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A Baltimore pastor tore up a cease-and-desist letter mid-sermon Wednesday night after local officials threatened a $5,000 fine earlier in the week for holding in-person services.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced last Friday that houses of worship could reopen at 50 percent capacity, citing declining hospitalizations related to the coronavirus pandemic. He left the timing up to local jurisdictions. The state has had more than 41,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 2,081 deaths.

Stacey Shiflett, pastor of the 400-member Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, held a Wednesday night service. With more than 100 congregants in the 600-capacity sanctuary, Calvary was in compliance with Hogan’s order but in defiance of the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services’ order.

Stacey Shiflett, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Baltimore, ripping up a cease-and-desist letter from local officials who threaten a $5,000 fine for violating coronavirus stay-at-home orders after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said churches can reopen at 50 percent capacity.

“Either we have liberty to worship or we have permission to worship,” Shiflett told Fox News about his decision. “It has become abundantly clear that if we settle for permission, we will never have liberty again.”

The Baptist pastor posted video of the shredding on Twitter, in which he can be heard preaching: “With this cease-and-desist letter in my hand, the Bible says to the New Testament church ‘not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but so much more as you see the day approaching,’ and the closer we get to Jesus coming back, the more church we ought to be having, not less church.”

“Now that’s God’s parameters,” he added. “So I’m tearing up this cease-and-desist order right here, and I’m telling you right now, we’re gonna do it God’s way! God tells us how to worship Him, nobody else gets to do that.”

Shiflett said a number of other churches in the state plan on reopening this Sunday during Memorial Day weekend and he is attending a ReOpen Maryland freedom rally Friday to offer a prayer after he was invited by organizers.

“We’re challenging our local officials to render the church essential so we can get our doors back open,” he said as the Baltimore County executive reportedly reopened small businesses and other establishments Thursday.

David Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty and legal counsel for Calvary Baptist told the local CBS station: “If Walmart’s open, it’s time for the churches to be open.”

The pastor doesn’t plan on budging: “I don’t plan on shutting the church. If they fine us, I’m not paying it. It’s unconstitutional. They don’t have a leg to stand on.”

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young extended the stay-at-home orders limiting public gatherings, including “spiritual” and “religious,” to no more than 10 people.

“We got a mayor saying we can only worship in our parking lots, which is ridiculous,” Rev. Alvin Gwynn, pastor of Friendship Baptist in Baltimore City, told WJZ-TV.

The pastor said the police car parked outside his church is being used to intimidate him and the Friendship Baptist churchgoers.

Stacey Shiflett, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Baltimore, ripping up a cease-and-desist letter from local officials who threaten a $5,000 fine for violating coronavirus stay-at-home orders after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said churches can reopen at 50 percent capacity. (Calvary Baptist Church)

“The city has no legal standing,” Gwynn told WBAL. “What are they going to do? Have officers come, and take body cameras and record you, and then go back and talk to their attorneys to see what they can do with them or not? That’s nothing but intimidation.”

The Department of Justice warned California Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday that his order could discriminate against churches.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband.

The battle to reopen houses of worship is being waged across states between state and local officials.

Author: Caleb Parke

Source: Fox News: Baltimore pastor rips up cease-and-desist letter mid-sermon: ‘We’re gonna do it God’s way!’

A pair of Christian artists are celebrating a religious freedom win at the Arizona Supreme Court, which found the government cannot force them to make invitations for a same-sex wedding.

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, the owners of Brush & Nib Studio, appeared on “Fox & Friends” Wednesday and said they were “extremely excited” at the 4-3 decision that reversed a lower-court ruling in favor of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

“We are super excited,” Koski, a painter, said about the Monday ruling. “Ever since Joanna and I were little girls we had a dream of being artists and starting a business, and we are just so overjoyed that the city recognized our rights as artists. This was super important to us to stand for artists everywhere across the country.”

She added: “We do serve everybody and love everybody but it’s just certain messages that we cannot promote in our business because of our faith.”

Her business partner, Duka, a calligrapher, said the heart of the case, which was ruled narrowly to customized artist creations, comes down to the question: “Can the government force artists by threat of jail time to create art that promotes messages inconsistent with their values?”

“For Breanna and I that includes certain messages about marriage that violate our faith, that includes messages that promote racism or incite violence, exploit women, or demean any member of any community, including the LGBT community,” Duka added. “So that’s why we’re extremely excited the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled in favor of artistic freedom and the right of artists, not the government, to decide what messages we can and can’t promote.”

But the dissenting opinion in the case called it “deeply troubling,” saying the case did not concern the content of the studio’s products but was about the identity of the customer.

Kristen Waggoner, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) senior vice president of the U.S. legal division, who represented the pair, said “the very clear message of the court…is that free speech and free exercise rights aren’t limited to soft whisperings that go on in the privacy of our homes, but that all Americans have the right to be able to speak and create art that’s consistent with who they are. So that right extends to all Americans, not just those who share Breanna and Joanna’s beliefs.”

For example, Waggoner points out, a Democratic speechwriter should not be forced to write for a Republican and an LGBT filmmaker shouldn’t have to make films that contradict their beliefs, either.

“So it’s a broad win that extends to everybody,” she added.

Last year, ADF and Waggoner also defended a Colorado baker who won his case at the U.S. Supreme Court after refusing to make a same-sex wedding cake. The high court found the state’s civil rights commission showed anti-religious bias when it ruled against the baker.

The mayor of Phoenix says the ordinance is still in effect and lawyers for the city are examining potential grounds for appeal.

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for FoxNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

Author: Caleb Parke

Source: Fox News: Christian artists celebrate religious freedom win in Arizona Supreme Court

Ohio governor signs ban on abortion after first heartbeat

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signs bill banning abortion after heartbeat is detected.

Ohio stripped Planned Parenthood funding from its annual budget and is now set to increase funding for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.

The state Senate passed a bill last week that includes $5 million for over 200 crisis pregnancy centers that primarily serve low-income women. The proposal increasing the funding by five times comes after a federal appeals court upheld an Ohio law that pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, which received $1.5 million in annual state funds.

“This is the first budget opportunity we’ve had since then to invest additional funds into crisis pregnancy centers,” Senate President Larry Obhof, a Republican, told Tony Perkins on Washington Watch.

The Republican-controlled state is expected to pass this version of the two-year, $69 billion state operating budget.

Critics say pro-life centers offer inaccurate medical advice, but supporters say the funding boost will help provide counseling to women with unplanned pregnancies, free ultrasounds, parenting classes and baby items.

Jamie Miracle at NARAL Pro Choice Ohio told WOSU the pro-life centers are “fake women’s health centers that provide incomplete care at best and lies and manipulation at worst.”

Sen. Sandra Williams, a Cleveland Democrat, tried to remove the $5 million allocated to the pro-life centers.

“The funds in this program do not go to evidence-based initiatives proven to reduce infant and maternal mortality,” Williams said. “Rather, they go to organizations with anti-choice agendas who often offer inaccurate medical information.”

However, her amendment failed and the proposed budget passed unanimously, which Obhof believes will be the final version of the bill, which needs to be reconciled with the House version and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine by June 30.

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for FoxNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

Author: Caleb Parke

Source: Fox News: Ohio strips Planned Parenthood from budget, set to boost pro-life pregnancy center funding

Rev. Franklin Graham: If Trump succeeds, we all succeed

Samaritan’s Purse president discusses the president’s first year in office.

Rev. Franklin Graham is calling for a “special day of prayer” for President Trump in light of “demonic attacks” against him.

Graham, the CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, is joined by more than 250 faith leaders across the nation to set aside Sunday, June 2, to pray that “God would protect, strengthen, embolden, and direct him.”

“I don’t think any president in modern history has come under attack day after day after day by almost all the media,” Graham told Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch,” a national radio show put on by the Family Research Council. “That’s just never happened. And it distracts the president. It weakens our country.”

Graham, who called Trump “the most Christian-friendly president in my lifetime,” said this isn’t an endorsement of Trump but rather simply a day set aside for prayer.

“I think of Pastor Brunson and Turkey; he’d still be in that prison if it hadn’t been for Donald Trump. And he has a desire to help the church, to help Christians…Is he a perfect person? Absolutely not. Is he the best example of the Christian faith? No way,” Graham said. “But there’s something in his heart where God has placed him there to defend the Christian faith and religious liberty. And so I appreciate that about him, and we need to try to lift him up in prayer and support him where we can.”

Perkins, who is also joining Graham for the day and said churches in the “Watchmen” network are as well, said the Bible calls for Christians to pray for their leaders.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re Republican or Democrat,” Perkins said. “I prayed for our previous president. I didn’t agree with his policies, but I did pray for him… I believe this can happen—where leaders are led by God to do the right thing because people are praying for them.”

Faith leaders who have signed on to the day of prayer include John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church and national chairman of Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israel organization in America; former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas; Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, Dr. Alveda King; “Duck Dynasty” stars Phil and Al Robertson; Rev. Sam Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Dr. Darrell Scott, CEO of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump; and Dr. James and Shirley Dobson, who lead “Family Talk.”

Graham said he was surprised that a few evangelical leaders refused to take part in the day of prayer for Trump.

Author: Caleb Parke

Source: Fox News: Franklin Graham, 250 Christian leaders call for ‘day of prayer’ for Trump

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