April 29, 2020: AG Barr, USCIRF report, gospel singer Troy Sneed dies of coronavirus

Wednesday, April 29, 2020:

Here are the latest headlines, brought to you by The Christian Post.

— Barr threatens legal action against states COVID-19 orders 

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has threatened to take legal action against state officials who violate people's civil rights by taking draconian measures to enforce stay-at-home orders. 

On Monday, Barr sent a two-page memo to federal prosecutors asking them to consider legal action against state and local governments that infringe upon citizens' civil liberties as they enforce state lockdown policies in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Barr's memo comes as churches in several states and localities have filed lawsuits in recent weeks against state and local authorities as some services have been shut down during the pandemic and citations have been issued to pastors and churchgoers. He warned that even in “times of emergency, the First Amendment and federal law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.”

— USCIRF urges State Dept. to name India on top religious freedom violators list

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has, for the first time since 2004, recommended that the State Department add India to its list of countries that engage in or tolerate egregious violations of religious freedom. The bipartisan panel is comprised of religious freedom activists and scholars who advise the White House, State Department and Congress on religious freedom matters. They released their 2020 annual report Tuesday morning that recommends 14 countries be designated as “countries of particular concern.” 

The CPC designation carries the potential for crippling sanctions and other negative consequences for violating countries. Currently, the State Department has designated nine countries as CPCs, including Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The USCIRF is calling for Vietnam, Russia, Syria and Nigeria to also be designated as CPCs.

‘The Struggle Is Over’ gospel producer, singer Troy Sneed dies of coronavirus 

Grammy nominated gospel singer, writer and producer Troy Sneed, known for uplifting songs such as “The Struggle Is Over,” lost his own struggle with life Monday when he died due to complications from the new coronavirus. He was 52.

Sneed, who lived in Perry, Florida, started his music career at Florida A&M University where he studied education with a minor in music. Shortly after he graduated he joined the renowned Georgia Mass Choir as assistant minister of music. He went on to arrange music on the choir’s albums and appeared with them in the 1996 Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston film, “The Preacher's Wife.”

He later created an offshoot of the Georgia Mass Choir called the Youth for Christ Choir which comprised of 300 members between the ages of 12 and 18. In 2005, shortly after Sneed and his wife, Emily, created their own label, Emtro Gospel, Youth for Christ was one of their earliest signings. The Struggle Is Over was the choir’s first album for Emtro in 2006. The title track, which featured gospel vocalist Jonathan Nelson, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Gospel Singles chart and was nominated for a Soul Train Music Award. The album won a Stellar Award in 2007 for Children’s Performance of the Year.

— Kansas governor, 2 churches reach deal on allowing in-person worship

Kansas has reached an agreement with two churches to extend a temporary restraining order that allows them to hold in-person worship services of more than 10 people despite a statewide stay-at-home order.

Governor Laura Kelly agreed with First Baptist Church of Dodge City and Calvary Baptist Church of Junction City to extend the order exempting them from the ban from May 2 to May 16.

Days before Easter Sunday, Kelly issued an executive order expanding an earlier ban on gatherings of over 10 people so that it included religious services. In a statement defending the measure, Kelly explained that it was a “difficult decision” to reach, but considered it necessary to curb the spread of coronavirus.

 DeVos expands college prison program backed by evangelical ministry

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has doubled the size of an experimental program praised by Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest evangelical prison ministry, designed to make it easier for inmates to access college courses and degree programs to help prepare them for life after their release. 

The Education Department announced Friday that it has selected 67 new higher education institutions to join its Second Chance Pell Experimental Site Initiative. The new participants include at least 11 Christian and Catholic nonprofit private institutions. 

The expansion allows incarcerated students to use federal Pell Grants (awarded to low-income students to pay for post-secondary education) at over 130 schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

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