NEWS STORY: Christian Coalition unveils legislative agenda for new Congress

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The Christian Coalition, the leading advocacy group of the religious right, Thursday (Jan. 30) unveiled an ambitious agenda for the new 105th Congress, featuring a legislative package intended to combat poverty and crime while getting minorities and Democrats to work with it. The package includes proposals for a $500 per person tax credit for charitable giving, economic empowerment zones to stimulate inner-city neighborhoods, government scholarships to cover full private school costs for poor students, allowing government funding for faith-based anti-addiction programs, and providing financial bonuses to states that reduce juvenile and gang-related crime. It also includes a coalition pledge to raise up to $10 million by the year 2000 to assist 1,000 African-American and Latino churches to minister to”at-risk youth.”

COMMENTARY: The real mission of the church

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy analyst and social worker to the homeless. He currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J.) UNDATED _ A recent incident involving one of my inmate congregants sheds light on the need for the church to concentrate more on the spiritual than the political. A large, muscular black man with a history of hypertension, my friend was recently rushed to the hospital with stroke symptoms and an extremely high blood pressure level. While being treated in the emergency room, he was advised that, though his symptoms were minor and recovery was likely, full use of his limbs might not be restored for six months.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service Court says landlords can refuse renting to unmarried couples (RNS) A federal court in Alaska has ruled that landlords who believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin may refuse to rent their properties to unmarried couples. In a case involving three landlords who argued that renting to unmarried couples would violate their religious beliefs, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland said city and state laws banning rental discrimination on the basis of marital status are unconstitutional. Holland’s 30-page opinion, released on Saturday (Jan. 25), said that protecting religious beliefs under the First Amendment outweighed the government’s interests in preventing rental discrimination, the Associated Press reported.

NEWS STORY: Episcopal seminary relaxes policy on sexual behavior

c. 1997 Religious News Service UNDATED _ An Episcopal Church seminary with deep roots in the evangelical wing of the denomination has relaxed its 25-year-old policy barring students and faculty from sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. The board of trustees of Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., voted Jan. 22 to tuck their expectations about what goes on in seminarian bedrooms into a short document that stresses individual responsibility to others rather specific behavior. The new reliance on individual sexual responsibility replaces the previous prohibitions against”sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage, adulterous relationships and the practice of homosexuality.”

NEWS FEATURE: Buddhism American-style leaves out the Buddha

c. 1997 Religion News Service BOSTON _ For the last 20 years, Catherine Barley has been seriously engaged in what she calls a”mish-mash”of meditative practices gleaned from a variety of Buddhist schools of thought. She engages in sitting meditation, walking meditation, chanting meditation and mindfulness meditation. The latter is a technique intended to keep her mind focused on the present moment, which, Buddhism teaches, is all that ever truly exists.”It’s all there is to do. Nothing else is as important,”said the 45-year-old San Bernardino, Calif., woman.

NEWS STORY: Taped jailhouse religious confession ruled illegal

c. 1997 religion News Service SAN FRANCISCO _ A federal appeals court has ruled that jail officials in Eugene, Ore., violated the religious rights of a local Roman Catholic priest by secretly taping the sacramental confession a murder suspect had given the clergyman. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a U.S. District Court decision that the panel said might have encouraged prosecutors and police investigators to gather evidence by secretly taping otherwise confidential jailhouse communications between criminal suspects and clergy. At the same time, the Appeals Court also upheld the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the controversial law limiting government interference with religious expression and practice signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. That law is currently being challenged in a Texas case and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on RFRA’s constitutionality on Feb.

NEWS FEATURE: A new Age of Aquarius dawns

c. 1997 RELIGION NEWS SERVICE SAN FRANCISCO _ Three decades after a hippie musical heralded the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, a pair of Californians, using the Internet as a bulletin board, staged a global event Thursday (Jan. 23) to mark the dawning of the real Age of Aquarius. Under the banner of the”GaiaMind Project,”Jim Fournier, 35, and Juliana Balistreri, 31, spread the word of a remarkable astrological configuration of planets _ which on Thursday formed a hexagon on astrological charts in the shape of the Star of David. Because the”star”would be anchored by three planets in the house of Aquarius _ the constellation that is the 11th sign of the zodiac in astrology _ Fournier and Balistreri used the occasion to call for a day of prayer and meditation.”The whole point of the project is to use the astrology to pick a moment in time for people from all different traditions to choose to do something together,”Fournier said.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service Pope to visit Sarajevo, possibly Lebanon (RNS) The Vatican announced Wednesday (Jan. 22) that Pope John Paul II would realize his dream of praying in Sarajevo, possibly this spring, and said it is preparing the groundwork for a separate papal pilgrimage to Lebanon, which would mark the pope’s first visit to the Middle East. Both visits could have dramatic political consequences for the Roman Catholic Church, which is seeking to regain its influence in the two regions that have been riven by war and religious enmity. Catholic Church officials in Sarajevo said the papal visit for a “service of peace” is scheduled for April 12-13.

COMMENTARY: Why good kids do bad things

c. 1997 Religion News Service (Dale Hanson Bourke is author of “Turn Toward the Wind” and publisher of Religion News Service. She is the mother of two boys.) UNDATED It hardly surprises us anymore when a kid from a poor, inner-city neighborhood goes astray. A steady diet of poverty and violence often seems to beget kids who lose track of good and evil. But when kids from middle-class suburbs, upstanding families, and decent schools go wrong, that, as we say, is a story.

NEWS STORY: Abortion opponents call for quick action on late-term procedure ban

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON Tens of thousands of abortion opponents gathered Wednesday (Jan. 22) in the shadow of the White House to condemn President Clinton’s veto of a ban on a controversial abortion procedure and to urge its quick congressional reconsideration. Not far away, supporters of abortion rights also met, although less visibly. The contending gatherings to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made most abortions legal have become an annual January rite in the nation’s capital.

NEWS FEATURE: Exhibit shows importance of African-American sacred music in American life

c. 1997 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ A life-size cutout of singer Marian Anderson looms large in a new exhibit at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Rightly so. Even when not listening to her soaring, powerful contralto, Anderson’s story is not only gripping but emblematic of American life. Here was a singer rejected from a Philadelphia music school simply for being black.

NEWS STORY: Alabama lays claim to longest Christian-Jewish dialogue

c. 1997 Religion News Service MOBILE, Ala. _ It’s not at all unusual in this age of religious pluralism for clergy members of various faiths to get together and hash our their differences while looking for points of agreement. It is uncommon, however, for laity to do so, especially when such dialogue extends beyond a few brief encounters. But in what may be one of the longest-running U.S. interfaith dialogues, a group of Christians and Jews in Mobile have been meeting to talk about faith and religious intolerance for more than 20 years.”It’s the longest-functioning, consistently meeting lay group in the country,”said Mary Filben, who with her husband founded the group in 1975.

A pollster’s `index of leading spiritual indicators’

c. 1997 Religion News Service UNDATED _ George Barna, president of the Barna Research Group and author of more than 20 books, has been polling Americans on their spiritual beliefs for more than a decade. In his latest book,”The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators”(Word), Barna offers a statistical report on the state of religion in America. Here are some of his findings: _ Three out of four Americans say having a close relationship with God is very desirable. _ Thirty percent strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to tell others about their faith.

NEWS FEATURE: MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr.: An inconvenient hero, King dared the world to do more than dre

c. 1997 Religion News Service Now that he is safely dead Let us praise him … Dead men make such convenient heroes: They cannot rise to challenge the images we would fashion from their lives. Carl Wendell Himes Jr., 1977 UNDATED _ In the 29 years that have elapsed since his assassination, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has taken his place in the American pantheon: He is a holiday. He is a hero.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 1997 Religion News Service Church-state group chides Gingrich for seeking to be”national pastor” (RNS) House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose recent speeches have been peppered with religious language and what the Georgia Republican says is the need of the nation to be”submissive to God’s will,”has been criticized by a church-state separation group for his remarks.”You are speaker of the House, not our national pastor,”the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a letter to Gingrich. The Constitution, Lynn said,”gives public officials no right or duty to involve themselves in the religious life of this country. Government leaders are not empowered to serve as religious leaders.” Lynn’s letter was prompted by a number of recent speeches by the embattled GOP leader, who has admitted he violated House ethics rules.