|EDITOR'S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each week from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.
Today's BP Ledger contains items from:
World News Service
Baptist College of Florida
Christians Win and Lose at European Human Rights Court
By Whitney Williams
STRASBOURG, France (World News Service) -- Religious freedom is a right, but not without limits, Europe's top human rights court said Jan. 15 in two religious liberty rulings.
In the first case, the court ruled British Airways (BA) discriminated against a Christian employee by making her remove her crucifix. But in the second case, the court stood behind a U.K. charity that fired a marriage counselor who refused to provide sex therapy to same-sex couples.
In judgments applauded by civil liberties groups but condemned by advocates for religious freedom, the European Court of Human Rights said freedom of religion is "an essential part of the identity of believers and one of the foundations of pluralistic, democratic societies."
But religious freedom has limits, the court said: "However, where an individual's religious observance impinges on the rights of others, some restrictions can be made."
The court's judges, by a five-to-two margin, backed a claim by BA check-in clerk Nadia Eweida, who sparked a national debate in Britain over religion when supervisors sent her home in November 2006 for refusing to remove the small silver cross from around her neck. The company has rules banning employees from wearing visible religious symbols.
BA eventually changed its policy, and Eweida went back to work. But she continued to pursue a claim of religious discrimination, seeking damages and compensation for lost income.
British courts backed BA, but Eweida went to the European Court of Human Rights. The Strasbourg, France-based court ruled Jan. 15 that the airline's policy "amounted to an interference with her right to manifest her religion." Eweida's cross was discreet and could not have detracted from her professional appearance, the court said.
"I was jumping for joy and saying 'Thank you, Jesus,'" Eweida, 60, said when the court announced the verdict. "It's a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith."
But vindication did not come for all.
After deciding Eweida's case, the judges struck down claims by Lillian Ladele, a local authority registrar who said her Christian faith stopped her from overseeing same-sex civil partnerships, and marriage counselor Gary McFarlane, who refused to offer sex therapy to same-sex couples.
The court's rulings are binding on the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog. The losing claimants can appeal to the court's Grand Chamber, a higher panel of five judges.
In both cases, the court said employers were entitled to strike a balance between claimants' rights to live out their religious beliefs and the rights of others not to suffer discrimination.
But according to religious groups, the rulings make it clear sexual orientation trumps religion when it comes to rights. Europeans now live within a hierarchy of rights, said Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance.
"If we want to create a society that is diverse and can live with its deepest differences, there needs to be a fuller protection for religious beliefs, convictions and actions," he said.
BCF Students Travel "Miles" and Reach "Milestones"
GRACEVILLE, Fla. (Baptist College of Florida) -- "Miles and Milestones," that's how The Baptist College of Florida (BCF) Missions Professor Rich Elligson described this year's January Church Planting Practicum. Every year, BCF in partnership with the Florida Baptist Convention, sends a group of students to assist a church planter in their work somewhere in the state. This year's project took the class to Santa Rosa Beach where new church planter William Whaley is beginning a work called New Day Church.
"The term 'miles' refers to the ground we covered," Elligson explained. Each day the group of 11 students walked more than seven miles, distributing nearly 3,000 promotional packets and inviting area residents to attend the new church. "It wasn't exactly glamorous work," remarked senior Ministry Studies major Adam Siskey, "But it was necessary work. There are miles and miles of dirt roads and hundreds of homes tucked back in the woods all along the main highway. Homes that go unnoticed mean families who may be unchurched." And the unchurched is what drew the attention of Florida Baptists to the area, as well as church planter William Whaley. "The majority of Walton County's population resides south of Highway 20," Whaley explained. "Yet there are few churches in this part of the state, and very few Baptist churches." The burden to see the southern part of the county come to Christ is what led to the inception of New Day Church, whose vision is "to see lives transformed by the Gospel."
While "miles" refers to ground covered, "milestones" refers to the progress that was made. After spending the week knocking on doors, handing out materials, and inviting families to New Day Church, Saturday was dedicated to building relationships at the New Day "Family Fun Day" event at a local park. There, BCF students were joined by the church's core group members as well as volunteers from First Baptist Church DeFuniak Springs. The results were spectacular, as more than 400 people arrived to enjoy the free bounce houses, balloons, games, food, and a petting zoo, all provided in an effort to meet people, share the love of Jesus, and encourage the unchurched to visit the new work.
And visit they did. Sunday morning's preview service filled 90 seats at the elementary school where New Day meets, with more than 40 first time visitors, most of whom had been encountered during the week's festivities of visiting, inviting, and events. Continued...