative Presbyterian churches. Elders mentioned the NAE’s advocacy on climate change, immigration, the death penalty, and COVID-19, among other issues.

Elders who wanted to remain with the NAE argued the groups had a historical bond and that in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity, churches across denominations needed to work together on issues of common cause. The vote to leave was about 60 percent to 40 percent.

The NAE represents 39 denominations, from Free Methodist USA to the Foursquare Church, as well as nonprofits, schools, and individual congregations. It was founded in 1942 as a response to the mainline National Council of Churches and the fundamentalist Presbyterian Carl McIntire’s American Council of Christian Churches. In representing evangelicals in various spheres, it issues statements on political issues, files Supreme Court briefs on church-related cases, and generally connects evangelical groups to work together.

The head of the NAE since 2020, Walter Kim, is a member of the PCA and a teacher-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. (He is also on CT’s board.)

“It is a little awkward,” said David Coffin, a PCA pastor who supported the measure to leave, about Kim leading the NAE. An NAE spokesperson said the group does not comment on denominational decisions.

Roy Taylor, ...

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Report Backs Abuse Allegations Against Chris Rice

The singer allegedly groomed students at a Kentucky church through back rubs and unaccompanied sleepovers, according to an investigation by GRACE.

Three men reported that Christian musician Chris Rice took advantage of a youth ministry culture that normalized massages and sleepovers to groom them as teenagers more than 20 years ago.

An investigation by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) found their stories credible, including an account of “explicitly sexual contact.” The GRACE report, made public this week, focused on Rice’s involvement at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Kentucky during the height of his music career in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Rice’s role as a worship leader and a spiritual teaching leader at one or more retreats created a mentor, non-threatening role that reduces the defenses of those under that person’s authority,” the investigators wrote.

Young men looking for a mentor in the music industry say they found the singer was more interested in touching them than talking about songwriting.

Rice first landed on the CCM scene with the Christmas song “Welcome to Our World” and was nominated for six Dove awards for his 1997 debut album Deep Enough to Dream. He was close friends with Brad Waller, a former Tates Creek pastor who was the subject of a 2018–2019 investigation by GRACE.

Waller had a habit of massaging students’ feet and admitted there was a sexual element to his behavior. In a statement in 2020, the church said the singer’s friendship with Waller allowed Rice to develop close relationships with several students at Tates Creek. The Waller investigation led a former student to come forward with allegations against Rice, and the church launched another inquiry.

The former student described how Rice—who was in his late 30s at the time—would ...

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These Pastors Fell into Sin. Pro-Life Laws Emerged from It.

Three 19th-century scandals led to the protection of women and their unborn children.

This article is the first of a four-part series based on the upcoming book by Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas, The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652–2022.

Pastors falling into sordid sin and trying to cover it up. That’s a recent news story and a 19th-century one as well. Americans then expected pastors to be trustworthy. When they were not, and even used abortion as a cover-up, newspaper readers groaned and said, “There oughta be a law”—and soon there were. Three clergy-propelled abortions in particular stand out for their legal impact.

The first saga, in 1820, starred Ammi Rogers, a middle-aged Yale graduate and Episcopal clergyman in Connecticut. He seduced Asenath Smith, the 21-year-old granddaughter of a dying church member, and then had her drink a potion that would purportedly cause an abortion—but it did not. The next step was his use of a “tool” of some kind, which caused bleeding, intense pain, and then delivery of a dead child. That led to Rogers’s arrest and a trial that displayed, according to The Norwich Courier, the clergyman’s “baseness and cold calculating depravity of heart.”

In those days, jury members often proceeded by “common law,” not a specific statute. Everyone knew abortion was wrong, and books by doctors had noticed and attacked the growing threat as more young people moved to cities away from familial supervision. One doctor, John Bums, criticized those who viewed “abortion as different than murder,” and another, Dr. John Beck, those who “stifle the birth in the womb.”

Jurors, though, did not have clear evidence for a verdict of murder, which was a hanging offense, so they ...

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Can the Church Still Enact Justice When a Pastor Sues His Accusers?

The PCA takes up the case of a church leader who responded to sexual harassment claims with a defamation lawsuit against his accusers.

As the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) discusses its response to abuse at its annual General Assembly this week, a case involving a pastor suing former congregants over allegations against him is making its way through civil court and the denomination’s own system.

Dan Herron, a PCA pastor—or teaching elder—accused of sexual harassment, says the women making claims against him are lying and has sued them for defamation. Several presbyteries have passed measures requesting the PCA intervene.

“For an accused teaching elder to sue his accusers in a civil court—it is ugly,” said Steve Marusich, a pastor in the Central Indiana Presbytery who has been closely involved in the presbytery’s investigation.

The country got a glimpse of defamation cases around abuse allegations with the recent Johnny Depp–Amber Heard trial, where the actor accused his former spouse of defamation over an op-ed that implied he had abused her.

After the ruling awarding Depp $10 million in damages, some legal experts worried that more abusers would use defamation as a strategy to silence victims. The threat of such lawsuits could discourage victims from coming forward.

While church disputes don’t usually turn into legal fights, Herron is among several pastors and ministry leaders who have filed defamation suits in recent years. These kinds of cases are costly and often drag out for years, grinding down victims and denominations trying to separately enforce church discipline. Civil proceedings during a church trial mean that witnesses in the church trial might be afraid of testifying for fear of being sued, or of other consequences in the civil trial. Civil cases also require extensive evidence gathering ...

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Why I’m Raising My Kid In the Front Pew

The greatest gift my parents passed on was a lived-out faith. I want to do the same for my daughter.

Before our daughter, Hildegaard, was born, my husband and I discussed the weight of raising a pastor’s kid.

We wrestled with the fact that kids who grow up in ministry are often placed under extra scrutiny—and many end up bitter with the church, walking away from the Christian faith altogether.

I am a pastor’s kid myself. I know firsthand the privilege it is to be steeped in the truth of the gospel and the rhythms of church life.

But I also know the constant, albeit unintended, pressure to look right even when you’re not all right—to feign righteousness instead of being honest about your struggles and flaws. In the background, there was always that verse in 1 Timothy, the one about pastors being able to manage their families. My siblings and I knew that our actions could cost my dad his job.

Hilde will inevitably have similar experiences to untangle from growing up in the front row at church.

But one thing missing from the current conversation about the need to deconstruct and sort out our church baggage is the good of an evangelical upbringing—the good of being raised in the church, the privilege of having Christian parents, and the beauty of knowing the gospel before we could walk.

A few months back, I asked my Christian Twitter followers to share which aspects of their faith they want to repeat with their children. I received over a hundred replies, and many admitted that—although their own relationship with the church may currently be tenuous—they knew they wanted their children to experience Christian community, to have a grasp of Scripture, and to be able to talk honestly about grief, faith, and doubt.

What I noticed in their responses was that many ...

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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.


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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