As I finished up my Culture Warrior column on Saturday night, I was watching Fox News and heard that Sen. John McCain had passed away.

My wife, Gena, and I send our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his wife, Cindy, and his adult children: Meghan, Bridget, John IV, James and Sidney. Our prayers in particular go out to his 106-year old mother Roberta, from whom John derived his spunk.

You might not agree with all of John’s political positions – I didn’t – but you can’t deny he was a great American and “a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order,” as former President George W. Bush described him after his passing.

McCain was a war hero. He served America for over six decades from his military service through his political career. During the Vietnam War, he endured torture in the “Hanoi Hilton” for five and a half years, two years of it being in solitary confinement.

John was a man of faith as well. In his own words, he explained: “So I was raised Episcopalian. I have attended the North Phoenix Baptist Church for many years, and I am a Christian.”

At the end of my article here, I will share with you a pivotal and inspirational moment that McCain had with a Bible during his captivity at the “Hanoi Hilton” prison in Vietnam.

Speaking of the Good Book, you might have read Bob Unruh’s great WND report about how a “‘Bible ban’ is closer to law for Californians.” While online liberal fact-check sources continue to say it’s no big deal, the fact is liberal progressives and politicians are cracking down on Californian’s religious liberty.

Christians and clergy across the nation are expressing serious concerns over a proposed California law that could outlaw certain religious speech and sacred books, something which would obviously be a direct violation of Americans’ First Amendment rights both for free speech and religious liberty.

Assembly Bill 2943, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Cupertino), Chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, would utilize the state’s existing consumer fraud statute to outlaw helping anyone with unwanted same-sex desires or gender confusion.

Last Thursday, California State senators passed the legislation. The Assembly is now poised to take up a final vote before the bill is sent to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s office for signing.

AB 2943 specifically stated that “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” is illegal.

Because of the uproar against its attack on First Amendment rights, some of the legislation’s language was changed to read: “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in for sale, or selling services constituting sexual orientation change efforts with efforts, as defined, to an individual” is illegal.

The problem is, like so many laws, the wording change went from completely closing the door on our First Amendment rights to shutting the door most of the way. It’s the frog in the kettle theory: Don’t turn the heat too high; just slowly simmer them to death.

That is why WND reporter Unruh rightly titled his article, “‘Bible ban’ is closer to law for Californians.” By the changes made in AB 2943, it morphed from a statute against free speech to one banning paid counseling services or the sale of sacred books that disagree with the LGBT community. If passed in its present form, it could outlaw the sale of some religious scripture, including the Judeo-Christian Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita and others, depending upon one’s interpretations.

Anyone who knows me knows I judge no one, and I love all people just as God loves us all. I’m not a bigot or a hater of anyone. I just simply agree to disagree agreeably, especially when it comes to anyone limiting anyone else’s First Amendment rights. I would equally fight for Jews, atheists, Muslims or the LGBT community when it came to their freedoms found in the First Amendment, despite my differences with them. This is America, not Nazi Germany. No one’s voice or belief should be suppressed or stifled.

Assembly Bill 2943 is a left turn on a red light. It heads down the street that will in due time morph into religious illegalities that oppose and restrict First Amendment rights of the faith community. And the proof that it was intended to be a direct assault and suppression of the religious community comes from the very discussion on the floor about the bill.

Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi said during the debate on the legislation: “The faith community, like anyone else, needs to evolve with the times. The science is clear. The claim that the First Amendment can be used as a defense for promoting fraudulent conduct is a fallacious argument.”

That is why legal minds immediately retorted against AB 2943.

Kevin Snider, Chief Counsel Pacific Justice Institute, said, “The language used in this bill casts a wide net calculated to entangle religious institutions and ministers. Any exchange of money for goods or services that provide a biblical perspective on the power of the Gospel to deliver from certain types of sexual sin springs the law and entraps the ministry.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney Matt Sharp similarly concluded: “California AB 2943 makes it unlawful for any person to sell books, counseling services, or anything else that helps someone overcome unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion. As a result, it could be a violation if a pastor encourages a congregant to visit the church book store to purchase books that help people address sexual issues, perhaps including the Bible itself, which teaches about the importance of sexual purity within the confines of marriage between a man and woman.”

And what about Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi’s rebuttal that: “The science is clear. The claim that the First Amendment can be used as a defense for promoting fraudulent conduct is a fallacious argument”?

To discredit his statement and the so-called “fallacious argument,” I would again cite one who is likely the greatest living scholar today on the First Amendment, Floyd Abrams.

Abrams is a Yale-educated adjunct law professor at New York Law School, 15 years the visiting professor of First Amendment law at the Columbia School of Journalism, and senior counsel to the New York City law firm Cahill, Gordon & Reindel where he’s practice law for over 50 years.

In a Washington Times review of Abram’s new must-read book, “The Soul of the First Amendment: Why Freedom of Speech Matters,” it identifies two of the polar misconceptions and misuses of the First Amendment: “For example, many Americans think hate speech is prohibited by the First Amendment, but as a unanimous U. S. Supreme Court just reminded us (in Matal v. Tam, the so-called ‘Slants’ case) it is not, nor can an employee of a private company who gets canned because of an offensive Tweet cry ‘the First Amendment has my back.’ So this little volume – 137 pages of text plus an eight page index – by America’s best-known First Amendment lawyer could hardly be more timely.”

There’s nothing unclear about the words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

For those interested to learn more about our founders’ original intent of the First Amendment, I would encourage readers to consult my recent column, “Has the First Amendment been abolished? I also highly recommend Abrams’ “The Soul of the First Amendment”” and my New York Times bestseller, “Black Belt Patriotism.” Here’s also a great C-SPAN interview with Abrams as well as Fox & Friends Brian Meade’s interview with Floyd Abrams.)

Speaking of the Bible and free speech, and as a final tribute to John McCain, let me share that pivotal moment the Bible played in his nearly six years of Vietnamese captivity.

As the Christian Monitor reported, “McCain will always remember the first Christmas they were allowed to have a [church] service together. They had never been able to have a Bible before, but shortly before this particular Christmas, the Vietnamese handed McCain a King James Bible, a piece of paper, and a pencil. He jotted down bits of the nativity story from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

John explained it this way: “On Christmas Eve, the first time we had been together – some guys had been there as long as seven years – we had our service. We got to the point where we talked about the birth of Christ, and then sang ‘Silent Night,’ and I still remember looking at the faces of those guys – skinny, worn out – but most of them, a lot of them, had tears down their faces. And they weren’t sorrow, they were happiness that for the first time in so many years we were able to worship together.”

Rest in peace, John McCain, into your eternal happiness. One final time you’ve reached across the aisle all the way into Heaven and God’s glorious presence.

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