RNS Daily Digest

c. 1996 Religion News Service U.S. government to provide North Korea with $6.2 million in food (RNS)-The U.S. government said Wednesday (June 12) that in response to what it described as”a very grave humanitarian crisis”it will provide $6.2 million in food aid to North Korea.”We’re convinced that the food situation, based on the reports that […]

c. 1996 Religion News Service

U.S. government to provide North Korea with $6.2 million in food

(RNS)-The U.S. government said Wednesday (June 12) that in response to what it described as”a very grave humanitarian crisis”it will provide $6.2 million in food aid to North Korea.”We’re convinced that the food situation, based on the reports that have been given to us by the United Nations, is actually quite severe and that there is a possibility that the situation could deteriorate further absent a response from the international community,”said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns.

The U.S. response joins a growing international reaction by governments, religious and humanitarian agencies to the threat of malnutrition and potential widespread famine as a result of floods last August that wiped out much of North Korea’s food crop.

The floods killed livestock, destroyed irrigation systems, roads and bridges and left nearly 1 million acres of arable land strewn with rubble, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

U.S. religious and humanitarian groups such as the National Council of Churches, Catholic Relief Services, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and World Vision have already contributed more than $3 million in food, medicine and other humanitarian material such as winter clothing and health kits. In late May, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) announced it was sending $500,000 worth of aid to ease the crisis.

Relief efforts have been hampered, however, by North Korean secrecy, its suspicion of the outside world and the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and the communist government.

On May 29, the IFRC issued an appeal for $5 million to help North Korea make it until the fall harvest.

Catholic bishops want jailhouse confession tape destroyed

(RNS)-The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) said Wednesday (June 12) a secretly made tape recording of an Oregon inmate’s confession to a Catholic priest should be destroyed.”The Sacrament (of Penance) is … the opportunity for those who have sinned gravely to experience a conversion of heart which leads to repentance and a determination to make amends and to avoid sin in the future,”said Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland, the president of the NCCB.”Therefore, it is in the best interests of a democratic society to support, even if only indirectly, and never to undermine, whatever religious practices contribute to the moral improvement of its citizens and thus to the general good of society as a whole,”Pilla said in a statement released by the conference.

Pilla’s comments were prompted by a dispute that erupted after it was disclosed that the Lane County (Oregon) district attorney had secretly taped a late-April confession made to a Roman Catholic priest by a suspect charged with burglary and theft in a case that also involved the shooting deaths of three teen-agers.

An outcry from church officials-including the Vatican-prompted the district attorney to promise not to use any information on the tape.

But Pilla and other church officials want the tape destroyed.

He said the bishops’ conference”fully supports the destruction of the tape.”He also voiced support for a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress on Monday (June 10) by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., that would provide a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of $25,000 for any government official who”surreptitiously listens to or records, in any manner, any communication that is privileged, because of its religious character.”

World Council of Churches gives $50,000 to study nuclear test effects

(RNS)-The World Council of Churches said Thursday (June 13) it has given $50,000 to help finance a comprehensive, independent study of the possible consequences of French nuclear testing on the health of people in French Polynesia.

France has been conducting nuclear tests on the atolls in French Polynesia in the South Pacific for the past 30 years.

On June 13, 1995, the French government announced it was ending a three-year moratorium on nuclear tests in the area to carry out a series of eight explosions. The tests resulted in widespread criticism of the French, much of it from religious and environmental groups, and France cut back the number of planned tests from eight to six. On Jan. 29, 1996, it ended the series.

The study, which is expected to cost $200,000, is being sponsored by the Protestant Church of French Polynesia and Hiti Tau, a Polynesian non-profit organization concerned with the welfare of the Polynesian people.

According to a statement from the World Council of Churches, the international organization of more than 300 Protestant and Orthodox churches, the study will seek to obtain information on the environmental and health situations of Polynesians who worked at the test site and of inhabitants of islands surrounding the test site.

Conservatives to carry on fight against Internet indecency

(RNS)-While civil libertarians, librarians and others Thursday (June 13) celebrated a federal court ruling blocking the government from enforcing a new law aimed at protecting children from indecent material on the Internet, conservative advocacy groups said they would carry the fight to the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a 175-page ruling that found portions of the Communications Decency Act to be unconstitutional and blocked the government from enforcing the law.

In the ruling, the three judges said their findings”lead to the conclusion that Congress may not regulate indecency on the Internet at all.” They also said that technology is available allowing parents to block objectionable material without interfering with the free-speech rights of others on the Internet, the global computer network.

The law, signed by President Clinton on Feb. 8, seeks to protect minors from being exposed to”indecent”material on the Internet.”This is not an ultimate defeat for American families and children,”Cathy Cleaver, director of legal studies for the Family Research Council, a Washington-based conservative advocacy group that supports the law, said in a statement Thursday (June 13).

She called the ruling”an arrogant decision which flies in the face of the Supreme Court and our society. We have long embraced the principle that those who peddle harmful material have the obligation to keep the material from children.”Outside cyberspace,”she added,”laws restrain people from displaying sexually explicit images in public places and from selling porn magazines to children. So, on the Internet, the burden of protecting children from exploitation should not rest solely on the parents.” Dee Jepsen, president of Enough is Enough, a Washington-based group opposed to pornography, called Wednesday’s ruling”only the opinion of three judges in a circuit court that is recognized as one of the most liberal in the country.” But Judith Krug of the American Library Association said she was”ecstatic.””Librarians can continue to provide ideas and information to the public regardless of the format, without concern about fines or jail terms,”Krug said in a statement issued by the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition, an umbrella organization of groups that filed suit against the law.

President Clinton, in a statement, said he remained”convinced … that our Constitution allows us to help parents by enforcing this Act to prevent children from being exposed to objectionable material transmitted through computer networks.”I will continue to to do everything I can in my administration to give families every available tool to protect their children from these materials,”he said. The administration has 20 days in which to appeal the ruling.

Mormons say guns not welcome in churches

(RNS)-The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that guns, even when carried legally, are not welcome in its church building.”Churches are dedicated to the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,”the denomination’s leaders said in a brief statement.”The carrying of lethal weapons, concealed or otherwise, within their walls is inappropriate, except as required by officers of the law.” The statement was issued in response to an inquiry by the Salt Lake Tribune. The newspaper, in a copyrighted article, said the church’s policy statement is the first issued by a religious institution in Utah since a renewed debate on regulating guns erupted in the state in May.

In 1995, Utah changed its gun-control laws to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. The new debate centers on what, if any, restrictions may be placed on those with a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Scott Engen, a spokesman for the Utah Shooting Sports Council, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, called the church stance”a policy tragedy,”according to the Tribune.”Devoted members of the church who have chosen to take the responsibility for providing for their own safety lawfully and legally are forced by this church edict to choose between their adherence to church policy and their ability to provide for their lawful self-protection.” But Malin Foster, spokesman for the Episcopal diocese of Utah hailed the Mormon decision.”If you feel you need to carry a gun to go to church, you need to reassess your attitude about going to church,”he said.

Quote of the Day: Dwight Hopkins of the University of Chicago Divinity School on the black church fires.

(RNS)-Another predominantly black church, this one in Enid, Okla., was destroyed by fire early Thursday morning (June 13) in a blaze that took firefighters two hours to contain. The fire came just hours after President Clinton visited the site of a burned-out black church in Greeleyville, S.C., and promised to use all possible federal resources in an effort to bring a rash of recent church arsons to a halt. Dwight Hopkins, associate professor of theology at the divinity school of the University of Chicago and an expert on black churches, commented on how the fires are”striking at the heart”of the black community.”Black churches are the heart and soul of the black community. They are 24-hour, seven-days-a-week institutions. They provide loans, marriage counseling, single dances, basketball. The poor can’t afford these services on their own, so the church provides them.”


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