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    Harris and financial broker Robert Eaton have been accused of creating LLCs through which they could divert money back to themselves by loans that were never repaid. Harris may also have spent $2.5 million on land in Florida valued at half that amount. And there are other allegations that he simply pocketed some of the money. The six lawsuits, originating in five different states, plus a federal investigation into what may be a discrepancy of $90 million, have made this case quite complicated. To streamline some of the complexity of pretrial discovery, the various plaintiffs temporarily consolidated their efforts in May and filed one joint lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western Distsrict of Tennessee in Nashville, where the church is based. The lawsuits may still be adjudicated separately, though. The church has adamantly denied any involvement in the alleged scheme and filed its own cross-complaint against Harris and others. "Dr. Jerome Harris and ten other individuals and entities" orchestrated "a sophisticated scheme to embezzle funds and defraud the AMEC’s Ministerial Retirement Annuity Plan," a church statement says....
              A U.S. District Court has dismissed a lawsuit by Chincoteague Lighthouse Fellowship Church against Governor Ralph Northam. In April 2020, the church sued over Northam’s Executive Orders 53 and 55, which limited gathering sizes to 10 and issued a stay-at-home order. But in a January 27 decision, Judge Arenda Wright Allen dismissed the suit, saying that the complaint was moot since those executive orders no longer stand. The lawsuit came after Chincoteague authorities cited Pastor Kevin Wilson for holding a service with 16 people on Palm Sunday, according to The Christian Post. Earlier that day, police had warned church leaders of the ten-person limit. The charges were eventually dropped. “On Sunday, April 5, 2020, a Town of Chincoteague Police Officer visited the Lighthouse Fellowship Church to inquire whether it planned to host a religious service that day,” court documents state. “The Officer informed a member of Lighthouse’s Board of Directors that it was not permitted to have more than ten people in attendance and that all attendees must be spaced six feet apart.”...
    The Supreme Court late Friday ruled that California can’t enforce some of its restrictions on church services, partially lifting limits put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. In a 6-3 ruling, the judges held that the state can’t ban indoor worship, but it can cap indoor services at 25 percent capacity. The court also didn’t stop the state from enforcing a ban on indoor singing and chanting. The court ruled in two cases brought against the state by churches — one by South Bay United Pentecostal Church and another by Harvest Rock Church — over restrictions in the state. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that federal courts owe “significant deference to politically accountable officials regarding public health restrictions,” but added that deference “has its restrictions.” Roberts also explained that the way the state decided that “the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero—appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.” Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettDOJ drops discrimination case against Yale University...
    President Biden's inauguration marked a historic moment as he became the second  Catholic to serve as president of the United States. The White House asserts that Biden is "devout," but many in Church leadership and among the rank-and-file have denounced his policies. Biden's faith became an issue early in the campaign when a South Carolina priest denied him communion over the then-candidate's pro-choice abortion views. Cardinal Raymond Burke similarly said Biden was not a Catholic in "good standing" and shouldn't receive communion, explaining that supporting abortion was a mortal sin. WHITE HOUSE SAYS BIDEN IS A 'DEVOUT CATHOLIC' WHEN ASKED ABOUT ABORTION POLICIES Some in media have been supportive of Biden's standing as a Catholic. The New York Times was met with criticism when it published an article this month declaring that Biden was "perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century." The Washington Post similarly published an article disputing Trump's claims that Biden "hurt God." "Biden has spent his life drawing from his Catholic faith," an August headline read. Another from December claimed "Biden could redefine what it means to be...
              Two pastors are suing Governor Ralph Northam over Executive Order 72 (EO 72), saying that the order places restrictions on churches that aren’t placed on educational institutions or essential businesses. Pastor Jeff Light and Reverend Jon Heddleston are being represented in the Rappahannock Circuit Court by lawyer Mike Sharman, who is also representing plaintiffs from churches in Madison and Culpeper in two other lawsuits against Northam. A press release from Sharman’s office highlights the difference in EO 72 between a “gathering” at church and people in an educational setting. “A church is allowed to have a ‘gathering’ of more than 10 people, but only if it strictly adheres to the Governor’s physical distancing and sanitization plan, otherwise it has to close,” the press release states. On the other hand, “Under Executive Order 72, the leadership of an educational group can decide how they want to operate: ‘Individuals assembled for educational instruction adhere to the applicable physical distancing and sanitization plan and guidelines of the relevant governing body or educational institution,'” the release states....
    The Diocese of Brooklyn sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo for allegedly violating its First Amendment rights by limiting capacity at churches in Brooklyn and Queens in his latest round of coronavirus shutdowns. In a statement, the diocese said the governor’s latest executive order “arbitrarily” imposed the limits on Catholic churches in the boroughs — despite them having played a small role in the new COIVD-19 hot-zone spikes. “The executive orders this week have left us with no other option than to go to court,” Nicholas DiMarzio, the Bishop of Brooklyn, said in a statement. “The State has completely disregarded the fact that our safety protocols have worked and it is an insult to once again penalize all those who have made the safe return to Church work,” he added. The Brooklyn federal court complaint, which seeks a protective order blocking the executive order, says the new restrictions would devastate the Catholic community in Brooklyn and Queens, which has been a “lifeline” to residents since churches reopened after the first coronavirus outbreak. “Effectively closing the doors of the church again now would...
    President Trump will sign an executive order to protect babies born prematurely or after surviving an abortion, he announced Wednesday. “Today, I am announcing that I will be signing the Born Alive Executive Order to ensure that all precious babies born alive, no matter their circumstances, receive the medical care that they deserve,” the commander-in-chief told attendees while delivering the keynote address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. “This is our sacrosanct moral duty,” he remarked at the virtually-held event. The president went on to tout the importance of Catholic schools for offering underserved children a chance at a better education. In his speech, Trump also announced an increase in federal funding for neonatal research “to ensure that every child has the best chance to thrive and to grow.” The White House declined The Post’s request for more details on the order, including when they hoped it would be signed. The order was meant to strengthen pro-life efforts, however it was not immediately explained what it would specifically do. A source familiar with the contents of the order told Bloomberg...
              Three churches are suing the governor and his constituents for executive orders that violate their religious liberties. Defendants in the case are Governor Tim Walz, State Attorney General Keith Ellison, and county attorneys Chad Larson, Tom Kelly, and Donald Ryan. The Thomas More Society filed on behalf of the churches. The lawsuit cites Article I, Section 16 of Minnesota’s Constitution as state precedent protecting the right to worship: “the right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed.” The lawsuit also cites Christian adherence to the Bible’s commandment for believers to worship together. The Thomas More Society Special Council Erick Kardaal affirmed this reasoning, adding that multiple religions “are bound by their faith to worship together.” “Time-honored rights and rituals, including prayers, singing, communion, and a laying of hands in blessing, are among those elements that comprise the free exercise of religion, for which the First Amendment disallows the prohibition thereof. That is the central tenet of the complaint.” The suit argues that the...
    Three Minnesota churches, along with religious leaders and churchgoers, are suing the State of Minnesota and Gov. Tim Walz for his coronavirus-related executive orders requiring social distancing, masks and participant caps at religious services and ceremonies. Filed on Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, the complaint argues that Walz’s orders requiring face masks in public buildings, as well as social distancing and limiting indoor capacity to 50 percent, violate Minnesotans’ First Amendment right to religious liberty. Minneapolis-based attorney Erick Kaardal, who is leading the case, said Thursday on a virtual news conference that Walz’s orders are “targeted at churches and houses of worship,” and that Walz “wants to prosecute” Minnesotans for their religious activities. Walz’s executive orders are not exclusive to houses and activities of worship. Minnesotans under the executive orders are required to wear face masks in all public buildings, and all gatherings have been subject to size limits, both indoors and outdoors, in an attempt to curb the spread of the novel virus. Houses of worship and religious services and ceremonies such as weddings and funerals...
    The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee elected its first black chair this week. The largest Christian Protestant denomination unanimously elected Rolland Slade, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., via Zoom due to coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings. ATLANTA PASTOR LOUIE GIGLIO ‘DEEPLY SORRY’ FOR CALLING SLAVERY ‘WHITE BLESSING’ "I don't think there was ever a plan for me to be in this position," Slade, 61, told Baptist Press. "I think it's what God has done. … I believe God loves diversity; He created us and we are all diverse. I think for us to not embrace it is saying that, 'We've got a better idea than You [God].'" The Rev. Rolland Slade, senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, has been elected as the first African American chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee this week. (Courtesy of Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee) Slade, a native of San Diego, was previously vice chairman of the Executive Committee and chair of its Cooperative Program Committee, which handles the denomination’s central funding mechanism. CHICK-FIL-A’S DAN CATHY...
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