Blue Flower

AUSTRALIAN PRAYER NETWORK NEWSLETTER

This is an abridged edition prepared by editorial staff before departing on an overseas prayer assignment.

PRESIDENT TRUMP AXES ONE OF OBAMA'S MOST HATED EXECUTIVE ORDERS

Without President Donald Trump even lifting his pen, his administration has already followed through on White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's earlier assurances  that the Trump administration would roll back President Barack Obama's "transgender mandate" to schools. The departments of Education and Justice issued a new two-page guidance letter stating that the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX that defines "sex" to include gender identity and thus forcing them to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice did not "undergo any formal public process" prior to its release. In part, it states: This interpretation has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that the term "sex" in the regulations is ambiguous and deferred to what the court characterized as the "novel" interpretation advanced in the guidance. By contrast, a federal district court in Texas held that the term "sex" unambiguously refers to biological sex and that, in any event, the guidance was "legislative and substantive" and thus formal rule-making should have occurred prior to the adoption of any such policy. In August of 2016, the Texas court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the interpretation, and that nationwide injunction has not been overturned. In addition, the departments believe that, in this context, there must be due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.


In these circumstances, the Departments of Education and of Justice have decided to withdraw and rescind the above-referenced guidance documents in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved. The departments thus will not rely on the views expressed within them. Please note that this withdrawal of these guidance documents does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment. All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment. The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights will continue its duty under law to hear all claims of discrimination and will explore every appropriate opportunity to protect all students and to encourage civility in our classrooms.


The Departments of Education and Justice are committed to the application of Title IX to ensure such protection. This guidance does not add requirements to applicable law. That language was in keeping with what Spicer said was the president's position on the matter: that states and local school districts should decide what is in the best interests of their communities. Last May, the Obama-led Education and Justice departments sent their own directive informing schools that they must allow students who "identify as transgender" to use facilities that align with their gender identity, not their biological sex. It also required school districts to include gender identity as a protected class in all sexual discrimination matters, which resulted in biological boys competing against biological girls in interscholastic athletics.


Obama then threatened schools, districts, colleges and universities with the loss of federal funds if they didn't comply with his administration's guidance. Nearly half of all states joined the lawsuit, claiming federal overreach, and the matter became one of several rallying cries for Republicans in the 2016 election. After the letter was released, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the following statement: The Department of Justice has a duty to enforce the law. The prior guidance documents did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice therefore have withdrawn the guidance.

 

Congress, state legislatures and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue. The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination and bullying.   Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos added: "We have a responsibility to protect all students in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the department's Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.

 

De Vos went on "The guidance issued by the previous administration has given rise to several legal questions. As a result, a federal court in August 2016 issued a nationwide injunction barring the department from enforcing a portion of its application. Since then, the department has not enforced that part of the guidance, thus there is no immediate impact to students by rescinding this guidance. This issue is best solved at the state and local level. Schools can, and in many cases have found, solutions that protect all students. As secretary of education, I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, a key priority for every school in America. We owe all students a commitment to ensure they have access to a learning environment that is free of discrimination, bullying and harassment.

 

Source: Charisma News

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ISLAMIC STATE THREATENS TO WIPE OUT EGYPT'S COPTS

The Islamic State has released a propaganda video, vowing to and wipe out Egypt's Coptic Christians and "liberate Cairo". The video also purports to show the last statement of the suicide bomber responsible for the 11 December attack on a church in Cairo, which killed at least 28 people, mostly women and children. The man is identified as "Abu Abdallah al-Masri", thought to be the nom de guerre of 22-year-old student Mahmoud Shafik, whom President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had already identified as the culprit. "To my brothers in captivity: rejoice, you believers, do not falter or grieve. I swear to God we will very soon liberate Cairo and free you from captivity. We will come bearing explosives, I swear we will, so rejoice you believers," the man says in the video.

 

Egyptian police have arrested 4 people in the wake of the bombing that killed dozens of Christians at Cairo's Coptic cathedral last month, the Interior Ministry said. The death toll from the bombing at a chapel next to St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo has risen to 28, the Health Ministry added. President Sisi said following the attack that the perpetrator was a man named Mahmoud Shafik, who had worn a suicide vest, and that security forces were seeking two more people in conjunction with the attack. The Interior Ministry said it had arrested one of the two, as well as three others who were part of the same cell. It added that one man was still on the run. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the Egyptian Government has sought to link the attack to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. 


The Brotherhood has condemned the attack and accused Sisi's administration of failing to protect the Church, Reuters reported. President Sisi, who attended funerals at the cathedral for the victims, attended Christmas Eve Mass in the Coptic Cathedral for the third year. He reiterated his promise to rebuild all churches destroyed or damaged in the violence of August 2013. He also pledged 100,000 Egyptian pounds (5,400 US dollars) towards construction of what will become the largest church (built at the same time as the largest new mosque) in a new political and administrative area planned for the edge of Cairo. He said the church is due to be inaugurated in 2018. 


Eyewitnesses have described the moment a bomb went off in their Cairo church, killing more than 20 women and children, and injuring at least 50 others. The death toll from the attack at St Peter and St Paul Coptic Orthodox church rose to 26 this week after ten-year-old Maggy Moemen died of the injuries she sustained in the incident nine days earlier. One Coptic man died, as well as the suicide bomber, who is believed to have worn a suicide vest. Some 14 people remain in a critical condition. Relatives of those who died, who witnessed the explosion, spoke of terrifying and chaotic scenes as a wall of the church collapsed on worshippers, and of desperate efforts to find loved ones amid the rubble and shattered pews.

 

The bomb went off on the side of the church where women and children sat, separately from the men. The Coptic man who died, Nabil Habib, was a guard at the church.  The 8.30am Mass, during which the bomb was exploded, was unusually well attended because that day was a public holiday. That meant fewer people needed to attend the 6am Mass before going off to work. The bomb reportedly went off as the priest was saying the prayer of the Consecration of the Elements. Zarif Habib, said his brother Nabil, the church guard who was killed, had seen a strange man entering the building during the Mass, but did not manage to catch up with him before the explosion. Shortly before he died, Nabil told another guard, Saber Milad, that he believed the man had brought in the bomb.


President Fatah al-Sisi at the state funeral the following day named the bomber as Shafik Mahmoud Mohamed Mostafa, 22, but some Egyptians expressed doubt and some eyewitnesses believed the bomb had been placed by a woman. Emad Thabet, a deacon at the church, said that a man had approached him as he left the church at about 11pm the night before the attack, after some other church members and the priest had finished the night prayer. The man, who was carrying a black case, said he was Muslim but wanted to find out more about Christianity. He asked if he could enter the church and talk to a priest, and the group advised him to return the following day at 10am. "We recognised this person when we saw his photo on the news after al-Sisi named the suicide bomber," Thabet said.

 

Source: World Watch Monitor

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AMERICAN'S WARM UP TO EVERY RELIGIOUS GROUP EXCEPT EVANGELICALS

Evangelicals are the only religious group in the United States that has not developed a better reputation over the past few years. While feelings toward evangelicals have remained stable (even among Democrats), Americans gave warmer responses to every other faith group this year than they did in 2014, according to findings recently released. Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, and Mormons all improved their standings, with the two lowest-rated affiliations, atheists and Muslims, seeing some of the largest gains. The survey of more than 4,200 adults found that even without any increase, evangelicalism remains one of the most-liked faith tradition in the country, behind Jews, Catholics, and mainline Protestants. However, the movement's popularity is largely due to positive ratings from evangelicals themselves.

 

Overall, 44 percent of Americans feel positively about evangelicals, while 38 percent feel neutral and 18 percent feel negatively. The ratings fall when responses from fellow evangelicals, who made up more than 1 in 4 of respondents, are removed: Just under a third of non-evangelicals (32%) have warm feelings towards the group. Part of the reason for evangelicals' middling ratings is lack of exposure. The proportion of Americans who say they know an evangelical dropped by 9 percentage points from 2014 to 2017, down to 61 percent today. (A 2013 study hinted at the lack of exposure: 1 in 5 non-evangelicals in North America said they did not personally know an evangelical.) Meanwhile, knowing an evangelical increases their rating by 12 degrees on Pew's feeling thermometer.

 

Though a majority of Americans still know at least one evangelical, the group experienced the most significant decline in familiarity. Among non-evangelicals, millennials (45%) and African Americans (33%) were least likely to know someone who identifies as evangelical. One factor behind the drop-off may be a growing reluctance to use the label over the baggage it carries, especially for those outside the church. A Pastors survey conducted late last year found that pastors were more likely to call themselves evangelical around other Christians (70%) than non-Christians (52%). "I still employ the term evangelical within academic circles, but I avoid the term elsewhere," one Evangelical Free Church pastor admitted.

 

Following the election, Calvin College political science professor Kevin den Dulk speculated that due to the association between Republicans, Trump, and evangelicals, evangelicals who supported Hillary Clinton may have become less likely to self-identify that way following the election. At various points in the campaign and election, Christian leaders challenged the usefulness of the label, and defended it. When broken down by political party, both Republicans' and Democrats' ratings for evangelicals were unchanged, Pew reported. However, evangelicals were the highest-rated religious group among Republicans, but the second-lowest among Democrats, who now like atheists and Muslims more than evangelicals. Mormons came in last.

 

The only groups to rate evangelicals positively were white evangelicals, Protestants overall, and black Protestants; both of the latter categories include a significant proportion of self-identified evangelicals. By comparison, the majority of Americans from most religious affiliations rated Jews positively. Pew counted a positive rating as the warmest third (67 degrees or higher) of the feeling thermometer. Evangelicals received the most critical ratings from atheists, and vice versa. They are the only two traditions to have "chilly" feelings toward one another. (Pew counted a negative rating as 33 degrees or lower on the feeling thermometer). However, Pew noted that evangelicals have "warmed up slightly" to atheists, rating them at 33 degrees in 2017 versus 25 degrees in 2014.

 

Evangelicals earned the most favourable ratings from Americans ages 50­ to 64 and 65 and over. The older groups also gave the worst ratings to atheists and Muslims. Meanwhile, millennials now feel equally toward atheists and Muslims as toward evangelicals, with Mormons trailing behind. Previous ratings have prompted a range of responses; some may look at the same report and champion evangelicals' popularity while others lament society's negative views, as sociologist Brad Wright wrote in 2011. His conclusion:  Ultimately, evangelical Christians might do well not to spend too much time worrying about what others think of us. Christians in general, and evangelical Christians in particular are well regarded in this country. If nothing else, there's little we can do to change other people's opinions anyway.

Source: Pew Research Centre

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