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Court allows Ky. church’s drive-in services, says ban has ‘potential hallmarks of discrimination’

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A federal court on Saturday allowed Maryville Baptist Church and its pastor, Dr. Jack Roberts, in Kentucky to hold drive-in services, prohibiting the enforcement of the state’s COVID-19 orders.

While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit declined to extend the injunction to in-person services, it noted that Gov. Andy Beshear’s ban on faith-based mass gatherings has “several potential hallmarks of discrimination” as it provides exceptions to certain secular activities such as laundromats and liquor stores but not faith groups.

“Assuming all of the same precautions are taken, why is it safe to wait in a car for a liquor store to open but dangerous to wait in a car to hear morning prayers?” the court posed. “The Governor has offered no good reason so far for refusing to trust the congregants who promise to use care in worship in just the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and laundromat workers to do the same.”

The conservative Christian legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel celebrated the partial emergency injunction from a unanimous three-judge panel.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron had filed an amicus brief in support of the church, stating that the “Court should enter an injunction pending appeal ‘to prevent irreparable harm.’”

The court also stated in its ruling that the church is likely to succeed on the merits of the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Through an executive order in March, Beshear banned faith-based mass gatherings while providing exemptions for secular organizations and activities, including typical office environments, factories, and retail or grocery stores, Cameron’s office noted.

The order said even though permitted secular activities involved the presence of groups of people, they could continue as long as individuals “maintain appropriate social distancing.” Faith-based gatherings were allowed no such exemption.

“Sure, the Church might use Zoom services or the like … But who is to say that every member of the congregation has access to the necessary technology to make that work?” the court asked. “Or to say that every member of the congregation must see it as an adequate substitute for what it means when ‘two or three gather in my Name.’ Matthew 18:20.”

It added, “The breadth of the ban on religious services, together with a haven for numerous secular exceptions, should give pause to anyone who prizes religious freedom. But it’s not always easy to decide what is Caesar’s and what is God’s—and that’s assuredly true in the context of a pandemic.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Beshear said retail stores and houses of worship can resume operations on May 20, according to WPSD Local.

“Where they will be able to do in-person services again at a reduced capacity. We’re working on that. It’s likely to be a percentage of the occupancy that is allowed,” Beshear said. “All of this is contingent on being able to keep social distancing, on the type of cleaning that needs to occur.

“And what our hope is, is that on the 20th, what it will allow is just the worship service itself. And then, we’re going to be working with faith leaders. We’ve already been talking with them and encouraging. But working with them to see a gradual schedule where we can go from the one experience to some of the other pieces that typically happen, like Sunday school for instance. But that right now would create very different context. And so let’s start here, and then, let’s have a good dialogue where we can work with those that were on our houses of worship to get a plan to be able to do more as we go.”

On Easter Sunday, Kentucky State Police descended on the service of Maryville Baptist Church and posted notices of criminal violation on all cars in the parking lot, even while the church attendees were listening in their cars to the church’s “drive-in” service, according to Liberty Counsel.

The notices advised congregants they were subject to mandatory, household-wide quarantine because they attended a church service. Gov. Beshear also sent letters to the owners and occupants of the vehicles, demanding quarantine with more threats of sanctions for not complying with government supervision.

Last month, Beshear also issued executive orders restricting travel into and out of the state, except under certain limited circumstances, to help manage the spread of the coronavirus. Anyone entering or returning from out of state was told to self-quarantine for 14 days.

AG Cameron filed a motion in federal court last week, challenging the travel ban as unconstitutional. He also urged the governor to stop targeting faith-based gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic and allow congregants to start gathering in person at church again.

Sources: Christian Post

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One Month After Attack, These Churches Are Still Meeting for Worship

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Kenya – It is Sunday, February 14, at 9 AM in Otamba, Kisii County. It is a cool but bright day as ICC visits the sites of recent attacks in Western Kenya.

The residents of Otamba move throughout the community as they head to their respective places of worship. Pastor Charles Mayore begins his service as he always does by leading morning prayers at the Worldwide Gospel Church, a charred, broken building with a gaping hole in the back. Those entering the building sit on borrowed primary school wooden desks or the few plastic chairs that survived the attack. Charles thanks the Lord for keeping the saints strong in the faith just one month after an arson attack that destroyed their sanctuary.

ICC spoke to Charles about how the church has been recovering from the devastating January fire. He narrated the horrific incident, “Our church was attacked on the night of January 14. It was among the first churches to be burned down together with the Seventh Day Adventist Church just across (the street). Neighbors raised the alarm when they saw the flames. The fire was too huge to be contained immediately, but with the help of water from the SDA church, which was also burning, Christians managed to put it out. But we lost everything that was in the storage; chairs, cabinet, registers, Christian literature, tables, and one side of the roof.”

Charles continued, “The first two Sundays after the church was burned down, believers were scared about attending worship. We kept praying and encouraging them, and now we meet every Sunday for usual worship services. Others have not yet resumed worship because we do not have enough chairs. We have been able to replace just ten new chairs against a church membership of one hundred and six. We also borrowed a few wooden desks from the nearby primary school to use as we trust the Lord for new chairs.”

A few kilometers from Worldwide Gospel is the Otamba Pentecostal Church. As you enter the church, members sit in groups, attending their morning classes before the general worship service. Speaking with ICC, Pastor James Ondima, head pastor of the church, said, “We never stopped our usual meetings. Before the security agents could visit and file a report of the extent of the attack, we used to meet outside for services. We did this for two weeks, but now we are back to the church building. We have replaced a few things, although we are yet to replace the scorched iron sheets, interior curtains, the lectern, and other items that were burnt to ashes. The believers have remained steadfast, and we have also seen our membership grow. The new members are convinced that the churches are being targeted for speaking the truth of the gospel.”

Shortly after leaving Worldwide Gospel church, ICC walked across town to St. Augustine Catholic Church Otamba, where the Seminarian is finishing his sermon outside of the church building. Over 200 members are seated patiently in the cold, hoping that their church building will be ready soon. Afterward, the Seminarian had a word with us. “The attackers cut the grill of one of the windows to find entry and set ablaze the items in the priest’s altar. With the help of the Lord, we have replaced everything and also repainted the church. The only reason making us worship from outside is that the Parish leader has not come to dedicate the replaced items. We hope this shall be done in the coming few days.”

It was not just these three churches that were attacked, though. Nyangeni SDA church and the Holy Spirit Church were also set ablaze that same day in early January. Despite this destruction, all five Otamba churches are still meeting weekly for worship regardless of the losses and shock they’ve endured.

The Nyangeni SDA church has been unable to replace all of the items burned inside their office. “We lost a lot of things inside the church office; office chairs, cabinets, Bibles, hymn books, Christian literature, communion vessels, tables, etc. We are waiting until Easter to begin raising money to replace these items, one by one. We do not want to burden the members who are still reeling from the effects of the arson attack and the difficult life during this season of Coronavirus. We can only ask for prayers, and we trust the Lord for strength and provision.” Explained the elder in charge.

When the attackers failed to gain entrance into the Holy Spirit Church, they resolved to burn the church bathroom. The leader, Pastor Linnet, thanked God, saying, “They did not burn the items inside the church that we had sacrificially gathered for many years. It would have taken us back a great deal. We also trust God that we shall be able to build another toilet”.

This wanton destruction of so much property shows the extreme hatred the attackers have for the gospel. It is unclear who these attackers are or why they targeted these churches. Despite this, we want to lift them up in our prayers, asking God to forgive them and to turn their hearts to Christ. Likewise, please pray for the churches that have lost so much. Thank God for his faithfulness and steadfastness throughout these ordeals and that the Christians would more fully know and love Him through these challenges.

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Homosexual event in front of Sydney Cathedral: Believers pray for redress

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The City of Sydney is running a month-long series of outdoor “Sunset Piazza” concerts in the publicly-owned St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt in the inner-city.

As part of the series, event producers Heaps Gay put on their Live N’ Queer concert on Saturday evening.

The promoters described the event as a “chaotic queer variety show” featuring some of the year’s “loudest and queerest acts”.

However an ad used by Heaps Gay to promote the show featured an illustration of the adjacent St Mary’s Cathedral, outraging Christians.

Last week, the city council pulled the ad after a complaint from the Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher.

On Saturday night, the group of “Christian Lives Matter” protesters gathered on the steps of the Cathedral ahead of the concert.

The protesters chanted hymns and held up religious banners as the Heaps Gay concert went ahead nearby.

Heaps Gay concert ‘makes a mockery of Christianity’
Christian Lives Matter organiser Charlie Bakhos claimed the concert organisers were making a “mockery of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general”.

“Time to really show up and defend our church and our faith. The most powerful way is through prayer,” he said on Facebook.

“Stand united in prayer, pray for them, pray for their conversion and stand in defending our faith.”

LGBTIQ activist Sally Rugg shared a photo of the religious protest on Twitter “for allies to see”.

“As LGBT people arrived for a dance, they were met with a large protest against our existence, under the title of ‘Christian Lives Matter’,” Rugg tweeted.

“I don’t want to amplify this group’s message. But I do want people to see this, because this is LGBTQ people’s constant lived experience.

“We live our lives with constant reminders that many people believe we don’t or shouldn’t exist.”

Last week, the city council pulled the ad after Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher criticised the “insensitive” use of the church.

“The Cathedral Forecourt is council land and not church property. [The] decision about the content of the concert and its advertising is unfortunately not ours to make,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“We have asked City of Sydney to remove the Cathedral image from the advertising.

“It is frustrating and upsetting that St Mary’s Cathedral, the mother church of Australia, has been used so provocatively to promote this event and such little sensitivity shown to people of faith.”

A City of Sydney spokesperson said the council had ordered the removal of the ad to “avoid any confusion”.

“In the lead-up and throughout the staging of [the events], the City consulted and liaised closely with St Mary’s Cathedral representatives,” they explained.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore also said Sydney was a place that valued diversity and inclusion.

“There is no place for hate, intolerance or the sowing of division,” she said.

“As we seek to recover from the pandemic, we will continue to host inclusive, accessible and safe events.”

Earlier this week, organisers Heaps Gay posted footage of the concert’s finale to Instagram.

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