Latest media reports from Syria say foreign-sponsored militants fighting against the government plan to use a group of nuns they kidnapped from their convent in the town of Ma'loula as "human shields."
Twelve Syrian and Lebanese nuns were kidnapped from a Greek Orthodox convent after foreign-backed militants, including members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, moved into the center of Ma'loula on Monday following several days of fighting.
The nuns were then taken to the nearby town of Yabrud - which has a large Christian population.
Reports say Syrian forces have been deployed to Ma'loula to restore security there.
The Syrian army has been battling Takfiri militants in the regions near the capital Damascus.
The army has cleared many towns and villages of the militants.
On Tuesday, Syria's Greek Orthodox patriarch called for the release of the nuns, saying, "We appeal to the seed of conscience that God planted in all humans, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters safely."
Moreover, the Syrian Foreign Ministry sent two letters to the head of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon late on Monday, saying, "Syria is facing a barbarian war launched by extremist...gangs targeting its present and future."
The ministry added that "terrorists" stormed Mar Takla Convent and held its Mother Superior Pelagia Sayaf and a number of nuns "as hostages and sabotaged churches and houses."
The foreign-sponsored militants have previously abducted two bishops and a priest.
The militants fighting against the Syrian government had attacked Ma'loula, which is regarded as a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria, early in September. However, they were pushed out of the town by the Syrian troops.
Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.
Aramaic Christians under attack in Syria
DAMASCUS (AP) — Syrian Christians offered prayers Sunday for a group of more than a dozen nuns and orphanage workers held by rebels for nearly a week, fueling fears in the minority community that they are being targeted by extremists among the fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad. The seizure of the 12 Greek Orthodox nuns and at least three other women is the latest attack to spark panic among Syria's Christians over the strength of al-Qaida-linked militants and other Islamic radicals in the nearly 3-year-old revolt against Assad's government. A priest and two bishops previously kidnapped by rebels remain missing, and extremists are accused of vandalizing churches in areas they have captured. Rebels seized the nuns on Monday from the Greek Orthodox Mar Takla convent when fighters overran Maaloula, a mainly Christian village north of Damascus that lies on a key highway and has changed hands several times in fierce fighting between rebels and government forces. The group, along with three women — themselves orphans — who work in the convent's orphanage were taken to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud. The eldest of the nuns is nearly 90 years old, and the youngest of the orphanage workers is in her mid-teens, according to Mother Superior Febronia Nabhan, head of the Saidnaya Convent. On Friday, a video was released of the nuns, in which they denied being kidnapped, saying they were in good health and that fighters had taken them to a location away from the combat out of concerns for their safety. The video only stoked the worries of Christians who gathered Sunday for a Mass at the Mariamiya Church in Damascus, the main Greek Orthodox church in the country. "They're coming after us," Odette Abu Zakham, a 65-year-old woman in the congregation who lives in the nearby historic Christian district of Bab Touma. "All they do is massacre people, all they know is killing." Another woman at the Mass noted that in the video, the nuns appeared in their black robes but with no signs of religious symbols on them. "They didn't even let them wear their crosses," she said. "This just shows they aren't capable of respecting Christians." "It's been a week. If they're only holding them for their safety, they could have handed them over by now," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against herself or her family. Christians and other minorities tend to support the government of Assad, who comes from a Shiite offshoot sect. Syria's Sunni Muslim majority form the backbone of the uprising against Assad. But nationalist fighters among them have been overshadowed by the increasing power of extremists, including Syrian rebels who have taken up hard-line al-Qaida-style ideologies and foreign fighters. In his sermon at the Mass, the Greek Orthodox patriarch for Antioch and All the East, Yohanna al-Yaziji, asked "anyone with any connection, direct or indirect" to intercede to win the group's return. "We hope this will happen today, not tomorrow. We urge everyone to adhere to the logic of dialogue and peace, not to violence and weapons." He carefully avoided describing the nuns as "kidnapped" or asking for their release — praying only for their "return" — a sign of concerns among Church officials that any statements could enflame the situation. The rebel faction that released the video, aired on Al-Jazeera television, did not identify itself, and no faction has announced it is holding the group. Syrian opposition activists and Church officials have said the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, is holding them. One activist said a Syrian Christian businessman is trying to mediate between the Nusra Front and the government for their release in return for the release of seven Saudi fighters. The activist spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret mediation, but did not have further details. Greek Orthodox Church officials would not comment. ___ AP correspondents Albert Aji in Damascus and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report. - See more at: http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/2-bishops-priest-12-nuns-still-missing-after-being-kidnapped-syrian-rebels#sthash.dvCKq170.dpuf
Obama Uses IRS to Eliminate His Enemies December 6, 2013 - 5:32 PM - See more at: http://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/ken-blackwell/obama-uses-irs-eliminate-his-enemies#sthash.YBgi3zhO.dpuf
"The power to tax involves the power to destroy," the Supreme Court wrote in 1819, shortly after America began. Now in 2013, President Barack Obama is launching a frightening attack on free speech, using one of the most feared agencies in all the federal government: the Internal Revenue Service.
One of the most roundly-condemned aspects of Richard Nixon's malfeasance in office was his use of the IRS to target his political enemies with audits. If people shudder at Nixon's abuses with the IRS, what Obama is doing should drive them to convulsions.
Obama seeks to silence dissenting voices with unprecedented new regulations to curtail political speech by nonprofit organizations. These new rules would help silence conservative organizations and Obama's critics, and raise serious First Amendment concerns as these rules look like the federal provisions struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its famous Citizens United case.
Congress allows for various types of organizations to organize as nonprofit organizations, revenue from which is not subject to corporate federal income tax. For example, fundamentally charitable or educational nonprofits-such as churches-are 501c3 organizations, contributions to which are also tax-deductible by the donors.
Some groups are 501c5 organizations. These are political action committees (PACs), which endorse candidates for office and devote their resources to advancing or defeating certain candidates.
Then there are 501c4 organizations. These are social welfare organizations, dedicated to advancing certain issues or viewpoints they believe promote "the common good and general welfare." These nonprofits can devote much of their resources to political activity, so long as politics is not the group's "primary purpose."
It's always been assumed that less than 50 percent would be devoted to pure politicking, but no one knows because the law does not specify. Also-conveniently-the Tax Code fails to define the term "political activity."
On Nov. 26, the Treasury Department and IRS announced new regulations "regarding qualification requirements for tax-exemption as a social welfare organization," that is, 501c4 organizations. The IRS then goes on to specify what sorts of activities will henceforth be regarded as political activity, including, but not limited to:
- Any message expressing approval/support or disapproval/opposition to any candidate for public office. For example, an ad saying, "Thank Senator Smith for supporting our troops."
- Within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election, any mention by name of any candidate or showing his picture, even without expressing approval or disapproval.
- Any money given by a 501c4 to a 527 organization, which citizens may give however much of their personal money they want to promote public issues they personally support.
- Voter registration drives.
- Voter guides that inform citizens of where politicians stand on various issues.
- Any event within 60 days of an election at which a candidate makes an appearance.
The impact of such regulations would be far-reaching. Groups such as the National Rifle Association and its political affiliate, NRA-ILA, are 501c4 organizations. Imagine if NRA-ILA could not spend much of its resources discussing issues and legislation, or informing voters of where candidates stand on gun-rights issues. Now imagine those restrictions imposed on the major organizations of every public issue in America.
Less than four years ago in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law that made it a crime for organizations to speak about candidates within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary. The Obama administration claimed the authority to ban even books, if a 600-page book mentioned a candidate even once on its pages.
The Court held that these restrictions violated the First Amendment. Yet these new IRS rules closely track those invalidated provisions.
In some respects, these restrictions go even further than the ones struck down by the Court. Previous restrictions only applied to candidates for federal office. The new IRS rules would also apply to every candidate for state and local elections. So criticizing your county dog catcher could land your organization in hot water with the IRS, even if the dog-catcher election is vitally relevant to the social-welfare interests of your nonprofit group, such as a group called Citizens for Safe Dog Catching.
In our 2010 book The Blueprint, we discussed how free speech is the essential lifeblood of public debate, empowering voters to make a thoughtful and well-considered choice at the ballot box. We also warned that Obama might create laws to silence his political opponents, using the same Chicago-style political tactics he knew from his days as an Illinois politician, like a couple rough-looking thugs built like brick walls who muscle their way around your store front to send you a message that you'd better quiet down if you know what's good for you and your business.
The Supreme Court restored free speech for average citizens in Citizens United. Shortly thereafter, President Obama demeaned his high office by denouncing the Supreme Court to the justices' faces during the 2010 State of the Union Address on national television before a joint session of Congress. Obama later promised to find ways to get around the Citizens United decision.
That is what the IRS is doing here, limiting how much groups can speak about Obama's policies or promote alternative policies about healthcare, free markets, traditional values, or national defense. Obama and his supporters can use the enormous platform of their public offices to promote whatever they want without limit. If the president gives a speech, the media will cover it.
But if a group of citizens wants to pool their resources to express an opposing viewpoint before an election, that group can lose its tax-exempt status. Unlike the law struck down in 2010, it will not be a federal felony.
But while its bite isn't as deep, the reach is much broader. It serves to choke off funding and impair the ability of those groups to participate in the democratic process.
The solution to political speech you don't like is to offer opposing speech; the cure for bad speech or wrong speech is more speech, not less. That free exchange of ideas is the blood flowing through the veins of a free society, so that voters can fully hear both sides. When you stop that flow, you stop the beating heart of democracy.
Editor's Note: Ken Klukowski co-authored this column. Ken Blackwell is the former Ohio secretary of state, and Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. They are the national-bestselling authors of The Blueprint: Obama's Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency.
News Max on Pope Francis by Melanie Batley
Pope Francis is misguided in his beliefs about the dangers of capitalism, and instead of commenting on economic issues he should focus exclusively on matters affecting faith and morality, says Andrew Napolitano.
In an op-ed piece for The Washington Times the former New Jersey Superior Court judge and senior judicial analyst for Fox News says the Pope is "wide of the mark" in his verdict that free-market capitalism undermines the social mobility of the poor as he suggested in his recent apostolic exhortation.
"No economic system in history has alleviated more poverty, generated more opportunity, and helped more formerly poor people become rich than capitalism," writes Napolitano, who is a traditionalist Roman Catholic.
"The essence of capitalism goes to the core of Catholic teaching: the personal freedom of every person. Capitalism is freedom to risk, freedom to work, freedom to save, freedom to retain the fruits of one's labors, freedom to own property and freedom to give to charity."
Napolitano says that, contrary to the Pope's view, free markets are too stifled by government control and regulation. He adds that arguments for the redistribution of wealth go against traditional Catholic social teachings that call on believers to "become our brothers' keepers" through personal charity.
"The Pope seems to prefer common ownership of the means of production, which is Marxist, or private ownership and government control, which is fascist, or government ownership and government control, which is socialist. All of those failed systems lead to ashes, not wealth," he writes.
"What shall we do about the Pope and economics? We should pray for his faith and understanding and for a return to orthodoxy. That means the Holy Mother Church under the Vicar of Christ — saving souls, not pocketbooks."
You can believe what you want-but you can't live your life according to your conscience-you must obey the state!
A Colorado judge says a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony must serve gay couples despite his religious beliefs, a ruling that a civil rights group hailed as a victory for gay rights.
Administrative Law Judge Robert N. Spencer ruled Friday that Jack Phillips, the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver, will face fines if he continues to turn away gay couples who want to buy wedding cakes.
"The undisputed facts show that Respondents (Phillips) discriminated against Complainants because of their sexual orientation by refusing to sell them a wedding cake for their same-sex marriage," Spencer wrote.
Last year, David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited the Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. The couple had planned to marry in Massachusetts and hold a reception in Colorado.
Phillips told the men that he could not bake their cake because of his religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. He offered to make them any other baked item, but not a wedding cake. The couple immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
"Being denied service by Masterpiece Cakeshop was offensive and dehumanizing especially in the midst of arranging what should be a joyful family celebration," Mullins said in a statement. "No one should fear being turned away from a public business because of who they are."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado hailed the ruling and said it serves as a warning.
"While we all agree that religious freedom is important, no one's religious beliefs make it acceptable to break the law by discriminating against prospective customers," ACLU staff attorney Amanda Goad said in a statement. "No one is asking Masterpiece's owners to change his beliefs, but treating gay people differently because of who they are is discrimination plain and simple."
Phillips was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal firm specializing in religious liberty cases. Attorney Nicolle Martin condemned the judge's ruling.
"America was founded on the fundamental freedom of every citizen to live and work according to their beliefs," Martin said in a prepared statement. "Forcing Americans to promote ideas against their will undermines our constitutionally protected freedom of expression and our right to live free."
Martin said this was simply a case of a baker who declined to use his personal creative abilities to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony.
"If the government can take aware our First Amendment freedoms, there is nothing it can't take away," she said.
Martin added that Phillips is a devoted Christian who has an unwavering faith. She said he is a person of such deep faith that he won't even bake Halloween-themed treats – at all.
"He's just trying to live within a certain set of biblical principals because he believes that he answers to God for everything that he does," Martin told Fox News.
She said this case is an example of gay rights trumping religious rights.
"It sends a message not just to other business owners, it sends a message to Americans – that if the government can take away our First amendment freedoms and tell you what to say and when to say it, there's nothing they can't take away," Martin told Fox News.
Judge Spencer said Phillips did not demonstrate that his free speech rights had been violated and he said there's no evidence that forcing him to make a cake for a same-sex ceremony would hurt his business.
"On the contrary, to the extent that the law prohibits Respondents' (Phillips) from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, compliance with the law would likely increase their business by not alienating the gay community," he wrote.
Martin said it was unclear if Phillips will appeal the judge's ruling.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is Dispatches From Bitter America.
I think there is nothing wrong with the Noah story sharing a contemporary relevency concerning pollution and the environment. The Biblical story almost lends itself to that. Many things in this movie are biblical or implied by the Bible-or are from Jewish tradition and ancient extra-biblical texts. The only movie I have ever seen that follows the Bible strictly is the "Gospel of John" movie-almost ALL Biblical films take liberties with the text-including Cecil B. DeMille's 10 Commandments.http://christiannews.net/2013/11/17/new-noah-film-starring-russell-crowe-flooded-with-controversy/
Homeschooling is highly developed now-extremely user friendly-and teachers are complaining that anyone can teach the "common core" scripts-there is no longer any reason to send your child to the public school-and many reasons not to!