Archive for December, 2008

2008, A Quick Look Back

This has been a very busy year for me.  I have managed to work on a variety of cases, with very little expenses. 

 

Your prayers and your support made this possible.  So, let me begin by saying thank you!  Your partnership has made all the difference in the lives of a number of people in America and Europe.

 

That’s right!  We have worked on a variety of cases in America.  At the same time, we have done what no one else has been doing in Europe; we stood up for religious freedom across the Continent!

 

It is important to give praise for the success we have had.  That is part of how we prepare for moving forward.  2009 looks to be every bit as busy as 2008.  We will look to 2009 soon, for now I want to take a few minutes and review our work this year.

 

One easy, cost free way you can also help us is by using GoodSearch for your Internet searches. Go to www.goodsearch.com and enter International Human Rights Group as your charity to begin supporting the ministry through GoodSearch.

 

Battles won in America

 

In the States we worked on a number of different cases and issues.  I want to talk about a couple of them that you probably heard nothing about because we handled them quietly to protect the reputation of our clients.

 

In Atlanta we worked for over two years to resolve free speech issues in the areas surrounding the Georgia Dome, Centennial Park, and the Philips Arena.  There are a number of groups that provide security and they played off of each other to hinder free speech on public sidewalks.

 

Earlier this year I met with attorneys for one of those groups and finalized the negotiations whereby everyone has now agreed that evangelists have the right to share their faith on the sidewalks surrounding all of these public arenas.

 

It was a hard fought victory and required a lot of time and energy, but we persevered and won the rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States.

 

Thank you for standing with these evangelists through the IHRG!

 

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The Gentleman Evangelist, Bill Adams, sharing his faith at an Atlanta Falcons football game!

 

We also worked with a large church in a southern city.  For the sake of the church and the community I am not at liberty to share the name of the church or the city and state.  This church has an outreach that is changing the way Christians look at the arts.

 

The church was looking to erect a large cross on property they own in a rural area.  The property is used for sports outreach and special church programs.  County officials refused the church the building permit required to erect the cross because they said it violated their local sign ordinances.

 

I was invited down to meet with county officials.  We spent over an hour discussing the fact that the Constitution and other laws protect the right of the church to erect religious worship symbols on their property for the purpose of religious expression.

 

Then, our local attorney took the county attorney by the property and let him see for himself the rural nature of the property.

 

After several weeks, the county relented and the cross has been erected.

 

Our International Work

 

I made six trips to Europe this year working on cases involving religious freedom.  While this may sound like nothing but fun it means that I was away from my family for over 70 days this year.  It means that I missed some of those moments that make up our private lives. 

 

Don’t get me wrong, this is what I am called to do and I do it gladly.  It does not, however, come without costs.

 

First case of 2008 filed in Strasbourg, France

 

My first trip to Europe in 2008 found me filing a case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.  This court is the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States for issues involving human rights and religious freedom.

 

This case involves Petar Keseljevic who is an evangelist from Oslo, Norway who was arrested for sharing his faith on public sidewalks in Oslo.  You might remember that in August of last year we were in Oslo at Petar’s trail.

 

In near record time, Petar’s case went through the entire system in Norway.  A ruling from the ECHR will set a precedent for the entirety of Europe.  Please pray that the court will accept this case and give us a chance to present Petar’s case for freedom of expression.

 

From Strasbourg, we traveled to a meeting with the Robinson family in Nürnberg, Germany where Clint Robinson is the English language pastor of a Baptist Church.  We spent a considerable amount of time last year working on the Robinson family’s case.  We were able to resolve their case so they remained in Germany ministering through the end of 2008.  Now, the Robinson family is back in the States on furlough preparing to return to Europe and plant a new church.

 

Your prayers and partnership helped in both of these cases.  Please continue to pray for Petar and the Robinson family.  Pray that they will be able to continue their ministries in Norway and Germany/Austria.

 

We also met with Mosaic and Samhol ministries in Iceland.  We have partnered with these ministries to support their outreach in Iceland.  These two dynamic ministries are making a huge difference in Reykjavik.  Mosaic is a local evangelical church that began this Easter.  Already they have one hundred members, many of them street people who have come to the Lord through the ministry of the church and Samhol.

 

One hundred members doesn’t sound like a big church by American standards.  You have to realize that the largest evangelical, non-state church in Iceland has only four hundred members to see what a huge start this is.  This country is like the rest of Europe, hardened to the Gospel in many ways.  Yet, in Reykjavik Christian men have dedicated their lives and ministries to seeing revival in the Icelandic people.

 

Samhol is a ministry to the street people and addicts of Iceland.  They work to not only bring these hurting souls to the Christian faith; they are also working at the street level to free them from the chains of addiction.  Their program is simple.  They help them physically defeat the addiction and then they counsel them through the emotion and mental difficulties of returning to normal, productive lives.

 

Mosaic and Samhol are changing Iceland, one soul at a time.  We are proud to be partnered with such dynamic ministries.

 

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An inside look at the work of Samhol in Iceland

 

Please continue to pray for these two dynamic ministries to have greater influence in Iceland and beyond!

 

This is a different fight for the IHRG.  Religious freedom is currently strong in Iceland.  Here we will support the local work of these two ministries and others.  We will support their leadership with legal counsel as they grow and have a greater reach into the cities and villages of Iceland. 

 

Second and Third Case of 2008 Filed Before ECHR in Strasbourg

 

We filed our second and third applications of 2008 before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France on behalf of the Plett and the Pauls families.  (To understand why I consider religious freedom in Europe so important please see a recent article of mine that was published in The Voice Magazine.  You can see the article by clicking here.

 

The Plett and the Pauls familes are home schooling their children for religious reasons.  Their right to control the education of their children is protected by the German Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.  Unfortunately, the German school authorities have refused to grant these rights to the parents and have persecuted the parents for home schooling their children.  And the German courts agreed with the school officials.

 

This persecution included removing the custody of the children on questions of where the children live from the parents and giving it to the Youth Welfare Office.  They levied fines against the parents of thousands of Euros, they showed up at the family home unannounced to take the children from the parents. 

 

One family eventually fled to Canada to try and stay together while they continue home schooling.  The other family fled in part to Austria to continue home schooling.  The European Court of Human Rights is these families’ last hope for justice and we are there to help fight for justice.

 

Please pray for these families and their cases!  Pray that the court will grant justice in instances where they have refused to enforce the law on behalf of parents and their children who are seeking to raise their children according to the dictates of their faith.

 

Criminal Trial in Oslo, Norway

 

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Norwegian attorney, Joel, and Petar Keseljevic after criminal trial in Oslo in July

 

In July I was in Oslo, Norway.  For the second time in a year police officers in Oslo arrested an evangelist for sharing his Christian faith in public.  This time, Petar Keseljevic was joined by Larry Keffer, an American evangelist.  These two men were in public areas of Oslo on May 17, 2008 sharing their faith when they were arrested.  The criminal hearing was in July and I was there representing Larry Keffer.

 

I read Larry’s fact statement into the record.  Then I cross examined a police officer.  Then I presented a closing argument based on the international law that protected the rights of Petar and Larry.

 

The prosecuting attorney told me after the trial that she believed this was the first time in Norway’s history that an American had participated in a criminal trial.  That seems a bit much to me, however, it was certainly an honor to be able to represent such an important case before the court in Oslo.

 

Both Petar and Larry were found guilty.  We appealed Larry’s case to the Norwegian Court of Appeals.  They denied the appeal and Larry’s appeal is currently pending before the Norwegian Supreme Court.

 

Please continue to pray for Larry.  We are prepared to file the final appeal in Strasbourg, if the Norwegian Supreme Court does not rule in Larry’s favor.  This is a critical case on free speech issues that could affect all of Europe and ultimately America.

 

We were also able to work with German lawyers to protect the rights of parents to choose the education of their children.  We spent time in the Czech Republic where we made key contacts that will be very important in the coming year.

 

There is more we have done, but time and space concerns need to keep this shorter. 

 

Please continue to pray for our work!  Please continue to pray for those we represent and their families!  They are the true heroes of our faith!

 

Thanks for standing with us!

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Eminent Threat To Our Sovereignty

 

            I do not want to sound like an alarmist.  I know there are some who will say that the only reason I feel this way is because I am a sore loser.  It is important for us to now draw a distinction between people who are complaining because they see their world slipping away and those who are trying to warn about potential problems based on certain policy positions of politicians like the President of the United States.

 

            I have come to believe in recent years that the office of President of the United States is the most overrated job in most American’s minds.  Sure there are powers that go with the office: the power to declare war, the power of the bully pulpit, the power to sign executive orders that have the force of law for up to eight years, and the power to pardon anyone for any reason.  The most important power of the President is the power to appoint federal judges and the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

            First of all, federal judgeships must be a great job because it seems that everyone who gets appointed serves until they are in their mid to late eighties—we should all be so lucky.  Second, these men and women have the power to define who we are as a culture like never before.  In the past couple of decades federal judges have become drafters of law rather than mere interpreters of law.  This means that their power has expanded beyond anything most of us can imagine.  The Court certainly has power expanded beyond what the founders ever envisioned.

 

            For most legal issues this distinction does not come into play.  It is really only important in matters of conscience and religion—issues like same-sex marriage and abortion.

 

            We only have to look to California to see why this is important.  The protest around the country against Proposition 8 in California that acknowledges the traditional definition of marriage as the only legal form of marriage—one man, one woman—shows the new nature of American law.  When the people vote to overturn activist judges the elitist in our culture are not satisfied and immediately turn to the streets to see change.  This is how change often comes to Europe.

 

            The next step for proponents of same-sex marriage is to go back to the courts and have them declare the will of the people invalid for any of a number of reasons.  The main reason this happens is the courts are willing to write law.  The Supreme Court of California has already begun the process of reviewing Proposition 8 and its constitutionality under California law.

 

            In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States decided to add language to the Constitution of the United States.  The issue was abortion and the Court decided that on the edges of the Constitution, not in the actual written language of the document, there was a right to privacy.  This right to privacy included the right for a woman to control her own body without concern for the nature of the baby growing inside her.  And thus we have legalized abortion on a national level.

 

            Now several state courts have tried to do the same thing with same-sex marriage.  They have looked at their state constitutions and declared that the language of those documents does not limit marriage to heterosexual couples.  This will change six thousand years of tradition.  It will change tradition regardless of the will of the majority of the people of the country or the rule of law that has served us so well for over one hundred years.

 

            Soon, if the make up of the Supreme Court changes with the appointment of more liberal justices, we will see these same types of decisions from the highest court in the country.  Liberal justices and judges have already turned to European Courts to help shape their decisions when it was necessary to get around American legal precedent.

 

            This is all because of the judges that serve in our judicial system.

 

            Here is the president’s greatest real power to bring change.  Here is the place where a president who does not march to the beat of mainstream America can bring lasting change to the country.

 

            Add to this the fact that Obama and other liberals think that the courts and cultures of Europe are more enlightened and more in step with modern, enlightened man.  They easily turn to the courts of Europe to change American law.

 

            This is an important point to understand; judges appointed by conservative presidents typically believe that the Constitution is a static document that must be interpreted by what is said in the document.  It does not grow, and therefore it should not be changed with the evolution of the times—particularly on the moral issues of the day, like abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious expression in public places.

 

            Liberal presidents appoint judges who believe that the Constitution is a living document that must be interpreted according to the mores of the modern culture.  Thus, the Constitution should be changed to match the enlightened views of morals of the day.  Thus, abortion is found in the right to privacy which can be assumed to be in the document even though the right to privacy is never mentioned in the United States Constitution.  Ultimately, marriage can be redefined because that is what enlightened people do.

 

            The European Courts are ahead of us on these matters.  That is why, just a few years ago, the Supreme Court turned to Europe to help do away with American sodomy laws when the law was clear and the precedent was clearly established under accepted American law and legal precedent.

 

            The argument goes like this:  Europeans are more advanced or enlightened on these moral issues and liberal judges, interested in writing law rather merely interpreting it, rightly look to European legal precedents in order to move America to a less Christian moral based country. 

 

            This approach to the law is nothing short of giving up our sovereignty—something we have fought to avoid since our inception.

 

            This is what we should expect to see under an Obama Presidency.  This is what will be the Obama Doctrine on judges and justices.  It will move us toward courts that write law and move the culture away from traditional Christian values respecting life and marriage and toward more liberal, less Christian based moral views on a variety of key issues.

 

            Activist courts will do something no one else has been able to do—they will override the expressed will of the people; they will force a new, modern morality on us.  A morality free from the dictates of Christian absolutes.

 

            The fight is coming; we voted with our pocketbooks, now we will pay with our moral core.

Victory for German Home School Family

Zittau, Germany—The IHRG is pleased to announce that the Brause family, a German home school family, that has lived under the cloud of criminal charges for the past couple of years has been redeemed.  German officials accused the parents of criminal child neglect for the home schooling their children.

 

On December 2nd we received word from our German counsel in this case, Johannes Hildebrandt, that the court and the prosecutor are dropping the charges against Mr. and Mrs. Brause.  This means they no longer face up to 2 years in prison and the potential loss of their children.  The decision of German officials is a huge victory for this family and for home school families in Germany.

 

Joel Thornton, President and General Counsel for the IHRG, said “we are pleased that the court and the prosecuting counsel asked whether the process can be ended.  This comes after the court received a detailed psychiatric report that there is no psychological harm to the children from home schooling.  The report stated that the children have not been harmed which is evidenced by their exit exams from high school.

 

“Now the Brause family may choose whether they want to have a sentence of acquittal in a public meeting in court or a document issued that declares the process closed and the charges dropped.

 

“This is a huge victory for home school families in Germany.  It means that government officials must be more careful when bringing criminal charges against home school families.”

 

Case History:

 

Since 2001, Bert Brause and his wife have taught their 8 children at home. Bert has studied Math and will soon be a certified teacher. The Brause’s live on a farm near the

 

 Polish and Czech Republic borders. Bert wrote a letter to the governor of Saxony asking for permission to home school his children. The state authorities in Saxony tried to force the parents to register their children in the public school. (There are no alternative schools close-by).

 

The Brause’s received threats and fines. Eventually, the social youth workers and, later, the court-ordered child defendant testified that the children were taught well and that they had a positive impression of them. Regardless of these findings, the Family Court ruled against the parents in Spring 2007. The custody for the school-aged children was partially taken from the parents and given over to the state. Under this ruling the parents had no say concerning school matters and where the children live. The children could be taken by the state authorities anytime. Just before the end of school in 2008 the parents received an ultimatum. The government had registered the children in school. If the children were not sent to school within 3 weeks, the authorities would take action. Regardless of this ruling the children remained in the home under the threat of removal at any time.

 

Then the state prosecutor ordered a hearing of the parents whom they charge with a criminal offense based on a law that requires intentional harming of a child, punishable with up to 2 years in prison.

 

The court set a trial date for 24 July 2008.  This was a criminal trial on the charge of intentional child neglect.  This trial was postponed after the IHRG announced its intention to bring in experts from America and England to testify as to the positive results of home schooling there.  The trial strategy also called for international human rights monitors to attend the hearing. 

 

Criminal charge: Intentional child neglect – Mr. and Mrs Brause were charged with willingly, knowingly preventing their children from going to school. Preventing the child from receiving a school education is considered harmful to the well being of the children.

 

The two oldest homeschooled children, aged 18 and 16, completed their public school exams successfully. Being homeschooled, they took advantage of the school law which permits “school exams for external students”. The Brauses want a regular school diploma for all their children so they can attend university after high school. They clearly informed the school authorities about their vision for their children.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Brause are Christians and homeschool their children for reasons of parental responsibility before God and the law. They chose to home educate their children for their best interest.

 

The IHRG will continue to work with the Brauses and other German home school families to make sure they can return to a normal life, home schooling their children as they have from the beginning of their children’s schooling.

 


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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