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A Deeper Look at the Recent Religious Freedom Cases Brought Before the Supreme Court

Were They True Victories?

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On the surface, it appeared this past week’s SCOTUS ruling on florist Barronelle Stutzman’s refusal to provide floral arrangements for a gay “wedding” was a victory for religious freedom.

But it, like the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision from earlier this month, has its nuances, and may not be the slam dunk for Constitutional religious freedom that Christian small business owners in this nation sorely need after the historic Obergefell v. Hodges case that established same-sex marriage as legal across the land.

Author and commentator Dr. Michael Brown explained these nuances over at Charisma News this week, urging the church to pray that we can eventually get the day in court that we’ve been waiting for.

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First, he says, it is important to note that the Court did not rule in favor of Stutzman, but rather, sent her case back to the Washington court that had originally ruled unanimously against her.

“The Supreme Court could have agreed to hear Stutzman’s case, but it chose not to at this point,” he says. But this isn’t all bad news, as “It could also have refused to hear the case entirely, which would have been a devastating defeat for this Christian grandmother. Thankfully, that did not happen.”

“But what the court did decide is significant. The court sent the case back to Washington, advising the justices there to reconsider their initial decision, which found Stutzman in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws, in light of the Supreme Court’s own decision in Masterpiece Cakes,” he explains.

In the Masterpiece Cake decision, the Court did not actually rule in favor of baker Jack Phillips because of his Constitutional right to refuse to lend his services to a ceremony that violated his deeply held faith, but that the Colorado Human Rights Commission had shown distinct hostility towards said faith.

This was a First Amendment issue, the court said, because he was deprived of a trial that would show no bias towards his faith–the issue as to whether or not a small business owner has a First Amendment right to refuse to provide services to a same-sex wedding, Justice Kennedy, who wrote the decision, said, would have to wait for another day.

So this is the context in which SCOTUS said the Washington Supreme Court would have to reconsider Stutzman’s case. While SCOTUS overturned the Colorado Human Rights Commission’s ruling on Phillip’s case, they instead sent Stutzman’s case back to the lower court, so this is an important distinction to make when considering the outcome, as Brown clarifies:

Can we expect them to change their ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s order? It would be foolish to get too optimistic, given their previous 9-0 decision. Yet it’s clear that the case was returned to them for a reason. And should they rule the same way again, the case will surely be appealed back to the Supreme Court.

Perhaps, if that scenario unfolds, the court will issue a more definitive defense of our First Amendment rights.

But let’s pray even now for justice to prevail. The State of Washington has literally sought to bankrupt this Christian grandmother. Specifically, “Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington … filed discrimination lawsuits” against Stutzman. “In addition to targeting her business, Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., they sued Stutzman personally, ensuring that any assets she might own beyond the flower shop could be taken from her to pay their own legal fees if she lost.”

Are you going to tell me there is no animus against religion in these outrageous actions? It’s high time these hostile sentiments get exposed.

The battle for religious freedom following Oberfield v. Hodges is far from over–but between these recent rulings and the hope of yet another originalist appointed to the court, there’s good reason to hope.

 

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Faith

God’s Incredible Truth About Special Needs Adoption

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Making room in your home, and in your heart, for a child who is not biologically yours is an amazing reflection of God’s grace and adoption of sinners, but it is not without its hardships and struggles.

Adopting a child with special needs can increase the tension in an already difficult process, and so many of these precious children end up without families because of what their care would entail.

When God adopted us into His kingdom, however, he didn’t hesitate for our flaws and imperfections, and the adoptive family who mirrors this finds such an immense reward.

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In a heartwarming piece for Relevant Magazine, author Scarlet Hiltibidal shares her amazing experience with adopting a little girl from China with special needs and the lessons God taught her through it all.

Ya Zhu was almost four, but she couldn’t walk and wasn’t potty trained. There were concerns about her cognitive development.

Many doctors and specialists said we ought to proceed with ‘great hesitation.’ One told us not to move forward at all. They all agreed there must be something else very wrong with Ya Zhu because her delays were so significant.

But my husband and I managed to stay mostly peaceful. We didn’t know if Ya Zhu would heal and recover. We didn’t know how hard things would be. We didn’t know if she’d be a joyful child, but we decided to rename her ‘Joy.’ We hoped and prayed adopting her would give her hope and a future.

While embarking on the journey of adoption and knowing full well you are in for a challenge can surely cause a healthy degree of apprehension, Hiltibidal says she and her husband, by God’s grace, were able to proceed without an ounce of fear in their hearts.

God was leading us to Joy, and He was with us. He had come through in so many ways: checks from strangers to cover adoption fees at exactly the right time, comforting words from the Bible, people who moved our anxious hearts toward rest, doors opening and closing and freelance jobs falling out of the sky exactly as our adoption agency was asking for another payment. God was with us. He kept proving He was in the process and supporting it and leading it. We weren’t afraid.

In a moment of raw, authentic honesty, Hiltibidal reveals that it wasn’t until she actually met her new daughter that fear crept in.

We were convinced Joy would never walk, never learn, never leave diapers. I wondered if our family would ever laugh again. If we’d ever have an easy Saturday at the park. I wondered how much wheelchairs cost and what my other children would miss out on because of this decision we’d made.

But right there, in the middle of the scariest moment of the entire process, God reached down and touched Hiltibidal’s heart to remind her of one of His deepest truths.

He reminded me that I was, and so often still am, a child with special needs who doesn’t know how to rest in the love of her adoptive Parent. He reminded me that I am the little girl with broken ears and broken eyes and my hands clenched around everything I can grab, and yet He walked into this broken world so He could adopt me into His family.

Hiltibidal draws us back to Romans 8:15, which says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Emboldened to follow the clear path God had set before her, no matter the challenges, Hiltibidal began to see His faithfulness and power in their new lives with Joy.

Joy is five now. She’s more than doubled in size since her adoption, is fluent in sign language and actually advanced in communication according to an evaluation from her school. With a hearing aid, she can hear and understand English, and after a year of physical therapy, her therapist suggested we discontinue her services because Joy no longer needs the extra help.

Life with Joy has become such an amazing blessing for her family. Not only does she enrich their lives with all the love, hugs, and learning experiences a child comes with, her special needs point the Hiltibidals to the Gospel on a daily basis.

In my life, God has used the world of special needs to make me stop depending on my life plans and my strength. Instead, He’s offered me His plan and His strength. When Joy’s special needs caused her to depend on me, I had no choice but to take my weakness to God.

I’m not strong. I’m not powerful. I’m not ‘normal.’ I’m as dependent as my special needs daughter. We are all dependent on the power of God for our next breath. Resting in that reality is what can give you and me the ability to look around and reach out and meet the needs of others, the way God reached down from Heaven to meet ours.

God has this wonderful way of structuring our lives such that we endure challenges designed specifically to draw us closer to Him and to teach us to be like Him. When those challenges involve our children, what a wonderful insight we gain into the heart of our Father in Heaven.

 

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Faith

All It Took Was $6, A Thunderstorm, And A “God Thing” To Launch This Country Star’s Career

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Did you know that every single detail in your life is a thread in an intricate tapestry woven together by the Master? Where you’re born, the friends you’ll make, who you’ll marry, the jobs you land, the ministries you serve, that’s all God’s beautiful orchestration.  

He has a perfect will, and try as we might, we’re his creatures and we can’t rush Him or outrun Him. It’s not our time to shine until God says so.

That’s the incredible lesson fledgling country star Russell Dickerson had to learn the hard way.

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Dickerson, a Belmont University grad, had tried to make waves in the country music scene for years. He’d landed a record deal way back in 2010, but it had “definitely been a slow journey,” he shared with Fox News, describing the trials he went through trying to “get big” before it was truly his time.

“We had no money, no budget, no nothing and we had been turned down, turned down, turned down,” the singer recalled.

“The biggest first step was our music video [that] my wife shot,” Dickerson said, retelling the frustrated moments that led up to his big break.

Dickerson and his wife, Kailey, finally had enough and decided to try their hand at recording a music video: “We’re like, alright, we’re going to do this on our own.”

“So we shot this music video for ‘Yours’ and if you watch it on YouTube,” the singer explains, “it’s just me walking down a road and my wife is in my SUV just shooting out of the back and it just starts raining and there’s lightning everywhere.”

What might of seemed like the end result of years of failure and frustration to the Dickersons was really just God’s perfect timing, all the way down to the thunderstorm that gave the video such an exciting vibe.

“It was this God moment, totally,” he said.

God wasn’t done with the Dickersons yet, though. Not long after the video, which cost just six dollars to film (possibly the gas for the SUV?), an industry exec reached out to Dickerson and the following events just “snowballed into this perfect storm” that finally gave his career wings.

Ultimately, Dickerson says, if God gave him this dream, God was going to be the one to make it a reality.

“I feel like God’s given me this dream of being on stage and writing a song, even of getting a tour bus…All of these dreams he put into my mind and into my heart are finally coming to fruition.”

The good, the bad, the frustrating, the hopeless, the glorious, every part of our lives is in God’s hands, and we don’t believe in a God who can fail. The next time you find yourself, like Dickerson, struggling against the waves, stop, turn to God, and watch His perfect timing unfold.

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