Dozens of Evangelical leaders in Texas and across the nation have sent a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons calling for the scheduled execution of Jeff Wood to be stopped. Wood has been on death row 18-years for being the getaway driver in a deadly convenience store robbery even though he did not kill anyone. The letter says, in part, “Our faith compels us to speak out in this case, where a looming execution date threatens the life of an individual with significant mental impairments who never should have been sentenced to death.” The Evangelical leaders believe Texas officials have a moral obligation to correct this misguided death sentence acknowledging that Wood committed a crime, but not one deserving the death penalty. “The public is always told that the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous crimes, but Jeff Wood’s case doesn’t even come close,” said Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of Equal Justice USA, a national criminal justice reform organization that is working with Evangelical leaders across the country. “In spite of Jeff Wood having well-documented mental impairments, this evidence was never presented at trial.” Like Us on Facebook The faith leaders’ letter with the list of signatories, which is pasted below, is unequivocal. “It deeply troubles us when the criminal justice system concludes that some of the most vulnerable in society can be executed and disposed of. All are made in God’s image, and as a society we especially must protect those with mental illness and disabilities. Public officials must not shirk this responsibility. We urge them to act now to spare Wood’s life.” Equal Justice USA (EJUSA) is a national organization that works to transform the justice system by ending the death penalty, strengthening programs that help crime survivors rebuild their lives, and promoting trauma-informed responses to violence that save lives and heal communities. And now here is the full letter with the signatories… August 8, 2016 Governor Greg Abbott P.O. Box 12428 Austin, TX 78711 Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles P.O. Box 13401 Austin, TX 78711-3401 Dear Governor Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, We are evangelical leaders united in our call for a new sentencing hearing for Jeff Wood and for his scheduled execution to be stopped. Our faith compels us to speak out in this case, where a looming execution date threatens the life of an individual with significant mental impairments who never should have been sentenced to death. Officials have a moral obligation to rectify this mistake and stop this execution while they still can. On January 2, 1996, a senseless murder occurred during the course of a convenience store robbery in Kerrville, Texas. Daniel Reneau shot and killed Kris Keeran, who was working as the store clerk. While this happened, Wood was in the car that he had come in with Reneau. Nothing suggests that Wood planned with Reneau to murder Keeran. In fact, witnesses attest that Wood told Reneau not to bring his gun before they left for the convenience store. These details significantly lessen Wood’s culpability in the crime. As the getaway driver, Wood committed a crime, but not one deserving the death penalty. The death penalty, we are told, is reserved for the most egregious crimes. Wood’s actions-which did not include directly committing a murder or intending to-simply do not fall into this category. Moreover, Wood had intellectual and emotional disabilities that were well documented before the murder. His impairments impacted his behavior at trial, as he irrationally instructed his attorneys not to present any evidence on his behalf. So the jury never heard any evidence of his background, including his mental impairments. Instead, Dr. James Grigson-a psychiatrist expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for ethical violations-testified to the jury that Wood represented a future danger, despite never evaluating him. It deeply troubles us when the criminal justice system concludes that some of the most vulnerable in society can be executed and disposed of. All are made in God’s image, and as a society we especially must protect those with mental illness and disabilities. Public officials must not shirk this responsibility. We urge them to act now to spare Wood’s life. In Christ, Texas Pastors N. Larry Baker, Director of Doctor of Ministry Program and Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, TX Paul Basden, Pastor of Preston Trail Community Church, Frisco, TX Derek Dodson, Senior Lecturer of the Religion Department at Baylor University, Waco, TX Wes Helm, Associate Pastor of Springcreek Church, Garland, TX Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX William O’Brien, Executive Director of The Gaston Christian Center, Dallas, TX Paul Randall, Associate Pastor of Ecclesia, Houston, TX Scott Tjernagel, Lead Pastor of River City Vineyard Community Church, New Braunfels, TX Donald Williford, Dean of Logsdon School of Theology, Abilene, TX Ralph Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University, Waco, TX National Leaders Bob Adams, Baptist Industrial Chaplain, Asheville, NC Vincent Bacote, Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL Cheryl Bridges Johns, Professor of Discipleship and Christian Formation at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, TN LaMon Brown, Retired Missionary for the International Missions of American Baptist Churches, USA, Birmingham, AL Valerie Burton, Minister for Christian Formation at Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham, AL Tony Campolo, Co-founder of Red Letter Christians, Wayne, PA Shane Claiborne, Author, Activist, and Co-Founder of Red Letter Christians, Philadelphia, PA Jim Clifford, Hospice Chaplain, Fairhope, AL Carolyn Dipboye, Co-Pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Oak Ridge, TN Larry Dipboye, Pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Oak Ridge, TN Tom Duley, Minister of Missions and Pastoral Care at Bluff Park United Methodist Church, Hoover, AL David Gushee, Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life and Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA Christopher Hamlin, Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL Lisa Sharon Harper, Senior Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners, Washington, D.C. Antipas Harris, Associate Professor of Regent University School of Divinity and President of GIELD, Inc. Ruford Hodges, Jr., Retired Baptist Minister, Birmingham, AL Fisher Humphreys, Professor of Divinity, Emeritus, Samford University, Birmingham, AL Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor of Northland – A Church Distributed Lynne Hybels, Co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL Kate Kooyman, Project Developer for the Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI Bill Leonard, Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History at Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC Jim Lyon, General Director of Church of God Ministries, Anderson, IN Carlos Malavé, Executive Director of Christian Churches Together, Louisville, KY Eric Mason, Chair of Biblical Studies at Judson University, Algonquin, IL Brian McLaren, Christian author and theologian, Ocala, FL Jonathan Merritt, Senior columnist for Religion News Service, Brooklyn, NY Sam Mikolaski, Retired Southern Baptist Theological Professor and former President of the Atlantic Baptist College, Oceanside, CA R. Kelvin Moore, University Professor of Biblical Studies at Union University and Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Bradford, TN Morris Murray, Jr., Associate Pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Japser, AL John Phelan, Former President and current Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL Paul Richardson, Former Treasurer and Board member of the Alliance of Baptists, Birmingham, AL Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA, Sacramento, CA Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, Washington, D.C. Walter Shurden, Minister at Large at Mercer University, Macon, GA Tony Suarez, Executive Vice President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONEL, Virginia Beach, VA Peter Vander Meulen, Coordinator of the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI Jim Wallis, Founder of Sojourners, Washington, DC Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Associate Minister of St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church, Durham, NC Angie Wright, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Birmingham, AL Original post can be read here: http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/65827/20160808/evangelical-leaders-call-halt-texas-execution-demand-new-sentencing-hearing.htm
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A California anti-discrimination bill that is currently awaiting a vote by the California state Assembly is raising concerns from Christian institutions which say that the bill would restrict their ability to operate according to their religious beliefs.

Though there is already a federal anti-discrimination provision in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, religious institutions are able to claim exemptions to that section in order to receive government financial aid while maintaining the institution’s religious beliefs. However, this new bill, Senate Bill 1146, would specify which actions would and would not be acceptable for those religious institutions that receive federal or state financial assistance or enroll students who receive federal or state financial assistance (such as Cal Grants).

The bill, introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), has three main sections. The first section requires the religious universities to place a disclosure in what the bill calls a “prominent location” that the school is a Title IX exempted school, and why the school claimed that exemption. The disclosure must also be provided in writing to prospective students and as part of the written materials in the orientation programs. Faculty and employees must also receive the disclosure upon hire. And wherever the university specifies its rules and regulations in writing, that disclosure must also be included.

The second section requires schools that claim the Title IX exemptions to send all materials “submitted to, and received from, a state or federal agency concerning the granting of the exemption” to the Student Aid Commission. The said commission is then required to collect, post, and maintain a list of the schools that have Title IX exemptions on its website, and the reasons for which they claimed the exemption.

The third section, which is also the longest, is the portion about which religious institutions have expressed concern. Within this section, there are two main portions that may negatively affect religious universities.

The first portion is regarding restroom and housing accommodations. The bill says that religious universities would be allowed to have housing and restrooms reserved for male or female students, only if they also “afford” housing or restroom accommodations for students and employees according to their gender identity. This provision of the bill opens up greater possibility for students or employees to be able to file lawsuits against schools if they believe they have been discriminated against and have not been afforded proper accommodations according to their gender identity. The bill also says that a religious institution could provide separate housing for married students only if the same is provided also for married same-sex couples.

The second portion is regarding enforcement of morality and religious practices in religious schools. Moral conduct and housing policies can only be enforced if they are “uniformly applicable to all students regardless of the student’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” the bill states. Similarly, religious practices can only be enforced if “these practices are uniformly applicable to all students regardless of the student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” This means that if a student were to face any consequences or form of discipline for being in a same-sex relationship, for example, while a student in an opposite-sex relationship did not, the former student may be able to file a lawsuit against the religious university.

Institutions that “prepare students to become ministers of the religion or to enter upon some other vocation of the religion” can be exempt from this third section of the bill, however. To note, a previous version stated that “educational programs or activities offered” by a religious institution that prepares students to become ministers or to enter in some other vocation of the religion would be exempt, but that language was changed to “institutions” as a whole.

Religious institutions may also prohibit the use of its property for purposes that are against their religious beliefs.

If the current version of the bill is passed, over 40 religious institutions in California would be affected, at which point these institutions would have two options: give up receiving government financial assistance, or continue receiving it but follow the provisions of the bill. Giving up government financial assistance would take a significant toll on the institutions and limit their capacity to enroll students, as those who are eligible for Cal Grants would not be able to attend these religious schools while still maintaining their Cal Grants.

Presidents of several Christian institutions, including Biola University, Azusa Pacific University, and Concordia University, have released statements regarding SB 1146, urging students, staff, and families to do what they can to oppose the bill.

“At Biola and schools like us, Christian faith is the foundation of everything. It’s in every major, from biology to business to journalism and psychology. It’s in our community standards and housing policies, which are in place to form students in a distinctly Christian way,” wrote Biola University president Barry Corey in an article for the Gospel Coalition.

Corey and Jon Wallace, the president of Azusa Pacific University, have also met with over 100 Christian leaders from African American, Latino, Asian, and White communities in mid-July to discuss the implications of the bill and what actions they can take.

About 30 religious universities have come together to oppose SB 1146, and even created a website titled, “Oppose SB 1146. Preserve Faith-Based Higher Education.”

The ‘Oppose SB 1146’ website encourages opponents of the bill to spread awareness of the bill and to contact state lawmakers to express their opposition.

Other Christian leaders have also voiced concerns, including the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which released a statement with other Hispanic Christian leaders.

“In representation of the Hispanic citizens of California, we oppose SB 1146. As Democrats and Republicans, we believe the bill is an unconstitutional overreach that would threaten religious liberty in California, would harm faith-based institutions, and would weaken the rich educational diversity of our state,” the statement says.

“At a minimum, if passed, this bill would substantially interfere with the ability of California’s faith-based colleges and universities to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their beliefs,” it continues. “This bill would make institutions vulnerable to anti-discrimination lawsuits and unprecedented government policing. It is not inconceivable that this bill could in effect eliminate faith-based higher education entirely.”

The California state Senate has already passed the bill with a 26-13 vote, and the bill now awaits a vote from the California state Assembly. If passed, the bill will move on to the governor’s desk for his signature. Experts estimate that the bill will be voted on by the state Assembly by the end of August.

Original article can be read here: http://www.christianitydaily.com/articles/8372/20160806/californias-faith-based-universities-express-concern-regarding-potential-anti-discrimination.htm

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