Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 9, 2014 - If My People - On Watch in Washington

Friday, July 11, 2014 - 12:15 p.m. (ET)
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This week an important religious liberty law did what it was supposed to do. InΓ‚ Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provided the Supreme Court with a mechanism for weighing competing claims in our pluralistic society. The Court determined that we can, in fact, balance seemingly conflicting interests without throwing out religious liberty.


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Under Obamacare, the Department of Health and Human Services deemed it a critical public-policy goal to ensure all women have access to contraception at no cost to them. It pursued that objective by mandating that many employers provide employee heath insurance covering all 20 FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices, including four that have the potential to end unborn human life. The Evangelical Green family of Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite Hahn family of Conestoga Wood Specialties could not provide coverage of these latter four without violating their religious beliefs concerning the sanctity of human life.


In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the Obama administration's argument that forcing these family-owned businesses to provide coverage for potentially life-ending drugs and devices was the least restrictive means to achieve its policy goal.


Women's access to affordable birth control was not in question in this case. Hyperbolic claims to the contrary notwithstanding, women still have access to the whole range of contraception. What was at stake was the right of Americans to run a family business consistent with their faith. The Court made clear that the administration's policy goal could be pursued without burdening religious freedom.


The court's ruling is certainly a victory for religious freedom. In other conflicts, the government may sometimes be able to show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious freedom (to protect public safety, for instance). But RFRA sets a very high bar for the government to meet to do so. This careful balancing test has served us well for more than 20 years since RFRA's enactment. And it will continue to provide us a commonsense way of weighing compelling state interests with the fundamental right to religious freedom.


One of the many problems with Obamacare is its increased centralization of decision-making about what insurance plans must include, what employers must provide, and what individuals must purchase. Policy should not coerce family business owners and or individuals to violate their religious beliefs. Health-care policy should allow individuals and families to make different decisions about the coverage of controversial drugs, devices, and procedures.


The Constitution and RFRA supply effective tools for protecting religious liberty, 

even in a culture with deep disagreements on issues such as abortion. You don't have to agree with the Hahn and Green families' decision to support their freedom to make that decision. This week the Court affirmed that perspective, leading Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Matt Bowman to call Hobby Lobby an "inclusive decision" that advances everyone's freedom. Originally posted on National Review. (Commentary written by Jennifer Marshall and Sarah Torre, both of The Heritage Foundation.)


Christians thank God for the Supreme Court's decision, as narrow as it was. The truth is that it does not deny any woman's legal rights. None. The question is, simply, "Who pays?" The Green family and Hahn family could not, not without violating deeply held religious convictions, and that is what the Court upheld. Continue to give thanks. Let us intercede for the larger Church to preach the Gospel and to stand for social justice and righteousness.


"For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright." (Psalm 11:7)


"[The Lord] loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord." (Psalm 33:5)


Israel says teen murder suspects will be tried

But some U.S. lawmakers doubted the Arab side would follow their lead with a crackdown of their own. The burning death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian, set off days of violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel, prompting calls to root out those responsible.


"I would hope, and I would expect, that the Palestinians will do the same thing, but that remains to be seen," Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania Democrat, told "Fox News Sunday." "But we're heartened by the news that at least arrests have been made, and the justice system is proceeding."


Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the U.S. should "try to engage and get the parties back into their corners."


"But one thing about Israel [is] they'll try to investigate, I think, and bring somebody to justice," he told CBS' "Face the Nation." "The other side's not very good at that."


Mohammed was abducted last week, his charred body found a short while later in a Jerusalem forest in what Palestinians say was a revenge killing for the earlier deaths of the Israeli teens.


On the day the Israeli teenagers were buried, hundreds of young right-wing Israelis marched through downtown Jerusalem, screaming for revenge and chanting "death to Arabs." Hours later, Mohammed was abducted near his home; his body was found shortly afterward. Palestinians immediately accused Jewish extremists of killing the youth.


Israeli officials said Sunday they believe Mohammed's killers acted out of "nationalistic" motives.


One official described the suspects as young males, including several minors, and said they came from Jerusalem, the nearby city of Beit Shemesh and Adam, a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem.


Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said there is a fundamental difference in how his side will deal with their suspects as opposed to the Palestinians.


"If they perpetrated these crimes, they will not be hailed as heroes by Israeli political leaders; there will not be public squares in Israel that will be named after them. Little schoolboys and schoolgirls in Israel will not emulate them as heroes," he told "Fox News Sunday."


"And that's exactly what we have on the Palestinian side, where you have terrorists who are hailed as heroes by political leaders of the Palestinians, public squares named after murderers, children who learn to emulate murderers, who are taught to emulate murderers," he continued. "That's the difference between our societies, and it's a difference we should never forget."


The situation along Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, remained tense. Gaza militants have stepped up rocket fire in recent weeks, drawing Israeli airstrikes in response.


By late Sunday afternoon, militants had fired more than 15 rockets and mortars into Israel, the military said. Overnight, Israel carried out airstrikes on 10 sites in Gaza. No injuries were immediately reported.

Also Sunday, Tariq Abu Khdeir, a 15-year-old Palestinian-American who was badly injured in clashes with Israeli police, was sentenced to nine days of home detention.


His parents say that Tariq, who goes to school in Florida, was beaten Thursday by Israeli police during clashes over the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The two youths were cousins.


Amateur video of what Tariq's father Salah said was the beating aired on a local television station, and he said he could recognize his son from his clothing.


Mr. Dermer said the boy was alongside perpetrators of violence.


"Our police are under extreme threat in the Jerusalem area," Mr. Dermer told ABC's "This Week." "They're facing mobsters and rioters. It doesn't mean that excessive force is acceptable - it's never acceptable."  (Contributor: By Tom Howell Jr. for The Washington Times)

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Despite widespread and growing international anti-Semitism, fair-minded observers know that Israel will dig for the truth and prosecute the perpetrators of the Palestinian boy's murder just as quickly as they seek justice for the three Israeli teen boys who were kidnapped and ruthlessly murdered the week before. Intercede for God to restrain the escalation of revenge killings.


"It is a joy for the just to do justice, but destruction will come to the workers of iniquity." (Prov. 21:15)


"Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.... But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." (Rom. 13:2-4) 


ISIL shows increasing strength and structure

The al Qaeda offshoot terrorist group conquering parts of Iraq is gaining strength thanks to prisoner releases and its social media magnetism for foreign fighter recruits.


As its ranks grow, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sometimes called the Islamic State, has become the first terrorist organization to plan and execute a two-front land war, presenting yet another challenge to the United States in its long war against Islamic extremists.


Last week, ISIL showed it could capture towns and territory in Syria and Iraq at once. Al Qaeda and its franchises have not accomplished such a feat.


ISIL has demonstrated that it is an organized hierarchical army that launches campaigns based on brutal tactics, clear objectives and a time table.


"They've been able to project a lot of force projection capabilities into two countries simultaneously, which has been unprecedented for a single group," said Patrick Johnston, a counterinsurgency analyst at the Rand Corp.


He said al Qaeda central, based in Pakistan, has projected power via franchises in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.


"But here we have a single group that is able to fight a two-front war, and you can't do that without manpower and resources to run an organization doing complex operations," he said.


ISIL's growing prowess does not bode well for the underperforming Iraqi Security Forces. Its ranks fled in large numbers as ISIL's fighters invaded from Syria, hooked up with old "Qaeda in Iraq" terrorists and proceeded to capture city after city, from Mosul to Tikrit on Baghdad's doorstep. There were reports of ISIL militants emptying Mosul prisons of thousands of potential recruits.


"It's getting larger," Mr. Johnston said.


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIL's reclusive leader, has positioned about 3,000 fighters in Iraq and some 7,000 in Syria, according to a U.S. intelligence official.


Al-Baghdadi declared last week that he was the ruler of a new Islamic caliphate, which follows Shariah law, spanning swaths of Iraq and Syria.


"ISIL is probably the strongest it has been in several years," the intelligence official said. "Its momentum in Iraq and in Syria poses a threat to Western personnel and interests throughout the region."


Analysts of the Sunni Muslim group's YouTube uploads see evidence that ISIL owns some types of air defense missiles as well as tanks and artillery pieces.


"ISIL's military capabilities have greatly improved as the group has gained access to advanced weapons from Syria and Iraqi installations that it has overrun," the intelligence official said.


The official said perhaps half, or 5,000 members, of ISIL's army is composed of foreign fighters - non-Syrian or Iraqi. This raises the prospect that, in its quest to conquer Baghdad, ISIL may unleash suicide bombers in the Iraqi capital because foreign recruits tend to be more willing to assume that fatal role.

Even before the offensive, ISIL cells with headquarters in Mosul showed an ability to unleash a wave of attacks against the Shiite-dominated government by deploying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.


"I think a lot of the capabilities they've demonstrated show that they are an organized group able to coordinate complex operations in places of their choosing," Mr. Johnston said. "That's really the crux and the key to their success more than materiel itself."


ISIL also has embraced social media like no other terrorist group. Its posts on YouTube are circulated by news media and private intelligence websites, which, in effect, are doing ISIL's bidding.


"A big part of its bureaucracy internally is a media committee," Mr. Johnston said. "This is information operations, propaganda type of entity that has been messaging within Iraq since at least 2006."


An example of the West spreading ISIL propaganda as a source of information is a report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.


"There is already a picture on Twitter of Abu Umar al-Shishani, the military commander of the ISIL in Syria, stepping out of his personal [U.S.] Humvee," the report notes. "Several posters on jihadist web forums and Twitter have sent out requests for helicopter pilots to potentially fly some of the aircraft that the ISIL captured in recent days."


The media committee also knows how to meet deadlines. Within hours of its Iraqi conquests, ISIL documented the victories in the English-language Islamic State News magazine. The stories outlined its economic goals for Iraq.


"Virtually all Islamic extremist groups make use of social media to advance their causes, but the ISIL'S media production team is especially adept, and its target audience extends beyond the Arabic-speaking world," the West Point group said.


The combination of ISIL's growing power, the sorry state of Iraq's army and the lack of a Sunni-Shiite governing coalition prompts the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to say this:


"If you are asking me, will the Iraqis, at some point, be able to go back on the offensive to recapture the part of Iraq that they've lost, I think that's a really broad campaign-quality question," said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Probably not by themselves."

Gen. Dempsey, who directed the training of Iraqi security forces from 2005 to 2007 and recently expressed disappointment in their performance, laid out what now must be done: "You'd like to squeeze them from the south and west. You'd like to squeeze them from the north and you'd like to squeeze them from Baghdad. And that's a campaign that has to be developed." (Contributor: By Rowan Scarborough for The Washington Times)


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We can safely predict that the ISIL challenge will take center stage on the international scene for the foreseeable future. As Gen. Dempsey says, guardedly (above), Iraqi forces are not equipped on their own to handle what is coming. The nations are watching. What will the U.S. do? What is the right course? Pray for wisdom for President Obama and congressional leaders to speak and act appropriately.


"For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding...." (Prov. 2:6)


"And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places.... And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached 

in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." 

(Matt. 24:6-7, 14)


Republicans: Obama ignored brewing border crisis

Republicans said Sunday that President Obama ignored the tide of illegal immigrant children pouring across the border for years and may have even invited it with his policy of deferring deportations, making him responsible for the current crisis of exploitation and violence.


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Two months after officials acknowledged a "crisis," the Obama administration continued to struggle with mixed messages, vowing to be tough on future border crossers while tacitly acknowledging that many of those will probably never be deported.


"We have to do right by the children," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told NBC's "Meet the Press," though he still vowed to "stem the tide" of future waves.


Republicans said it will be impossible to stem that tide - and indeed the surge will only increase - unless Mr. Obama and Mr. Johnson do an about-face and step up enforcement of immigration laws.


"The thing this administration needs to do is immediately deport these families, these children," Republican Rep. Raul R. Labrador of Idaho said, replying to Mr. Johnson on NBC. "I know it sounds harsh. I know it sounds difficult. But they're creating a crisis at this time that is actually going to harm these children."


Mr. Obama is also under increasing pressure to visit the border and get a firsthand look at the situation but so far has rejected those suggestions - though he will be in Texas raising money for political campaigns this week.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has been among the leaders calling for Mr. Obama to visit, said he warned the White House years ago about the rising number of young illegal immigrants sneaking into the country.


Mr. Perry said he asked for the National Guard to be deployed in 2010 and fired off a letter in 2012 begging for additional resources to deal with the influx of children, only to be rebuffed and left with a crisis.


"Messages have been sent now for multiple years," he told ABC's "This Week" program.


The crisis has resulted in a scramble to bus, lodge and process the unaccompanied children as protesters, fed up with the situation, turn away busloads of illegal immigrants from centers in their towns.


"People were concerned about the people, the immigrants coming here - would they have proper facilities, who's going to take care of them, how long is this going to be for - and those were questions that we just didn't get any answers to," Murrieta Mayor Alan Long told CNN's "State of the Union" after his town became the latest flashpoint for standoffs over the transport of illegal immigrants.


"I can't speak for the rest of the world that showed up at our doorsteps," he added. "This is a huge national problem and drew a lot of emotions on both sides of the protest line."


More than 10,000 illegal immigrant children traveling without parents are expected to be caught at the border this month, and nearly as many members of families traveling together - usually young mothers with their children - will also be caught.


It marks a major turnaround from just a few years ago, when apprehensions of illegal immigrants were falling and the border seemed more secure.


But the children have been so overwhelming, and their cases require so much extra processing and care, that Border Patrol agents have been pulled from other patrol duties. The agents say that means more drugs are getting through and other illegal activities are likely increasing elsewhere on the border.


A Catholic bishop from Texas, however, said the debate has gotten bogged down in questions of legality rather than concern for the children.


"We just take it up at the point when they arrive at the border, and what we need to begin to understand better is why would they leave [their home countries]," Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso told ABC.


Even if the children were sent back to their home countries, he said, "they would not stay; they would make another attempt because they felt that to remain would mean their deaths."


"We just need to find a way, first of all, to receive them according to existing laws that say we must receive people who are seeking asylum," he said. "In fact, they are not illegal if they are coming under those circumstances."


For his part, Mr. Johnson said many of the children are coming thanks to a misunderstanding of Mr. Obama's policies.


One of those is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants tentative legal status to young adult illegal immigrants who came as children but have been in the country for years.


Mr. Johnson said smuggling cartels are acting like "used car salesmen" by making Central Americans believe they can get legal status by getting into the U.S. quickly. But Mr. Johnson said the deferred-action policy isn't open to newcomers.


He struck an optimistic tone about the crisis, saying the border "is not open to illegal migration, and we will stem the tide." But he was less clear about what officials plan to do with the children who've arrived.


"There is a deportation proceeding that is commenced against illegal migrants, including children," Mr. Johnson said. "We are looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular [that is] consistent with our laws and our values." (Contributor: By Tom Howell Jr. for The Washington Times)


The purpose of the mid-week alert is to inform intercessors who are "watchmen (and women) on the wall." We intercede with God as He guides history and unfolds His purposes. Here we have a partisan political issue threatening our country's foundations. It is not a time for "pointing of the finger" (Isaiah 58:9). Today's crisis began years ago due to leadership procrastination. The U.S. has always welcomed the stranger and alien, but all countries must regulate their borders. This calls for strong and wise intervention. Pray accordingly.


 "You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor." (Lev. 19:15)


"Blessed are those who keep justice, and he who does righteousness at all times!" (Psalm 106:3)


"If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand." (Mark 3:24-25)



Fight over N. Carolina voter ID law heads to court

The legal challenge to North Carolina's voter ID law goes before a federal judge Monday, as the fight over whether the law suppresses minority votes flares up in the state's U.S. Senate race.


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Opponents of the law, including Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, contend that the identification requirement and other new voting laws create an obstacle for blacks, Hispanics and women to reach the ballot box. The support of the same voter blocs are crucial to Mrs. Hagan's strategy to win in November against Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.


The lawsuit, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others, seeks an injunction against the law for the 2014 election. A hearing is scheduled Monday before U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder in Winston-Salem.


Mrs. Hagan, meanwhile, will be angling to use the court hearing to vilify Mr. Tillis and rally Democratic voters.


"Kay urged the Department of Justice to investigate the voting law because she is committed to ensuring fair and equal access to the ballot box," said Hagan 

campaign spokesman Chris Hayden. "While Kay is focused on eliminating barriers to the ballot box, Thom Tillis has installed new barriers for North Carolinians while making political spending less transparent."


The lawsuit only fueled the bitter rivalry between Mrs. Hagan and Mr. Tillis, who are locked in a close race that has national implications since the outcome will help determine whether Republicans can capture majority control of the Senate.


The court hearing also provides Mrs. Hagan with the bonus of reminding voters of Mr. Tillis' leading role in North Carolina's unpopular legislature. Only 18 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the General Assembly is doing, with 54 percent disapproving, according to a survey last month by Public Policy Polling.


The Republican-run legislature passed the overhaul of election laws last year. The move followed the Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required that states and localities with a history of racial discrimination, including North Carolina, submit changes to voting laws to the Justice Department for approval.


The new rules include a requirement that North Carolina voters show a government-issued photo ID, but that provision does not take effect until 2016. This year, voters will only be asked if they have an ID but they don't have to answer yes or produce an ID in order to cast a ballot.


Critics say the question is still enough to discourage minorities from voting.


The Tillis campaign called it a "common sense voter ID law which protects the integrity of the ballot box." "Kay Hagan literally asked the Obama administration to file a politically-motivated lawsuit against the state of North Carolina to block voter ID, which shows just how fringe and out of touch she is," said Daniel Keylin, spokesman for the Tillis campaign.


He pointed to polls that show up to 70 percent of North Carolina voters support the photo ID law. However, other provisions in the new election laws are less popular. It also reduced the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, nixed same-day voter registration during early voting, and eliminated preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds to vote if they turn 18 by the next election day.


The changes, which took effect this year, didn't result in a decrease in voter turnout in the primary elections.


Compared to the state's 2010 primary, voter turnout increased in the May 14 election, including a 29.5 percent increase among black voters, according to a study commissioned by conservative, nonpartisan watchdog group Judicial Watch.


Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who submitted the study in an amicus brief to the court, noted that 37 other states don't allow same-day registration.


"The recent election in North Carolina shows that the Obama administration is engaged in a race-baiting canard when it suggests that voting integrity measures suppress minority votes," he said. "It is high time that the Obama administration comes into line with the majority of the American people who want to strengthen rather than weaken ballot box integrity." (Contributor: S. A. Miller for The Washington Times)


Why a country as advanced as the U.S. in technical proficiency cannot ensure that only living, qualified voters appear at the polls and cast their votes quickly and legally is a mystery. It is so odd, and it keeps coming up election after election and in state after state, that one has to think darker forces are at work. Pray that morally upright officials will be elected or appointed to make such irregularities and the appearance of tampering a thing of the past.


" ...providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." (2 Cor. 8:21)


"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight." (Prov. 11:1)





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