Archive for September, 2011

Bless you.” For uttering those words, a student at William C. Wood High School in Vacaville, Calif. was punished this week by a teacher who claimed that the student disrupted his classroom.

“It’s not … got anything to do with religion,” Wood High health teacher Steve Cuckovich told KTXL News in Sacramento. “It’s got to do with an interruption of class time.”

Rather than issue the student a warning for his alleged offense, Cuckovich decided to take 25 points off the student’s grade, the better to deter other students from mouthing “bless you” or other religious phrases that offend the teacher’s sensibility.

“The blessing really doesn’t make sense anymore,” Cuckovich explained. “When you sneezed in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body. So they were saying, ‘God bless you,’ for getting rid of evil spirits. But today, what you’re doing really doesn’t make sense.”

Parents of Woods High students disagree with the school’s health teacher. They say that what doesn’t make sense is that he would go to the extreme length of punishing a student for such innocent words.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” said parent Alan Johnson. “First, the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, preventing a kid from saying ‘bless you?’”


Wood High Principal Cliff McGraw agreed that Cuckovich went overboard in his punishment. “He realizes he there’s better ways to do that,” McGraw said. “We don’t condone that kind of punishment.”

That doesn’t mean that the health teacher will now allow students to speak the words “bless you” in his classroom. He just will find a less Draconian way to punish perpetrators, he said.

The controversy in Vacaville is just the latest example of what many in California’s evangelical community perceive as growing anti-Christian, anti-religion bigotry in the state’s public schools.

Just this month, in fact, a 3-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with school officials in Poway, Calif. who ordered high school math teacher Brad Johnson to remove two patriot banners he has displayed in his classroom for 25 years, which proclaim “In God We Trust,” “God Bless America,” and “God Shed His Grace On Thee.”

Back in March, a 16-year-old high school student in El Cajon, Calif. sued the local school district after being suspended two days last year for bringing his bible to school and sharing his faith with interested classmates

When Christ Cathedral Church in Columbus, Ohio had an atheist billboard removed from its property back in June, it thought it had heard the last from the billboard’s sponsor, the so-called Freedom From Religion Foundation.

But the atheist organization, based in Madison, Wisc., found another way to attack the church. It sicked the Franklin County, Ohio Auditor’s Office on Christ Cathedral, claiming that the church was required to pay property taxes on the land on which the billboard stood, because it was used for commercial purposes.

Although it would seem that the out-of-state organization would have no legal standing to bring a tax claim against the Ohio church, Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo sided with the atheists.

So Christ Cathedral Church now finds itself liable for roughly $20,000 in commercial property taxes, as FFRF gloats on its website. On its Facebook page, the church informed its congregation it had been targeted by “Satan and his imps.”

FFRF denies that the property owned by Christ Cathedral was specifically chosen as one of seven locations for a billboard campaign promoting atheism (notwithstanding that FFRF had its choice of well more than 100 billboards in Columbus leased by Clear Channel Outdoor).

The billboard featured the smiling image of a local college student proclaiming the atheist message: “I can be good without God.” It seemed more than coincidental to some that the pictured atheist student was black, just like Christ Cathedral’s pastor.


That suggested to some that FFRF is taking its crusade against religion – which heretofore has concentrated on the white evangelical community – to the black church.

Whether that is the case or not did not matter to the Rev. Waymon Malone, Christ Cathedral’s pastor. He simply ordered the offending billboard removed from church property. Clean Channel Outdoor complied within a matter of days, reposting the billboard at another location.

Meanwhile, the account executive who worked with FFRF to find locations for the atheist organization’s billboard says he had no idea that one of those selected was on church property.

It was “an unfortunate oversight” by Clear Channel, said Jay Schmidt, account executive for Matrix Media Services, who handled the atheist organization’s billboard buy.

FFRF insists that it, rather than Christ Cathedral Church, is the wronged party in the billboard controversy.

“The action of this censorious church,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the organization’s co-president, “shows exactly why our campaign, intended to encourage social acceptance of nonbelievers, is so important.”

The transgender community is contending that Americans who have undergone a sex change should not be excluded from serving in the armed forces, especially after last week’s repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Transgender people,” which not only includes transsexuals but also cross-dressers, “are denied the ability to join the armed forces as a result of various discriminatory policies,” states the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), on its website.

“Not only is this unjust to individual transgender people who wish to serve their country through military service,” it maintains, “it weakens our national defense by barring qualified people from duty.”

Former Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Rebecca Grant has become the poster girl, of sorts, for the transgender community’s effort to put transsexuals and cross dresses on equal footing with heterosexuals and homosexuals in the military.

Grant enlisted as a man more than 10 years ago, before deciding to become a woman a couple years ago. The staff sergeant was exposed by a fellow service member last year and was discharged from the military just before the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Grant has joined with the Fairness Campaign, an organization promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, to educate the public about transsexualism, in hopes that the ban on transgender military service eventually will be lifted.


“We need to make sure,” said Grant, “that the gender movement cause is … made aware of. There’s no need for discrimination in this country because we’re supposed to be the land of the free.”

Military officials do not believe the armed forces are unfairly discriminating against transgenders. It considers transsexuals and cross-dressers to suffer from a gender identity disorder, rendering them unfit to serve in uniform.

NCTE argues that transsexualism is not a certifiable disorder. “Our position,” said Center spokesman Vincent Paolo Villano, “is that the military should re-examine the policy, the medical regulations, so as to allow open service for transgender people.”

The transgender community is urging President Obama to sign an executive order lifting the ban on military service not only based on sexual orientation, but also gender identity.

However, that would place the president at odds with conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, like Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a Marine Corp combat veteran, who said this week, ”I hope the president has enough sense to see this for the unnecessary distraction it is.”

American Christians and U.S. officials are rallying behind a pastor in Iran who faces execution for refusing to recant his Christian faith.

  • Youcef Nadarkhani
    (Photo: Courtesy of
    Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is seen here in prison in Lakan, Iran. Nadarkhani faces execution for refusing to recant his Christian faith.

While the Obama administration had remained silent despite calls to intervene in the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the White House Press Secretary released a statement Thursday, asking Iranian authorities to release the pastor.

“Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people,” the statement reads. “That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran’s own international obligations.”

Some reports indicated that Nadarkhani could be executed as early as Thursday, but the president of Present Truth Ministries told The Christian Post that a written verdict has yet to be issued.

The pastor’s attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, in Iran told Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries that they are still waiting on the final written verdict. According to DeMars, the attorney was also confident three of the five jurists will change their minds and annul the pastor’s death sentence.

Nadarkhani, 34, served as the leader of a church network in Rasht, Iran. He was arrested on Oct. 13, 2009, after protesting the government’s decision to force all children, including his own Christian children, to be taught about Islam. He has been imprisoned ever since.


He was initially charged for protesting but the charges were later changed to apostasy and evangelism to Muslims.

Nearly a year later in September 2010, Nadarkhani was convicted and sentenced to death. A written verdict was delivered in November and he was to be executed by hanging for apostasy.

The ruling was appealed but the Supreme Court of Iran upheld the decision in June of this year. At the same time, the court asked the local court in Rasht to determine if he was a practicing Muslim before his conversion and said his death sentence could be annulled if he recanted.

This week, the local court determined that because his parents were Muslim, Nadarkhani is a national Muslim and therefore is required to recant his Christian faith.

Nadarkhani refused to disavow his faith four times this week, the final time being on Wednesday.

U.S. officials and Christians are watching the case closely and calling for intervention and prayer as they await the final verdict, which, by law, must be delivered within seven days.

In a statement Wednesday, Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) accused the Iranian government of hypocrisy for “disregarding one of the most fundamental human rights: the ability of the Iranian people to freely choose a faith of their choice.”

“I appeal to whatever semblance of humanity may remain in the hearts of Iran’s leaders and urge the Obama Administration to make it clear, through every channel possible, that such grievous human rights abuses will not stand.”

A source close to Nadarkhani’s family warned that the verdict could be delivered even after the execution, according to Compass Direct News.

“They probably won’t kill him today, but they can do it whenever they want,” the source told CDN. “They can hang him in the middle of the night or in 10 days. Sometimes in Iran they call the family and deliver the body with the verdict. They have gone outside the borders of law. This is not in the Iranian law, this is sharia. Sometimes they don’t even give the body.”

DeMars of Present Truth Ministries also cited cases where the family does not hear about the execution until after it has happened. He thus commented that it was “really critical that we continue to pray for him” and pressure U.S. officials to demand for the pastor’s release.

Nadarkhani’s case has gained national media attention. Jonathan Racho of International Christian Concern told The Christian Post that both the severity of the case and the fact that the courts are involved are likely reasons for the wide attention. Additionally, Christians have been hard at work sending out alerts and updates about the Iranian pastor, Racho noted.

“When Christian organizations work hard to mobilize their constituents to do something to help persecuted Christians like Youcef, you can see that some things will happen,” Racho commented.

Nadarkhani is married and has two sons, Daniel, 9, and Yoel, 7.

A change of heart … or cowardice? (




Posted: September 30, 2011 in This N That


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