Private schools intimidated for participating in legislature-approved voucher program

While teachers unions across the country routinely may challenge school voucher programs in court, the teachers union in Louisiana, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) has developed a new tactic – bully the schools that accept the vouchers.

The American Federation for Children – the nation’s voice for school choice which is dedicated to empowering families with the ability to take charge of K-12 education choices for their children – today condemned the actions of the LAE.

In a prepared statement, the federation alleges the LAE is bullying small, private schools.

The Louisiana Board of Education shares the federation’s disgust and urges the bullied schools to “ignore the LAE’s absurd actions.”

Private schools in Louisiana received letters this week from Brian Blackwell of the Blackwell & Associates law firm, which represents the state teachers union.

The letter threatened lawsuits for participating in the school choice program signed into Louisiana law this spring.

That law, part of a comprehensive education improvement project called Louisiana Believes, allows low-income parents the chance to pull their kids out of schools that are rated “C,” “D” or “F” and send them via vouchers to schools maintaining an “A” or “B” rating.

The threatening letter sent to private schools across the state gives each school until this weekend to opt out of accepting funding for low income students, or be sued by the teachers union.

“The LAE union threatens to initiate litigation against individual schools if they do not pledge – in writing … to cease participation in the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence (SSEE) program,” says the American Federation for Children.

“The letter comes despite a judge’s ruling two weeks ago that dismissed a union attempt to get an injunction stopping the program,” officials said.

The LAE union issued a statement saying that the organization had an attorney send the letter to voucher schools asking them to hold off on using money until the legal challenge is complete.

In a press release LAE President Joyce Haynes said that the letter was in no way an attempt at intimidation.

The LAE statement says, “The letter was our way of ensuring that Louisiana students don’t have to pay for the unconstitutional maneuvers made by Gov. Jindal and Superintendent White.”

Read more here.

200,000 Muslims convert to Christianity

It’s not easy to leave Islam in a Muslim country.

It can put one’s freedom and very life at risk.

But thousands are doing it, according to a new book by Jerry Trousdale, director of international ministries for City Team International. In fact, he writes in “Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love With Jesus,” some 200,000 Muslims have converted to Christianity in just the last six years. And they include sheiks, imams, Muslim leaders and ordinary devotees of the faith.

“There is tremendous dissatisfaction and discouragement among the very people who know the Quran the best and who are themselves desperate for assurance in their own religion,” says Trousdale.

City Team has locations in California, Pennsylvania and Oregon and partnerships in 42 countries around the world. Since 1998, the organization has cared for people around the world by training, equipping, mentoring and coaching local leaders to care for those in need in their communities. This includes training 600,000 new Christians who have started over 18,000 new churches in the past seven years.

“We’re starting a whole new thinking about the nature of church,” says Trousdale. “The model of the church that is emerging is so very different from traditional church. Disciple-making movements are reaching entire nations around the world. It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of seeing people’s lives radically changed by the gospel.”

He believes what has been learned from this experience can make anyone more effective at sharing the gospel – wherever they are.

“This book, these people, and the miraculous stories are for real!” exclaims Chip Ingram, senior pastor of Ventura Christian Church. “There is a paradigm shifting movement of God that anyone and everyone committed to making disciples must read and apply.”

Trousdale says he has seen entire mosques converting to Christianity. He tells of two disciple-makers who refused to give up on one town that had martyred five Christians.

Within seven years, there were seven churches in the town.

The book also documents accounts of Muslims discovering Jesus in dreams and visions.

Read more here.

Chick-fil-A sandwiches become a political symbol

All of a sudden, biting into a fried chicken sandwich has become a political statement.

Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain known for putting faith ahead of profits by closing on Sundays, is standing firm in its opposition to gay marriage after touching off a furor earlier this month.

Gay rights groups have called for a boycott, the Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids’ meals, and politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.

Across the Bible Belt, where most of the 1,600 restaurants are situated, Christian conservatives have thrown their support behind the Atlanta-based company, promising to buy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries next week on “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”

The latest skirmish in the nation’s culture wars began when Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” In a later radio interview, he ratcheted up the rhetoric: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, `We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'”

That fired up gay rights advocates, including a group that waged a campaign against the company in recent years by publicizing $3 million in contributions that the Cathy family foundation has made to conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council.

“This solidifies Chick-fil-A as being closely aligned with some of the most vicious anti-gay voices in the country,” said Carlos Maza of Equality Matters.

A Chicago alderman vowed to block a Chick-fil-A proposed in his district, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported him, saying, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote in a letter to Cathy: “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”

Read more here.

SlumDog Olympics

A celebration of free healthcare, the trade union struggle, the battle for women’s rights and a fleeting lesbian kiss: the Olympics opening ceremony Friday did not shy away from weighty social issues.

Unsurprisingly, the show devised by Oscar-winning British director Danny Boyle drew accusations from the British political right that it had strayed into “leftie” issues.

Aidan Burley, a lawmaker from Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative party, tweeted: “The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen — more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?”

He followed that with: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap.”

Several people tweeted their support for his comments.

Alastair Campbell, former British Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s communications chief, retorted on Twitter: “Brilliant that we got a socialist to do the opening ceremony.”

Cameron’s Downing Street office distanced itself from Burley’s comments, tweeting a message from the premier reading: “The opening ceremony has been a great showcase for this country. It’s more proof Britain can deliver.”

Burley was removed from his job as aide to the transport minister last month after attending a Nazi-themed stag party in a French ski resort.

Ahead of the show, Boyle — whose film “Slumdog Millionaire” won eight Oscars in 2009 — denied he was pushing a political agenda.

“The sensibility of the show is very personal,” he said.

Read more here.