Transit worker fired for burning Quran gets job back

TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) The New Jersey Transit employee fired for burning pages of the Quran at the site of a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero will get his job back. Derek Fenton, who sparked a national firestorm during his protest on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks last September, will be reassigned to his $86,110-a-year job and get $25,000 for pain and suffering. Fenton had joined a protest in Lower Manhattan at the site of a planned Islamic center, where he removed and burned three pages of the Quran. At the time, he was off duty and did not publicly link himself to the transit agency. The settlement, dated April 21 and obtained by The Star-Ledger, also says he will get back pay equal to $331.20 for every day since his firing.

Church-state ties on full display at royal wedding

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) When Prince William and Kate Middleton walk down the aisle at Westminster Abbey on Friday (April 29), Britain’s unique and historic ties between church and state will be on full display. Some here think — even hope — it could also be the last powerful stroll for church and state in this increasingly secular country. As the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev. John Hall, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams prepare to conduct and solemnize the wedding of the century, both Christians and prominent and powerful nonbelievers are raising their voices and demanding the disestablishment the Church of England that has dominated religious life here for 400 years. In a special message issued for the royal nuptials, Williams underscored the historic ties between the church and state in England. “Since about 1300,” he said, “the archbishops of Canterbury have had their London residence here in Lambeth Palace.

Believers warn neighbors of impending doom on May 21

(RNS) Give these billboards credit: They don’t hedge their bet. Judgment Day is coming May 21, 2011-not sometime this decade, not sometime this year, but precisely on May 21. The hundreds of billboards warning unrepentant commuters of their impending doom are courtesy of a California radio station led by 89-year-old Howard Camping, who initially predicted the world would end in 1994. In New Jersey, about 30 believers paid to erect the signs in hopes of warning and saving their neighbors, said Bob James, a Morristown electrical engineer who organized the grassroots effort. “Seven billion people are facing their death!

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

President Obama and the first family celebrated Easter at a Washington church built by freed slaves in 1863. Since Obama mostly attends services on Christmas and Easter, does that make him our Chreaster in Chief? Pope Benedict XVI urged an end to fighting in Libya and used his Easter Sunday message to call for diplomacy and peace in the Middle East, according to the AP. It wasn’t a very happy holiday for Chinese Christians, 36 of whom were arrested after they tried to hold an Easter service in a public square. Meanwhile, a Tibet advocacy group says two Tibetans were killed Thursday night by Chinese paramilitary officers who were raiding a monastery to detain rebellious monks.

Pope says comatose can still feel `presence’ of family

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI told a mother that her comatose son can feel her “presence” and “love,” even if he is “unable to understand the details” or her “words.” Benedict answered questions in a rare Good Friday (April 22) appearance on the Italian State TV program “A Sua Immagine” (In His Image). The pope answered seven questions from viewers from around the world, touching upon subjects ranging from the persecution of Christians in the Middle East to the Japanese tsunami, from conflict resolution in Ivory Coast to the sense of human suffering. Answering a 7-year-old Japanese girl who asked about the pain and death shewitnessed during the March earthquake, the pope answered: “I also have the same questions. Why is it this way?

`Simple churches’ find a foothold across U.S.

(RNS) This weekend, Jeanne O’Hair, her friends and family will raise their voices in Easter hymns “as the spirit leads us,” she says, in her “house church” — O’Hair’s living room in Brea, Calif. In a metal outbuilding at a shuttered horse track near San Antonio, Jeff Bishop says he will celebrate at his “simple church” under a rough-hewed cedar cross, with “folks who speak `cowboy’ like I do.” In Washington, D.C., at the Saturday night Easter Vigil, “we’ll keep it casual and focused on Christ,” says William D’Antonio, a member of a network of Catholic-style house churches called “Intentional Eucharistic communities.” No matter what you call them, house churches, or “simple” or “organic” churches, have long thrived in Third World countries where clergy and funds for church buildings are scarce. Now, however, they are attracting a small but loyal following across the U.S. It’s not that Americans can’t find a conventional church congregation.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

Best wishes for a Good Friday to our Christian friends and a happy Earth Day to our eco-conscious friends, including our eco-conscious Christian friends. CNN attends a blasphemy trial for Jesus in Richmond, Va., which was intended to call attention to the state’s death penalty system. At least 24 Filipino men were nailed to crosses in the annual Good Friday observances that Catholic hierarchs frown upon (Reuters photo, left). And ever wonder what’s “good” about Good Friday? Here’s an answer.

Kiryas Joel, Shonda

Should it be a shonda fur di goyim–something to be ashamed of before the gentiles–that according to the 2010 Census the poorest community in America (over 10,000 pop.) is a village in New York State composed almost entirely of Jews? Well, yes. But not because American Jews, the wealthiest religious body in the U.S., have failed to take care of their own. Most of the residents of Kiryas Joel, in suburban Orange County, belong to the Satmar Hasidic sect–speaking Yiddish, eschewing Zionism, and living apart from the rest of American society. The women stay home and bear children.

David Brooks, theological rigorist

David Brooks, the Last Puritan Columnist, loved “The Book of Mormon,” but then had guilty second thoughts about its message that religions have weird doctrines but can do “enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as
long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and
service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people
practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different
beliefs.” Harking back to Dean Kelley’s old diagnosis of the ills of liberal Protestantism, Why the Conservative Churches Are Growing, Brooks takes after this kind of Golden Rule religion.Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The
religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts
of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and
definite in their convictions about what is True and False. That’s because people are not gods. No matter how special some
individuals may think they are, they don’t have the ability to
understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on
their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or
avoid the temptations of laziness on their own.

Supreme Court limits prisoners’ right to sue

WASHINGTON (RNS) Prison inmates who are deprived of their religious rights cannot sue states for monetary damages, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday (April 20). Inmate Harvey Leroy Sossamon III said a Texas state prison illegally prevented him from attending religious services. Sossamon had been on cell restriction for disciplinary reasons at the time. Sossamon alleged that the prison’s actions violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which protects inmates’ right to practice their faith. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, ruled that under RLUIPA prisoners can sue to change prison polices but not seek financial redress.

Just how long did Jesus stay in the tomb?

Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and rose from the dead on “the third day,” in the words of the ancient Nicene Creed. But if Jesus died at 3 p.m. Friday and vacated his tomb by dawn Sunday morning — about 40 hours later — how does that make three days?

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

A Jehovah’s Witness in Kansas is suing the state to pay for a “bloodless” liver transplant because JW’s won’t allow the blood transfusions involved in a state-funded Medicaid liver transplant. USA Today says many U.S. Christians will be celebrating a “simple Easter” this year, many of them beyond the four walls of a church. The NYT follows a 58-year-old man in rural Florida who’s been playing the starring role in a Passion play for more than two decades. B16, at Maundy Thursday services, bemoaned the secularism of the West. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that inmates may not seek monetary damages from states in disputes over religious expression in prison.

Mormon men delaying the walk down the aisle

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) John Evans is in no hurry to get married. The 25-year-old returned LDS missionary lives with his parents, works full time, takes night classes toward an English degree and, with law school looming, is building up his savings. Evans goes on dates, but they tend to be expensive so he prefers developing friendships first. Sometimes he finds it easier just to hang out with the guys at his Mormon fraternity. “My dating pace is right for me,” Evans says.

Looking into Philly

According to
Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., when they come together in
Seattle in June for their semi-annual meeting, the U.S. Catholic bishops
will be looking into whether there was “some sort of the breakdown of
the system” that led to the D.A.’s investigation of more than two dozen
priests in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. Cupich, who chairs the
bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, told
the Catholic News Service that he thinks what happened in the City of
Not-So-Brotherly-Love on Cardinal Rigali’s watch was an aberration, and
such is devoutly to be wished.But let’s say that the system
established by the 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and
Young People” is found to have broken down, what then? (And how could it
not have broken down?)The problem is that the system was not equipped with any mechanism to deal with bishops who choose to withhold the hem of their cassocks from the system. For example, the system expects all dioceses to participate in prescribed annual abuse audits, but if the bishops of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Baker, Oregon, decline to participate, they get to do so with impunity. Because, God forbid, the episcopal collectivity may never call one of its own to account.In the U.S., that is.