Israeli court rules against segregated sidewalks

JERUSALEM (RNS) Ultra-Orthodox leaders on Tuesday (Sept. 28) removed barriers separating men and women from a Jerusalem street after Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the tall screens were illegal. Representatives of the Eda Haredit, an ultra-Orthodox organization that enforces modesty, erected the barriers in the religious neighborhood of Meah Sha’arim at the start of the Sukkot holiday to ensure that men and women could not touch or mingle. On Monday, the ELLA-Israel Feminist Group and two members of the Jerusalem City Council petitioned the court to remove the barriers and the guards who were hired to enforce gender separation. In its ruling, the court acknowledged that the screens used to separate the genders were used only along a 45-foot-long area near a crowded synagogue, and used only late at night during crowded holiday period, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Shootings at Ohio, Texas churches stirs concerns

(RNS) Three outbursts of violence in or near churches, including one during worship services, are raising safety concerns for church leaders. Eddie Contreras, youth pastor at Walnut Park Casa De Mi Gloria Church in Garland, Texas, was speaking to a group of students Friday evening (Sept. 24) when Jose Pablo, a student struggling with family problems, walked into the service. Contreras continued preaching despite the interruption, and then Pablo pulled out a gun and shot the youth pastor, according to NBC News. Contreras is expected to recover.

Va. imam named head of largest Muslim group

(RNS) The Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim group in the U.S. and Canada, on Tuesday (Sept. 28) named a gregarious Sudanese-born Virginia imam as its new president. Imam Mohamed Magid, executive director of the 5,000-family All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., will succeed outgoing president Ingrid Mattson, who in 2006 became the first woman elected to the position. Magid, 45, served two terms as ISNA’s vice president under Mattson, where he focused on interfaith relations, youth issues, and women’s issues. As president, Magid’s priorities will continue to include interfaith relations and improving Islam’s image in the United States, said ISNA spokeswoman Sarah Thompson.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ignorance, not Islam, is the enemy

(RNS) In a single vote, the Texas State Board of Education managed to undermine Christian-Muslim relations, hamper religious literacy and impose ignorance on our kids at a time when they need knowledge to live and work in a competitive and integrated world. Board members — no foreigners to strange and bizarre decisions — voted to scrub textbooks of anything that smacked of a “pro-Islam” or “anti-Christian” bias. Texas textbooks, by their sheer number, end up setting nationwide standards. The resolution, passed in a 7-6 vote, refers to moments in history when Christianity is portrayed unfavorably and Islamic events that could be deemed unfavorable are “glossed over.” The vote endangers relations between Christians and Muslims at a time when Islamophobia is becoming a worrying phenomenon across America.

For hopeful Muslim immigrant, no ordinary phone call

BALLWIN, Mo. (RNS) Adil Imdad had just finished installing a hardwood floor in his new house when his cell phone rang. Imdad, 41, an environmental engineer and devout Muslim from Pakistan, had moved to the United States as a teenager and became a citizen in 1986. He hoped the new house would be the base for his daughters’ typical American suburban childhood. Imdad initially planned to let the Sept.

Tuesday’s roundup

Atheists and agnostics know more about religion than Roman Catholics and other Christians, according to new study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Mormons and Jews did pretty well on the survey, but more than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation. You can take part of the religious literacy test here; then subscribe to Religion News Service to bump up your score. First Lady Michelle Obama said last month that President Obama always carries a picture of Mary Help of Christians in his wallet. She’s the patroness of the Salesian order.

Poll finds unbelievers know the most about belief

WASHINGTON (RNS) Who can best answer questions about religion in America? Based on a new survey released Tuesday (Sept. 28) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, it’s your atheist or agnostic neighbor, followed by the Jew or Mormon down the street. A significant percentage — four in 10 — of Roman Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used at Communion become the body and blood of Jesus during Mass. The survey also found that graduates of private schools did better than students in public schools, but religious school graduates didn’t fare any better in their ability to answer questions about the Bible, world religions or the role of religion in public life.

COMMENTARY: The dangerous allure of magical thinking

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (RNS) A dozen Presbyterian teenagers learned important lessons this week in the difference between work-and-outcomes vs. “magical thinking.” In a mainline denomination whose latest national statistics show alarming decay, they boldly collaborated with parents and a professional chef to put on a spaghetti dinner for mission funding. From table settings to matching T-shirts to serving food, they tended to details. They saw the payoff of being friendly and businesslike.

Chaput sticks it to the religion beat

At the Religion Newswriters Association meeting in Denver last weekend, the local Catholic ordinary, Archbishop Charles Chaput, delivered himself of a classic culture-war critique of the news media’s coverage of religion: Journalism is composed of knowledge-class professionals who make secularist assumptions about American society that shows they are out of touch with real Americans. Coverage of Christianity in particular is negative, focused on stories about fundamentalism and decline and infighting and repression. This kind of thing was a lot more common back in the 1990s than it is today–but then, Chaput has never been known for being up to date.I could get on my hobby horse about how the media tend to view religion not through secularist glasses but in categories derived from Western religion. Take, for instance, the Eddie Long story that has been so much in the news in recent days. Like other allegations of clerical sexual abuse, it turns on the issue of hypocrisy.

Long vows to fight sexual misconduct charges

(RNS) Bishop Eddie Long, the Atlanta-area preacher facing charges from four young men that he coerced them to have sex, told his congregation Sunday (Sept. 26) he is “under attack” and will fight the allegations against him. “I’ve been accused,” Long told the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. “I’m under attack. I want you to know …

RNA honors top religion reporting

DENVER (RNS) Religion reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times won top honors Saturday (Sept. 25) at the 2010 Religion Newswriters Association’s annual awards competition. The RNA also honored former New York Times religion reporter Gustav Niebuhr with its William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award. Niebuhr, who left the beat in 2001, now teaches at Syracuse University. William Wan of The Washington Post won first-place in the Supple Religion Writer of the Year award, followed by Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe and Eric Gorski of The Associated Press.