For Pastor Brunson, the Wait Continues
Jacqueline Furnari used to think the worst thing that could happen to her family in Turkey was deportation. She was wrong. After 2016, the daughter of jailed Pastor Andrew Brunson barely recognizes the country where she grew up. The warm memories of becoming a big sister, of going to grade school in Izmir, and hanging a Turkish flag on their balcony at holidays have all vanished — replaced with a stream of family tears two years long.
Those tears didn’t subside yesterday, when the Brunsons got the agonizing news that Andrew wouldn’t be released after all. The hearing, his third since being falsely accused in 2016, went horribly wrong. Instead of being freed, as some local papers had predicted he would be, Pastor Andrew was transported back to his cell — where he will be 24 hours of every day for who knows how long.
The team of Americans who came to support Pastor Brunson were stunned. Most of them, including Kristina Arriaga, my colleague on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), had flown for hours hoping to witness the joyful reunion of Pastor Brunson and his wife, Norine. Instead, the trial ended suddenly, adjourning until Oct. 12. Kristina watched as “for nearly two hours during the hearing, former church members testified against Pastor Brunson, making vague, unsubstantiated accusations. When the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, he said: ‘My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.’ Only one witness from the defense was allowed to testify.”
As his few visitors over the torturous two years can testify, the conditions in the cinder block jail in Kiriklar are bleak. Pastor Brunson is “the only American, the only English speaker, and the only Christian in the prison,” Kristina wrote after seeing him last November. “He lives in a world of physical isolation and psychological dislocation.” A gaunt and paler version of his former self, she talks about his depression and shock he struggled through.
At home, leaders from both sides of the aisle are doing everything they can to force Turkey’s hand. In a rare spirit of cooperation, they’ve ratcheted up the pressure through a series of new sanctions and a bill blocking the sale of F-35 fighter jets. But even now, with the world watching, Kristina points out, “The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”
For Jacqueline and her two brothers, the last two years have been a painful blur. Through graduations, weddings, and everyday life, there’s always one empty chair at the family table. “I’m still waiting to wear the wedding dress that I got almost a year and half ago. I’m still waiting for my dad to walk me down the aisle. I’m still waiting for that father-daughter dance.” Her mom, Norine, has been reluctant to have the kids visit Turkey, terrified that they’d also be detained. The one time she did, Jacqueline said, they sobbed the entire time.
I will never forget any moment of the day we got to visit. I remember hearing my dad’s voice for the first time in a year as they brought him into the room. I remember how broken, tired, and desperate he sounded as he tried to fight to meet in a room where he could hug and hold us for the only hour he would have seen us the whole year. It was hard to fit words in because the emotions were too strong… He hated having us kids see him that way.
In her testimony begging for Congress’s help, Jacqueline talked about how her dad dreaded facing the cold winter in a prison that wasn’t insulated. “That he was already concerned about the winter in the middle of August shows how hopeless he was… He’s been changed by this experience. My whole family has been changed.”
Although they’ve all been able to communicate with Pastor Andrew through letters, Jacqueline told me on “Washington Watch” that’s it’s been a difficult separation. But in her dad, she says, she sees a big change from even last year. “At the start, of course, this was very difficult for him to process this. ‘Why is this happening to me? I’ve been serving people in an overseas country for 23 years, telling people about God. How can this be my fate?’ But now I’ve seen that he’s really come to terms with it and said, ‘God, my life is in your hands. I want to glorify you however you see fit.’ He’s really submitted to God in this.”
Your prayers — and the prayers of Christians across the country — are certainly helping. When Kristina delivered the thousands of names of people who signed our prayer pledge to Mrs. Brunson on Tuesday, she said they were visibly moved. Knowing that his greatest fear is being forgotten, Kristina said the U.S. consul would be seeing Pastor Brunson today and would work to get the nearly 50 pages of names who pledged to pray for him into his hands. For an in-depth look at the trial, don’t miss my interview with Kristina on “Washington Watch.”
Originally published here.
Planned Parenthood Fights Its X-tinction
Planned Parenthood is used to leaving courts with favorable news. So you can imagine the abortion giant’s surprise Tuesday when the friendly turf soured. In one afternoon, the darling of activist judges helped make conservatives’ point: Donald Trump’s judicial nominations are paying off — sooner than anyone expected.
U.S. District Trevor McFadden is new to the bench, one of the dozens of originalists this president picked to balance out the courts. Tuesday, the rookie provided a tangible return on the appointment of constitutionalists by tossing out a case against HHS’s guidelines on Title X “family planning” money. Since the rules haven’t officially taken effect, McFadden ruled, there was no point in three Planned Parenthoods and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association filing suit.
“Courts,” he pointed out, “cannot review substantive objections to a non-final agency action, nor can they require formal rulemaking for a change in agency procedure.” According to the filing, the team of abortion activists objected to HHS’s focus on abstinence education and the “increased family participation and cooperation with faith-based organizations.” Thanks to this judge, their objections over the $260 million pot of money will have to wait.
While McFadden couldn’t rule on the merits of their case, he did make it clear where he stood on them. As far as he’s concerned, the administration’s decision to prioritize pro-life, pro-family, pro-abstinence funding is “in step with the program’s commitment to ‘voluntary family projects… offering a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services.’”
That didn’t sit well with an industry that’s used to forcing its will on taxpayers through the courts. “The Trump-Pence administration is trying to impose its ideology on people,” Planned Parenthood’s Dawn Laguens grumbled. No, White House officials are reflecting the ideology of the people who put them in office — voters who were tired of the Left imposing radical views on the country. That’s why we have elections — so that the American people can decide whose values will guide budget decisions like this one. It’s President Trump’s prerogative, as head of the executive branch, to dictate how and where our dollars are spent. I don’t remember Laguens complaining when Barack Obama used his power to flood Planned Parenthood’s bank account. Unfortunately for the Left, the rules don’t change when the president does.
Meanwhile, if anyone understands the importance of President Trump’s judicial nominations, it’s Planned Parenthood. Let’s hope the rest of the country realizes it too — and gives this White House the senators it needs to keep confirming them.
Originally published here.
Gym Bags Member in Privacy Scare
A trip to Planet Fitness got one woman’s heart racing all right — but not the way she’d hoped. “Mrs. H” walked into the women’s locker room at the Leesburg, Florida, location like she’d done countless times. But nothing about this trip was ordinary — least of all the man staring at her inside.
Jordan Rice was standing at the mirror pretending to put on makeup. When Mrs. H asked him to leave, he just smirked. For more than an hour, he refused to go, watching every woman coming and going from his spot near the door. “Despite a male employee observing that Mr. Rice’s behavior was ‘over the top,’ staff did not intervene and ask him to finish his business, but permitted him to monopolize the women’s locker room.”
For Mrs. H, who’d survived an attempted rape, it was a traumatic experience to say the least. All she wanted was the privacy to change and shower. Instead, she got something else: a notice that her membership had been canceled. The company, which got into hot water for doing the same thing to a woman in Michigan, says she violated the “no judgment” part of its fitness agreement. But, as her attorneys at Liberty Counsel point out, Planet Fitness’s mission is to “to provide a clean, safe, welcoming environment for anyone who walks through [its] door.” So if anyone’s violating company policy, it’s Planet Fitness!
Without bothering to get her side of the story, the gym sent her a notice that it had ended her contract. Why? Because she dared to expect Planet Fitness to respect and protect her safety. And, incredibly, this isn’t the only time someone reported Jordan Rice to managers at the Leesburg location. As her attorneys remind them, “Another woman reported that he exposed his naked body to her in the women’s locker room at this location. In another instance, he was involved in an argument with another woman over use of the tanning room. Misogynist, anti-woman harassment should have no place in Planet Fitness locations, and violates Florida law.”
As far as Liberty Counsel is concerned, Planet Fitness ought to be charged with consumer fraud for refusing to let customers know about its transgender locker and bathroom policies. But then, companies like this one probably don’t want the backlash that Target got when it went public with its decision to open private spaces to everyone. If those grassroots boycotts proved anything, it’s how powerful the opposition is to gender free-for-alls like this one. “Tolerance” sounds like a great idea until your wife walks into a locker room with a naked man. Or worse, your youngest daughter.
Americans are tired of corporations like Planet Fitness ignoring the real-world consequences of their dangerous policies. What kind of upside-down world are we living in when the 99% has to accommodate the 1%? Or where women and children aren’t comfortable using something as simple as a public restroom? If Planet Fitness doesn’t understand where this kind of political correctness leads, tell it. Contact headquarters and let it know that if there’s one thing its gym should be exercising, it’s better judgment!
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.