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Graduation Prayer Incident Turns Into Lawsuit E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Tuesday, 18 July 2006
In Henderson, Nevada, valedictorian Brittany McComb -- like is typical for student commencement speakers -- had her speech pre-approved by school officials. Asked to edit her remarks to remove prosyletizing, she nonetheless reinserted them on the spot, prompting officials to cut her microphone mid-speech for straying from prepared remarks. The case has become a lightning rod for a more general growing controversy, raising free exercise and free speech concerns while schools strain to avoid promoting religion and religious preference. McComb has filed suit against the school officials.
Weisntein's Fight Against Evangelicals in the Military E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Tuesday, 18 July 2006
Sunday's Washington Post had this fascinating story about Mikey Weinstein and his efforts to expose and end what he says is the routine practice of proseltyizing and religious preference in the miltary. His new organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which I've posted about before, is just one element in his determined attack,
Weinstein...has talked with hundreds of present and former cadets and staff at the academy, and has become convinced that the conflict is not between Christians and Jews, but between aggressively evangelical Christians and everybody else. Weinstein's passion already has shaken the Pentagon. His complaints about the Air Force Academy led last year to congressional hearings, an internal Air Force investigation and new Air Force guidelines on religious tolerance. The internal inquiry substantiated virtually all of his specific allegations.
Anchorage Daily News on the Baptist Temple Tax Break E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 17 July 2006
The Anchorage Daily News offers this editorial on the Alaska tax break law being challenged by the ACLU.
The Baptist Temple would be the only church in Anchorage to immediately gain from the legislation. The tax exemption would save the church about $25,000 a year. The Baptist Temple is an east-side mega-church that regularly hosts Republican officials who want to cultivate its conservative voters. Baptist Temple leaders and members lobbied the Republican-dominated Legislature for the tax measure, inserted as an amendment to an unrelated bill. No one has contested that church buildings, church offices and church schools all are covered by the property tax exemption. The law also exempts church-owned housing for ordained ministers. That's a defensible exemption, since ministers devote their lives to religion, and it's fairly common for churches to provide ministers with housing to compensate them for working long hours at relatively low pay. But extending the tax break to lodging for teachers who don't have formal religious credentials is stretching too far.
A previous editorial on the issue is here. I posted previously on this story here.
How Important is the Right to Say No? [UPDATED] E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 17 July 2006
Today, the Washington offers a trio of articles to highlight an important, growing issue in religious expression: refusal of service, especially among medical care providers.
Proponents of a "right of conscience" for health workers argue that there is nothing more American than protecting citizens from being forced to violate their moral and religious values. Patient advocates and others point to a deep tradition in medicine of healers having an ethical and professional responsibility to put patients first. The issue is driven by the rise in religious expression and its political prominence in the United States, and by medicine's push into controversial new areas. And it is likely to intensify as doctors start using embryonic stem cells to treat disease, as more states legalize physician-assisted suicide and as other wrenching issues emerge. ... Others say that professional responsibility trumps personal belief. "As soon as you become a licensed professional, you take on certain obligations to act like a professional, which means your patients come first," said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist and lawyer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "You are not supposed to use your professional status as a vehicle for cultural conquest."
[UPDATE: The Washington Post reporter who wrote the series of articles held an online chat with readers to discuss the issue. You can read the questions and answers here.]
LA Times: Take Down the Cross E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 17 July 2006
In an editorial over the weekend, the LATimes weighs in on the Mt Soledad cross issue.
Whether viewed as a war memorial, an icon or a place of worship, the cross is an extremely visible symbol of one religion. It occupies arguably the most prominent piece of public real estate in the city, which is in a state where the Constitution is even more exacting than the U.S. Bill of Rights about the separation of church and state. California's "no preference" clause explicitly prohibits the government from giving any preferential treatment to a particular religion, which is mainly why federal courts have ruled repeatedly that the cross must go. Even seen as a public war memorial, it is lopsided, honoring only those members of the armed forces who belonged to a particular faith.
Does the New Bush Policy Toward Cuba Hinder Religous Freedom Here at Home? E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Saturday, 15 July 2006
The Alliance of Baptists (one of the Baptist Joint Committee's Supporting Bodies) and the National Council of Churches say yes. The change comes wrapped in new report from the Committee for Assistance to a Free Cuba, laying out recommendations which have been approved by the President. Included is language which would direct the Department of Commerce to:
Tighten regulations for the export of humanitarian items, other than agricultural or medical commodities, to ensure that exports are consigned to entities that support independent civil society and are not regime administered or controlled organizations, such as the Cuban Council of Churches.
This provision would limit religious organization's ability to work with the religious bodies of their choice in Cuba in offering many types of aid, a kind of regulation over religious activity that sounds to me similar to earlier congressional attempts to limit humanitarian aid to illegal immigrants. Why does government feel the need--and why does it now feel empowered--to squelch religion's humanitarian mandate in furtherance of its own political goals? Associate Baptist Press has an essential story on this issue, with important quotes from the NCC reponse and from the Alliance of Baptists' Stan Hastey.
The Church of Cognizance... E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Friday, 14 July 2006
In Arizona, Dan and Mary Quaintance founded The Church of Cognizance on the belief that cannabis is a holy plant. Next month a hearing will be held in New Mexico where they were arrested with 172 pounds of marijuana, according to the East Arizona Courier. The motion to dismiss brought by the accused relies heavily on the recent Supreme Court decision allowing a hallucinogenic herbal tea, an otherwise illegal drug from Brazil, to be used as a sacrament by a small religious group in Mexico.
North Korea E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Thursday, 13 July 2006
Among the other pressing concerns we have about North Korea, members of the US Commission on international Religious Freedom Thursday asked for remembrance that the government there remains among the worst in the world for religious persecution and intolerance.
"The world doesn't know what is going on, they know about the missiles but that's all," said Roman Catholic Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, who heads the commission. ... "What is going on in North Korea is executions, what is going on is extreme repression of people," Ramirez told a press conference. Pyongyang insists that it respects human rights. The commission's delegation met with Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo and attended a Rome conference on religious freedom in North Korea sponsored by Italy's Radical Party and the Washington-based Freedom House democracy research institute.
Intelligent Design Debate Continues? E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Thursday, 13 July 2006
Early this year, the Ohio Board of Education dropped plans to add intelligent design to the 10th grade science curriculum. Yesterday, the Canton Repository reported that new proposed changes threaten to re-open that debate:
The board's Achievement Committee this week discussed whether there should be a template that would show teachers how to deal with controversial issues. ... One section of the proposal suggests students discuss "the value of rival theories" as they apply to global warming, evolutionary theory, cloning and stem-cell research. There's no mention of controversial issues in other subjects.
Americans United responds here. Meanwhile, in Kansas, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, the State Board's Tuesday meeting included claims that intelligent design supporters were "smearing" all who believed in evolution as "atheists" in advance of upcoming Education Board elections.
Lessons of History E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Thursday, 13 July 2006
I missed this over last weekend but Saturday Baptist pastor Bill Self published an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that's worth a read. The topic? The danger to the church--even as expressed in the Bible--of overturning the separation of Church and State, a danger that has been warned through historical lessons that should be heeded:
The clear lesson here is that the church lost its prophetic voice as it became responsible for the Establishment, and the state lost its conscience as the church and state became one. The church became powerful, wealthy and totally secularized, formally and morally bound to the state whose secular aspirations it fully shared. The church becomes, in an arrangement like this, old and drab, dismal and discredited, as well as depressing and oppressive. History is replete with illustrations of this. This happened in France in the 18th century, England and Germany in the 16th, Italy in the 19th, and Russia and Mexico in the 20th. And now those who have benefited the most from religious freedom are trying to stampede the American voter and turn back the clock on the issue of separation of church and state in the 21st century. History teaches us that in every situation where there has been a loss of religious liberty, the clerics oppressed the people and a strong anti-clerical reaction resulted. It's a stampede, and we must either head it off at the pass or we will have to clean up after it when it has gone by. At this season of the year, if enough people speak, if religious liberty can be highlighted effectively, the weight of public opinion will rise up and stop the stampede. History thunders loud to our day. Separation of church and state is best both for church and state.
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New Hampshire Supreme Court Debates Aid to Religious Schools Program
The New Hampshire Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in a challenge to the state's tuition tax credit program. Businesses in the state are receiving tax credits for paying private school tuition through a scholarship incentive program. Because many of those funds are going to ...
New Police Commissioner Abandons NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program
A new police commissioner in New York has brought new policies. William Bratton put an end to the Demographics Unit, an undercover surveillance operation controversial for targeting Muslim communities, including maintaining files on individual houses of worship. (The BJC and others last yea...