RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service Supreme Court rejects Mississippi appeal on school prayers (RNS) The Supreme Court on Monday (Nov. 4) rejected an appeal by the state of Mississippi seeking to reinstate a state law allowing student-led prayer in the state’s public schools. The justices, without comment, left intact lower court rulings that struck down […]

c. 1996 Religion News Service

Supreme Court rejects Mississippi appeal on school prayers

(RNS) The Supreme Court on Monday (Nov. 4) rejected an appeal by the state of Mississippi seeking to reinstate a state law allowing student-led prayer in the state’s public schools.

The justices, without comment, left intact lower court rulings that struck down a 1994 law on the grounds that the statute violated the separation of church and state.

The 1994 law would have allowed”invocations, benedictions or nonsectarian, non-proselytizing student-initiated voluntary prayer”at”school-related student events.” Mississippi’s legislature passed the law after a high school principal in Jackson, Miss., was disciplined for allowing students to recite prayers over the school’s public address system.

A challenge to the law was filed before the start of the 1994-95 school year on behalf of students enrolled in the Jackson public school system.

A federal judge halted implementation of the law except for voluntary, student-led prayers at high school commencements because the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an earlier case, ruled that graduation prayers led by graduating seniors were legal.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate ruled that the law was unconstitutional except when applied to graduation ceremonies, and a three-judge panel of the 5th circuit upheld Wingate’s decision.

Monday’s action by the justices did not address the merits of the Mississippi law nor clear up the confusion educators say exists because of different rulings by different courts.

Baptist official unhappy with gambling commission member

(RNS) The appointment of a gambling industry executive to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, recently established by Congress to study how gambling affects American social and economic life, has drawn the fire of a top Southern Baptist Convention official.”I think it is a mistake of colossal proportions to name someone who receives his livelihood from gambling to a commission study the impact of gambling upon society,”Will Dodson, the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission’s director of government relations told Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official news agency.

Dodson made his comments in response to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s choice of Terrence Lanni, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of MGM Grand, Inc., a hotel, gambling and entertainment company based in Los Angeles.

The nine panel members are to be chosen by leaders of Congress and President Clinton.

So far, four of the nine members have been named. In addition to Lanni, who Gingrich appointed at the request of Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev., other panel members are James Dobson, president of the conservative Focus on the Family and Dr. Paul Moore, a radiologist from Pascagoula, Miss., both named by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

Gingrich also named Kay Coles James, dean of the school of government at Regent University, founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. James also serves on the board of Focus on the Family.

Gambling opponents fear that a divided commission will become paralyzed and unable to make recommendations. Ensign said the issue is balance.

But Dodson said that view is flawed.”The problem with that analysis is that the individuals who have reputations of being against gambling as the vice that it is are not on the payrolls of an anti-gambling industry,”he said.”Their livelihood do not depend upon gambling, one way or another. This cannot be said about someone who is appointed who is on the payroll of the gambling industry.” Meanwhile, gambling opponents in Ohio, including the Ohio Council of Churches and the Interchurch Council of Greater Cleveland, were seeking to mobilize voters to go to the polls to defeat a ballot initiative that would allow riverboat casino gambling in four Ohio counties.”Other states’ experiences suggest that any benefits from riverboat gambling _ such as relatively modest amounts of support for public schools or small increases in certain kinds of employment _ are likely to be outweighed by rises in such accompanying social ills as alcoholism, job absenteeism and rising crime rates,”said the Rev. Paul Sherry, president of the United Church of Christ. The 1.5 million-member UCC is headquartered in Cleveland.”The only institutions certain to benefit greatly from casino gambling are the few big business interests that have poured large sums of money into a huge political campaign to pass”the ballot measure.

Along with Ohio, voters in Arkansas, Michigan and Nebraska also will have gambling-related measures before them.

Poll: British Catholics support married clergy

(RNS) – More than two of each three Roman Catholics in England and Wales believe Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, but less than a quarter expect to see any movement toward a married priesthood in the near future, according to a new poll.

The poll of 1,000 Catholics was conducted by the weekly newspaper, The Catholic Herald.

According to the poll, 69 percent of those polled thought priests should be allowed to marry. The same percentage thought such a change would be good for the Catholic church around the world, yet only 21 percent thought such a change would happen soon. But 60 percent thought there would eventually be a married priesthood and 19 percent thought it would never happen.

The survey marks a turnaround in attitudes.

A Catholic Herald poll 20 years ago showed only one in three Catholics in favor of ending mandatory celibacy.

A 1980 survey by conducted by the University of Surrey found 54 percent of Catholics were in favor of married priests, though the proportion dropped to 35 percent among those who went to Mass at least once a week.

A telephone survey in 1995 by The Catholic Times of officials and staffs of Catholic organizations and institutions found that two-thirds would support the ending of mandatory clerical celibacy, though only a third said they would be prepared to do so publicly.

Christian Reformed Church in Canada challenged on gay rights

(RNS) Christian Reformed churches in Hamilton, Ontario, have challenged the Council of Christian Reformed Churches in Canada over the council’s support for proposed legislation that would protect homosexuals from discrimination in housing, employment and access to government services.

In a statement submitted to the Canadian government, the conservative Reformed body also that”mutually supportive relationships of a private and perhaps intimate nature other than those understood by the familiar and historic term (marriage) … should be given a new designation … (such as) domestic partnerships.” Such domestic partnerships, the council’s Committee for the Contact with the Government said, would be registered”much like `traditional’ marriages are”so that partners could have”rights and privileges similar to the spousal benefits married couples now enjoy.” The Hamilton churches, however, called on the council to retract its submission to the government and tell the government the statement expresses”a viewpoint that is not in keeping with the expressed public position of the Christian Reformed Church.” The council is the organizational arm of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada, the Canadian branch of the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Christian Reformed Church in North America. There are about 240 congregations with 83,000 members in Canada.

The council is scheduled to met Nov. 11 in Winnipeg, where the resolution calling for the retraction of the brief will be debated and voted on.

Both the U.S. and Canadian arms of the Dutch-heritage denomination have been embroiled in disputes over church attitudes toward homosexuality for the the past three years.

Gospel singer Kirk Franklin hospitalized after fall during concert

(RNS) Popular gospel singer Kirk Franklin is in a Memphis hospital after suffering head injuries in a backstage fall during a concert Friday (Nov. 1), the Associated Press reported.

Franklin, whose album”Whatcha Lookin’ 4″is No. 1 on Billboard’s gospel album chart, was in serious but stable condition Monday at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

On Saturday, the 26-year-old leader of Kirk Franklin and the Family used hand motions to communicate with his wife, Tammy Franklin, concert promoter Fred Jones said.”We’ve gotten literally hundreds of calls from around the country,”Jones said.”It’s been a very big outpouring of support for him.” Franklin fell 10 feet into a backstage orchestra pit at the Auditorium North Hall. No audience members witnessed the incident.

Update: Amnesty International urges halting arms to Africa

(RNS) Amnesty International called on the world community Monday (Nov. 4) to stop shipping arms to strife-torn nations of Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda.”The situation is an explosive and catastrophic one affecting countless refugees and civilians in these countries,”said Pierre Sane, secretary general of the London-based human rights organizations.”It has been widely acknowledged that the area is awash with small arms despite previous commitments by the international community to restrict them,”Sane added.

Sane said there have been arms deliveries to Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda despite serious human rights abuses by the armed forces and associated militias, especially in the border areas.

According to Amnesty:

_ In Rwanda, members of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandese Patriotic Army have summarily executed several hundred unarmed civilians in 1996 during military operations against armed Hutu insurgents.

_ In Burundi, the largely Tutsi-dominated security forces and militia are continuing to massacre hundreds of unarmed Hutu civilians, including returnees from Zaire. Furthermore, armed Hutu opposition groups in Burundi have also carried out arbitrary killings of Tutsi civilians.

_ In Zaire, there are reports of deliberate and arbitrary killings committed by Zairean soldiers and the Tutsi Banyamulenge armed opposition.

Amnesty made its call as Tutsi rebels in eastern Zaire declared a unilateral cease-fire to allow refugees who want to return to Rwanda to do so. Officials from a number of East African nations, the United Nations, and aid organizations held meetings in Kigali, Rwanda and Nairobi, Kenya to seek an end to the three weeks of fighting that have created chaos in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

More than 100 international aid workers were pulled out of refugee camps around Goma, Zaire, on Saturday as fighting between the Zairean army and the Banyamulenge rebels continued.

Church World Service, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches, said that several of its personnel have been evacuated to Nairobi and alerted supporters that money will be needed to deal with the refugees.”Aid agencies are scrambling to prevent large loss of life from disease and hunger,”the agency said.

California woman named Sunday School Teacher of the Year

(RNS) Berta Timblin of Ramona, Calif., has been named the 1996-97 Henrietta Mears National Sunday School Teacher of the Year.

She was selected from more than 400 nominations from 40 states by the National Sunday School Teacher Appreciation Campaign.

Timblin is the Sunday school teacher for first- and second-graders at Grace Community Church in Ramona, Calif.”Berta is one of those rare individuals who serves fully, freely and from the heart,”said Cathy Nelson, the church’s Sunday school superintendent, who nominated Timblin.”Never have I heard her complain; never have I sensed her ministry was a burden or done from a sense of duty.” The campaign was launched in 1993 by Gospel Light Publications, an evangelical publishing company in Ventura, Calif. It is named for Henrietta Mears, a Christian educator who influenced Christian leaders such as evangelist Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright.

Quote of the day: The Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa

(RNS) One of the most closely-watched ballot initiatives in Tuesday’s election will be California’s Proposition 209, a measure that will sharply cut back on the state’s affirmative action programs. The Rev. Mark M. Nakagawa, senior pastor of West Los Angeles United Methodist Church and an executive committee member of the National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists, wrote in the organization’s most recent newsletter about the meaning of affirmative action:”While the philosophical debates go around and around with no end in sight, a theological reflection challenges the assumptions on which the anti-affirmative action arguments are based. In the context of biblical faith, such notions as `deservedness’ and `merit’ are of secondary importance to God. People of the Christian faith are called to go beyond legalistic boundaries of merit and deservedness as the operative modes of human relationships. God calls humanity to a higher standard; we are called to live in relationship with one another in an attitude of grace.”As God has acted in grace throughout human history, so is God’s human community called to live in an attitude that reflects and epitomizes `graceful’ living. Grace _ affirmative grace _ leads to affirmative action.” KC END ANDERSON

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